When you look at the news today, it seems there are wars and conflicts all over the world. It makes us think about how wars used to be fought… think of the American Revolution and the Civil War. Men formed battle lines, facing one another. Marched towards each other shooting; only finding out who won the battle once the smoke cleared and you could see the last man standing and count the dead bodies on the battlefield.
Fast forward to today with IEDs, drone strikes and long range missiles. It almost makes one wish for the simplicity of the cold war where the super powers were at a relative detente, with each on constant alert, ready to “press the button” if needed. That’s what you will hear more about at Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota.
About Minuteman Missiles
Beginning in the mid-1960’s, the US government built missile silos throughout the mid-west – far from urban centers and away from the coastlines (and any danger of submarine attack). They chose the Minuteman missile because they could be mass produced and because they could be launched from miles away. That meant that the silos could be geographically dispersed; North & South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Nebraska and Missouri.
Over 1000 silos and 100 launch control facilities were built between the mid-1960’s and 1990’s. Most have been decommissioned, but something we did not realize is that there are still 500 nuclear missile silos in the upper great plains.
About Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
Founded in 1999, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site preserves a missile silo and a launch control facility. The silo is a small speck on the wide-open landscape of the flatland. You can visit the silo from topside. You can’t go in it, but there are viewing windows and a ranger on hand to answer questions.
You can also visit the launch command center, from outside the chain fence. There are self-guided cell phone tours, but to go into the command center you have to have a reservation on a ranger-guided tour. Be sure to call ahead – they only allow 6 people at a time with the ranger.
It is pretty cool to learn how these guys worked three days at a time, housed far underground, with their fingers on the launch codes. That certainly would be a stressful job. The ranger really made this come to life – talking about life in the control center and the drills they had, simulating the real thing!
There is also a good visitor center. Be sure to stop there first to see the maps and the movie. There you will learn about the Minuteman missile defense system as well as other aspects of the cold war. One thing that we found really interesting was the fact that during the cold war (through 1968), B-52 bombers armed with thermo-nuclear bombs were kept in the air 7x24x365, ready to attack.
Although the cold war is no longer and technology has changed over the years, it is comforting to know that our military remain on constant alert, ready to protect us.
If your travels take you through South Dakota, Minuteman Missile National Historic Park is easily accessed from the I90, just north of the east entrance to Badlands National Park – another must-see!
Need Help Planning your Visits?
If you would like to explore this or other National Park Units, but need a bit help in the planning, please give us a call at (480) 609-3978. We are happy to offer customized trip planning.