I sit atop a car that was part of a bombing range target used on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota starting in the 1940s. My friend and I were the first to find the geo-cache hidden here.
I sit atop a car that was part of a bombing range target used on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota starting in the 1940s. My friend and I were the first to find the geo-cache hidden here.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a large tale in our nation's history, as well as my South Dakota trip over Thanksgiving. Part 1 ran in the Dec. 11 issue of the Bluff Country Reader, while Part 2 ran in the Dec. 18 issue. And now - the conclusion.

Geocaching took on an adven-turous and historic twist over Thanksgiving, when my friend, Dave, and I visited the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Waking up early Thanksgiving Day, we headed south of Badlands National Park and the town of Inte-rior, S.D. We crossed the White River and, after three attempts, found a through road leading us over some precarious badlands formations and stark, yet beautiful backcountry.

It was probably three hours after we'd started at the break of dawn that we walked the last three-quarters of a mile to see something unique to our nation's history, but far removed from common knowl-edge.

There were "bumps" on the hori-zon. As we got closer, we saw they were cars… all of them cars likely from the 1940s. They were placed in a large circle here, in the middle of nowhere. Two more rows of old cars intersected at right angles to mark the center, creating something similar to a Native American medi-cine wheel.

Yes, we'd found it. On the re-mote prairie - shared with yucca plants and rangeland cattle - was something worthy of a national monument, as the cache placer had noted.

It was a bombing target, on Pine Ridge Reservation land comman-deered by the U.S. government during World War II to train pilots from Rapid City's Ellsworth Air Force Base.

What a stark reality. The rusty cars were not marred by bullet holes. They had not been vandal-ized. Deep dents marked spots where bombs had landed. One car was flipped upside down. "BBRIP" appeared to be painted on its side. I took it to mean "Badlands Bomb-ing Range rest in peace."

We found the cache pretty easily, located in a Tupperware container in a car. We were the first to find it. Other people looked the next day, according to their log, but they didn't find the correct road.

I had to take pictures of this place our country would probably rather forget. Oh no, I had the cam-era case, but the camera was back in the vehicle. There was no ques-tion we'd be doubling back to get it and then returning to this lost hill-side.

It was an amazing experience. I could likely have spent all day there, exploring all the old cars and pondering on the past. But we left close to noon to continue our Bad-lands and Black Hills expedition.

I wrote to the cache placer upon arriving home. He's a teacher at the Red Cloud School in Pine Ridge and also well acquainted with our neck of Minnesota, a graduate of Carleton College in Northfield.

He wrote back, furthering my history lesson:

Let me try to answer some of your questions. Many of the bombs were live. If they did not detonate upon impact, they became the in-famous UXOs (unexploded ord-nance) that the signs warn about. Many bombs, on the other hand, were simply sand-filled.

Today, the tribe has its own bomb squad (the Badlands Bomb-ing Range Project) whose employ-ees are trained in North Carolina to become certified UXO techni-cians. It is a very well-paying job (probably one of the highest here on the rez), and UXO technicians are in demand around the country and world, often in current and former war zones such as in the Middle East. The acronym you saw on many of the cars at Reflector City was "BBRP-OST" ("Badlands Bombing Range Project - Oglala Sioux Tribe").

Reflector City (RC, the name of the geocache) is one of three sites that looks like a target-with-crosshairs (or "medicine wheel") from the air. The other two are about half the diameter and are several miles away.

The official name for them, I be-lieve, is "target radar locators" (the "aiming targets" that you re-ferred to). The closest one to RC is about 7 miles southwest and I pass by it on the way that I go to get to RC (from the Kyle area). I can't remember where the other one is, but I think it may be on top of Cuny Table near the Stronghold (south-ern unit of Badlands National Park).

Reflector City was fairly heavily bombed, I believe, and some of the cars clearly bear the markings of this bombing (more than just light vandalism) on close inspection. Case in point: a few are upside-down or knocked on their side.

I imagine this would have been one of the very first sites the BBRP cleaned up when it was first started, since it is an obvious site and is relatively easily accessible (compared to some areas deep in the Badlands).

The actual reflectors, by the way, were probably salvaged decades ago. From what I understand, they were large mirrors mounted on top of telephone pole-type structures that made the RC much easier to find from the air. This was impor-tant because most of the Cold War-era pilots on practice bombing runs out of Ellsworth AFB would not have had any idea how to navigate the trackless country in which RC is located.

The cars were always at the site. Notice the "double medicine wheel" that is obvious from the aerial photographs of the site. The first time I ever found the site on terraserver.com, I was blown away by what I saw. Here I had been to the site several times, but never realized what I was standing in the middle of!

As you mention, I am not a big geocacher (despite what my user-name may imply). I sort of worked backwards with this one: I find Reflector City to be a place of fas-cinating history, but barely anyone even knows that it exists. So I kind of set the cache to create some awareness for it. I figured if that cache was successful, I might set out more. I know a great many cool sites on the reservation!

Although I rated the site as a 3/4 because of the difficulty of trying to find it if you don't know the best way to get there, on a dry day, it would probably be a 2/2 or so us-ing the southwestern route that I take. It is on very well-maintained fire roads right up to the end. Even a car would have no trouble getting out there.

I know quite a few people out here, by the way, that remember growing up near (or in some cases within!) the boundaries of the bombing range. They have some great stories. Many got used to it, and when the bombers would come over, they would simply ride their horses to another part of their land.

I was first taken out to RC by an older man named Charley White Elk who remembered going out there as a boy when the reflectors were still up and the area was still in use. Hope that all helps!

Forgotten… and amazing. For more information, check these on-line links:

http://www.ouachitalk.com/bombrange.htm

http://www.nps.gov/archive/badl/exp/humans.htm#gunnery

Lisa Brainard is the news editor for the Republican-Leader and Chatfield News. She writes for the Phillips Bluff Country Publishing group of newspapers, which also includes the Spring Grove Herald, Bluff Country Reader, News-Record, and Spring Valley Tribune. She can be reached at: lbrainard@republican-leader.com. She also photographs many scenic landscapes in her travels near and far, in addition to taking numerous newspaper photos.