Minuteman Missile National Historic Site – A Flashback to the Cold War

categories: USA Travel

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site - A Flashback to the Cold War

I grew up in the late 1970s and early 1980s- a child of the Cold War. I’m sure my experience was different that that of people who lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, but I did grow up with the idea of the Soviet Union being the bad guys and the prospect of a nuclear war that would drastically alter life on the planet forever. During a trip to the Black Hills in 2006, I was able to step back into that era of history, thanks to the creativity of the National Park Service, with a visit to Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.

The visitor center is located just outside the entrance to Badlands National Park. The site of the visitor center has no historical significance but serves as a staging area for tours to the site. At the time of my visit, tours were limited to 6 people. Myself and the other tour participants drove our personal vehicles to the site, following a park ranger into the prairie north of Interstate 90.

Driving to the site

The first stop on the tour is the launch control facility, known as Delta One, which is located down country dirt roads about 12 miles away from the visitor center. It is one of the few that remain intact. During the height of the Cold War, there were as many as 15 of these sites scattered through the grasslands of the Central United States.

The main room at Delta One

The tour at Delta One consists of two parts. The first part is a tour of the living quarters for the air force personnel that were stationed at the facility. The facility was built in the 1960s, and the interior still has the look of those times. Among the rooms included on the tour are the main lounge and recreation area, the barracks, the radio/communication room and the kitchen.

There were many authentic parts of the above ground part of the launch facility tour. The Ranger made it clear that for authenticity’s sake, the building was left exactly as it was on the day it was decommissioned in 1993, right down to the half finished game of Battleship (pictured above), the signs posted around the building and the various logs and notebooks used around the building.

The steel reinforced door of the Launch Control Center

The highlight of the tour to Delta One was the visit to the underground Launch Control Center. The room, built 31 feet below the surface and surrounded by reinforced concrete, was home to the missileers, who worked in 24 hour shifts. Measuring 29 feet in diameter and 54 feet in length, this compact room contained the controls for up to 10 missiles scattered around the countryside in their silos.

Inside the Launch Control Center

The men and women chosen to work in this high pressure job were required to undergo batteries of psychological testing. A sign near the entrance to the room announces “No Lone Zone. Two Man Concept Mandatory”, an obvious safeguard against an unintended missile launch. The room had a small toilet and a small bunk for the comfort and livability of the men stationed there.

Control Panel for Launch

I had goosebumps as the ranger conducting the tour showed us the actual missile launch box, something most people had seen only in the fictional setting of movies. To be so close to the controls that were at the heart of what could have been a catastrophic World War left me with a surreal feeling.

The decommissioned ICBM at Delta Nine

The final stop on the tour (which lasted about two hours) was a twenty minute drive away from Delta One. The launch facility, Delta Nine, is a preserved missile silo. The steel cover of the silo has been partially rolled back, replaced with a glass cover which allows visitors to view the decommissioned ICBM (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile) inside the silo. The ranger said the glass covering also had a secondary purpose- it allows Russian satellites to verify that the site no longer has a military usage.

At the time of my visit in 2006, the only way to visit both sites was on the guided tour. In 2011, the site is much more flexible for the casual visitor who is not able to make reservations for the tour. The launch site (Delta 9) now has a self guided tour where visitors are able to dial numbers on their cell phones to get an audio description of what they are looking at. The NPS has done a great job using this type of technology in many of the sites I have visited. The Launch Control Facility (Delta 1) now has Open House days on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the summer. I would still highly recommend making reservations for the tour if at all possible. The rangers do an outstanding job of bringing this recent and important part of American History to life.

This site makes an excellent addition to any visit to the Black Hills region, which also contains five other National Park sites- Badlands National Park, Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and Devil’s Tower National Monument (located just across the border in Northeastern Wyoming).

More information is on the Minuteman Missile NHS. My photos from Minuteman Missile National Historic Site are available on mysite.

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site - A Flashback to the Cold War in Wyoming

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by Erik Smith

Erik’s parents fostered a love of traveling that started with long family road trips during the summer months. His first international trip was a family jaunt to Europe at age 14. Since 2003, he has been trying to visit all the National Park units in the lower 48 states, currently standing at 304 of 350 visited. In 2010, he took a one year break from his National Park quest to visit Israel (with side trips to Jordan & Egypt) for the month of May, on a tour inspired by The Amateur Traveler. His blog is at http://onmyfeetorinmymind.blogspot.com. Twitter:@eriksmithdotcom



2 Responses to “Minuteman Missile National Historic Site – A Flashback to the Cold War”

Noel Christoff

Says:

Great article…about Natioanl Heritage. Good Job Erik.

Brad

Says:

I really enjoyed your post, thanks for sharing. If you are into Cold War historical areas, you would probably also enjoy the Titan Missile Museum outside Tucson, AZ. The Titan was one of forerunners of the Minuteman.

http://www.titanmissilemuseum.org/

A lot of what you described was the similar for the Titan tour we took. One thing that was noticeably different (at least when we were there several years ago) was that you could climb around the missile’s launch tube (with Titan II missile), getting up close and personal with all of the launch and support systems at the bottom of the silo. They just asked that you not touch anything. Also, the control room and silo were interconnected via a long hallway, they weren’t in separate locations like the Minuteman site.

The tours were just getting going when I was there. According to the website now, there is one tour which pretty much touches all of the nooks/crannies of the whole site. I will be taking it the next time we’re in the area. It was that interesting that I want to see the rest that wasn’t open at the time! 😉

Best Wishes.

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