Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Strato Bowl

About seven miles out of Rapid City down highway 16 (for the uninitiated, that's "a third of the way to Mount Rushmore from Rapid City") just inside the national forest boundary, there is a minor pulloff that, on a nice day, usually has a bunch of cars sitting there.

If it weren't for the cars, you'd never know there was anything there.

As it happens, this pulloff was at one point the entrance to a Forest Service road that took you to the Strato Bowl. Now, it's the parking spot for those who want to take a stroll down said road to check out the view from the edge of the Bowl.

And when I say stroll, I mean it.

This is around one and a half miles out and back (juuuust over three quarters of a mile one way) with a net change in elevation of about 20 feet. It does dip in the middle, so there's a very little bit of uphill both directions. If you keep moving, it takes maybe fifteen minutes to walk in. If you don't hurry.

There is at the moment a little storm damage. Just like everywhere else in the Hills, it's taking time to clean up.

The story here is simple: at the bottom of this bowl, 300 feet below the ledge you reach from the trail, is a large flat area. In the '30s, this was the site of the launch of massive balloons designed to carry scientists to study the Earth's atmosphere. Two balloons were launched that decade. The first made it 60,000 feet above the earth ... and then suffered a catastrophic rip and plummeted back to the ground.

No one was injured.

The second balloon had a fully successful flight and set a new world record for human altitude. In 1935.

This bunker-looking thing is actually several slabs of concrete with the whole story written out. I won't spoil it for you.

 Now, someone farms the bottom of the Bowl and there are occasional hot air balloon launches there.

And the view ... it's pretty nice.

So -- a good walk, some fun Black Hills history, and not a lot of time required. Highly recommended if you need something obscure on a nice day.

The pulloff: approximately N 43 deg 58' 11" W 103 deg 20'19"

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