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Missile silos and the perks and perils of Highway 71

Jackie and I set out from Rapid City to Albuquerque for two reasons.

The first was for Jackie to have her annual Multiple Sclerosis checkup at the University of New Mexico’s Pete Dominici Medical Building and the second was to have dinner with one set of friends and lunch with another.

It’s what happened on the journey that makes traveling so interesting.

It was forecast as a beautiful day so we decided to pack a lunch, find a nice spot along the highway and have a picnic. We always take Highway 71 South taking us through Scottsbluff and Kimball, Nebraska and Brush, Limon, and Rockyford, Colorado coming out at Highway I-25 at Trinidad, Colorado. It is a long and lonely route.

The first thing that makes this particular route interesting is the still active missile silos that dot the highway from Kimball to the Colorado border. It is eerie to see military vehicles and military personnel going to and from these scary silos in the middle of wheat country. One can visualize men in uniform going about their business far below the surface of the earth manning and maintaining the silos with their guided missiles armed with nuclear warheads smack in the middle of  Nebraska and Colorado while cattle graze peacefully just outside of the wire fences enclosing the silos.

We drove past these remnants of the cold war toward Brush, Colorado where we intended to stop at a small lake near Brush just off of the highway and have our picnic. The lake was blue and beautiful and we parked about 25 yards away and opened the hatch of our SUV intent on a nice, tailgate lunch.

Sound good? I never knew we were so close to a pasture filled with grazing cattle and where there is an abundance of cattle there is an abundance of cow pies and where there are cow pies there is an abundance of flies.

Of course the flies didn’t swarm on us until we opened the tailgate and started to prepare our lunch. Suddenly the flies began to land on everything and in the process they flew by the hundreds into the back of our SUV. We hurriedly put our food away, closed the hatchback and put some distance between ourselves and the pasture. We spent the next 300 miles trying to shoo flies out of the interior of our vehicle. As Jackie waved her hands around my head trying to chase the flies out of the window, cars passing us must have thought she was a woman gone mad who was assaulting the driver. We got some weird looks.

Try as we might we could not get all of the flies out of the car so we relocated some Colorado flies to New Mexico. We hoped they found another cow pasture.

We decided not to drive 14 hours back to Rapid City as we did on the trip down, but to stop about half way and spend the night. We stopped at Rockyford, Colorado about 6 p.m. and walked into the lobby of the only motel in town. The elderly man behind the counter was a dead ringer for the man lying on a gurney in the movie Young Frankenstein who Gene Wilder, Dr. Frankenstein, assaults unintentionally while instructing a group of medical students.

Since it was very hot outside I asked this cadaver of man, “What’s the temperature.” He said, “The same as it was when you came in.” Say what? “And we don’t have any vacancies because there’s a tournament in town,” he spat.

Feeling very unwelcome we decided to try reaching Limon, Colorado, before dark.

How far is it from Rockyford to Limon? As my stepdaughter Sarah, a rodeo girl, used to say about the distance between Rapid City and Faith, South Dakota when asked the distance, “About as far as you can drive and 20 miles more.” That’s how far it is from Rockyford to Limon.

After finally reaching Limon we discovered that two of the three motels in town had shut down and the only one open, the KS Motel, was it. The man behind the counter actually looked like a street person, a homeless man. He gave us a key to Room 20. The entire motel was quite ramshackled and we entered number 20 with trepidation. It was dank and smelled of fresh vomit. We backed out of the room quickly and asked for another room. We finished our picnic in our new room afraid to touch anything and the bathroom was so miserable we even skipped taking a shower.

It was still dark outside early the next morning when we dropped the room key in the office mailbox and boogied down the highway eager to get back to good old Rapid City.

Oh yes, Jackie’s checkup, despite her MS, showed her to be in excellent health. That made the trip well worth the bumps along the way.


(Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the former editor and publisher of Native Sun News Today. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991.  His weekly column won the H. L. Mencken Award in 1985. His book Children Left Behind was awarded the Bronze Medal by Independent Book Publishers. He was the first Native American ever inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2007. He can be reached at


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