Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, SD

Here's a National Park Service site you may have never heard of, but it's one you should absolutely check out. Especially due to its close proximity to to the entrances Badlands National Park. Minuteman Missile National Historic Site is home to two Cold War-era military relics, the Delta-09 missile silo and the Launch Control Facility at Delta-01. While I came into existence towards the far end of the Cold War, being a 1990-born baby, I've always been fascinated by the history of this almost-50 year tension between the United States, the former Soviet Union and the worried rest of the world. Stories of espionage and spies, the arms race- it makes me wish I were a few years older so I could've been present during that time.

One of the top reasons I admire the National Park Service, is that they not only make a strong conscious effort to preserve some of this country's most spectacular natural landscapes like Zion and Rocky Mountain National Parks, but they also strive to protect, restore and educate curious minds about important sites that shaped America's history. That brings me to this NHS (National Historic Site).  

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site consists of the two military facilities above, as well as a great, new visitor center and museum off of Exit 131, the same exit you take to enter Badlands National Park. See, no excuse! Go check it out. When I was leaving Badlands to head back home east towards Wisconsin, I made it a priority to stop and cross this NHS off my adventure bucket-list. I started by checking out the Delta-09 missile silo which is off of Exit 116 if you'e leaving from the Sage Creek Campground area at Badlands. Drive down a dirt road to a fenced off block with security cameras and warning signs visible. Park and walk into the silo area towards the capped enclosure to peak down below. Boom, you're staring 80ft straight down at a decommissioned 1.2 megaton warhead. "Whoaaaa holy cow," I said to myself, shaking my head in disbelief. The Delta-09 (decommissioned) missile you're looking at face-to-face, was one of 1,000 Minuteman II Missiles spread out across plains of America from 1960s to the end of the Cold War. There were over 150 of them alone in South Dakota. Built in 1963, the 12ft wide silo is layered in thick strong concrete and reinforced with a steel-plate liner. For safety and I'm sure a few national security reasons, you can't go underground and explore the silo. I stood there peeking down through the welded silo door's glass just trying to picture this being ready to launch in a few minutes notice of a potential all-out nuclear war. Scary stuff. Surrounding the silo area many supporting structures, antennas and motion sensors. When I arrived in the morning, a park ranger my age was cleaning the glass on the silo and we joked about how I was envious of his probably the best window cleaning job on the planet. "Yeah it's pretty cool getting to do this every day," he smiled and replied.

Down the road a few minutes from the missile silo is the visitor center, open everyday from 8am-4pm. Apart from a gift shop, there's a fantastic museum where you'll get a full-on history lesson on all that was the Cold War and Nuclear Arms Race (both from yesteryear and present). You'll see videos, photos, super-cool Cold War-era propaganda form both the USSR and US, along with restored items like a chair from a Minuteman Missile launch control facility that Air Force staff would sit strapped in, ready to turn the two launch keys simultaneously to launch a nuke, if we came under attack. One of my favorite items was the silo blast door painted by missileer crews "Worldwide Delivery in 30 Minutes Or less," coined from a Dominos Pizza advertisement but in relevant reference to guaranteeing a nuclear missile impact to strike the USSR in under half-an-hour. Crazy.  There's a corner dedicated to when 'Duck and Cover' drills were an everyday thing back in the 1950s. I highly recommend watching this video with Bert The Turtle from 1951 from the Civil Defense Administration. America had to be ready in the event of a fallout from an atomic bomb. I learned a TON from all the exhibits here, and I have to extend a big thanks to the National Park Service for providing all this historical content in such an intuitive, interactive format. Way better than just reading paragraphs in a hard-cover textbook. To view a complete list of the exhibits at Minuteman Missile NHS click here

Next time I'm heading down I-90 westward, I need to stop and do a guided tour of the Launch Control Facility Delta-01. A half-hour, ranger-led tour takes you down 31ft elevator into the underground lair where US Air Force Missileer crews worked an lived, on-alert and ready to launch a Minuteman II Missile. Reservations are required and made at the visitor center or by calling 605-422-5552. Tour costs $6 if you're 17 & over, $4 if you're 16 & under.

I also suggest 'liking' and following them on Facebook, where the NPS posts daily historic photos.

Cheers ,

(Oh, and sorry if the following pictures aren't the highest-quality. My camera died and I had to take stills on my video camera)