|These missiles could reach their targets in 30 minutes|
In it's heyday, this corner of South Dakota contained 150 Minuteman II Missiles, and 15 launch control centers. The entire facility covered 13,500 square miles. The silos and launch centers were built in the early 60s, and remained in service until 1991, when the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty was signed by US and Russia.
|Main HQ - just a glorified trailer house|
Shortly after 1991, I'd heard all these silos had been removed, and the missiles decommissioned. But I didn't realize that the Park System saved an abandoned silo and launch control center. Using these Cold War-era facilities, they established a National Historic Site aimed at educating the public about this period of history.
|Missile silo site|
During last month's South Dakota trip, when I proposed visiting the Badlands, my brother suggested we visit the missile silo site too. It was on our return route, so we'd be in the neighborhood. Truthfully, I wasn't all that interested at first. But I decided to keep an open mind - it might be alright. After all, growing up, I'd heard so much about these silos, but never got to see one for real.
|Checking out the silo|
After spending all morning touring the Badlands, my family and I stopped by the headquarters of the Minuteman Missile National Historic site, which was merely two glorified trailer houses set next to a roadside gas station. A couple of interpretive signs flanked the entrance, and inside was a small theater showing movies. The real attractions - the launch control facility and the actual missile silo were located further west. The missile silo was a self-guided site, but tickets were required to tour the launch control facility. The tickets were available from the historic site HQ each day, on a first-come basis. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived (well after noon) the day's tours were already full.
Since visiting the launch control center was not a possibility, my dad instead pointed his car towards the missile silo. The silo was located directly off of I-90, on a patch of barren grassland in the middle of nowhere. A huge chain-link fence circled the site, but the gate was cracked open just enough for people to slip inside.
|Diagram showing inside of a silo|
There really wasn't much to see. The launch tube was surrounded by a concrete pad. It's cover had been replaced with a glass viewing enclosure. Inside was a decommissioned missile, pointing blankly towards the sky.
|These silos were in the middle of nowhere|
At one time, these silos had been scattered throughout this grassy plain. A nearby launch control facility would have been responsible for a certain number - not only to activate them, if the circumstances directed, but also to keep an eye on the security of each site. If an alarm was tripped, the "missile cops" had to come investigate. They didn't mess around, and were instructed to use deadly force if any of these silos were threatened.
|Back side of the silo|
Yeah, we spent a grand total of maybe 10 minutes poking around the silo, until everyone agreed we'd seen enough. Although it was good to see once, I don't feel a need to return. But someday I'd like to tour the launch facility. That's probably more interesting.
Our trip ended with lunch at the world-famous Wall Drug. A large drug store/gift shop/tourist attraction, it's the home of free ice water, 5 cent coffee, and the largest collection of kitschy attractions ever. You can even get your picture taken atop a giant jackalope!
This ends the recaps of my South Dakota trip. Next post I'll return to regular Oregon hiking reports.....