Thursday, September 17, 2009

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

While driving north on state road 240, on our approach to Interstate 90, after our visit to the Badlands National Park in South Dakota, we passed this building and did an about turn to visit it. I knew that Minuteman Missiles had been positioned throughout the prairies and plains of the western states during the Cold War, but I never dreamed I'd see one so close to a major highway!

We entered the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site visitor's center which was located off Interstate 90, exit 131, beside the Conoco station. The visitor center is the starting point for all tours to the site of the missile which is a short distance away. The visitor center also includes exhibits and a park orientation video which places the Minuteman in historic context. All my photos of the informational placards were taken there.

It was a short drive from the visitors center to the actual missile site, which is seen in the photo above. A dirt road off I 90 leads to the site, and it is fairly well camouflaged by the vast empty rolling plains. From the road you might see a chain link fence and a few antennas in the corner of your eye, and think that it might be a transmitter, or some sort of a well. I would never think it was a weapon of mass destruction capable of destroying civilization! This missile site was decommissioned after 1991, so it no longer holds a Minuteman Missile II, but only a model. The site became a historic site, open to the public, as part of an effort to educate and inform.

All photos can be clicked on to enlarge for easier viewing

If you enlarge this informational placard, located at the visitor's center, you can see a map of the location of this missile near Interstate 90 along the route to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. More than a dozen nuclear missiles were located along this route!
Minuteman Missile sites were established in Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Missouri during the Cold War era of the 1960's, often placed in private ranches and farms.

This chilling placard shows how a Minuteman Missile II would be able to reach the Russian Kremlin in 30 minutes with destructive power equal to 60 percent of all the bombs used during World War II. The Great Plains of the USA were considered far from the oceans and submarines that could have destroyed a missile if it was launched, and they were also less populated so that launching them would cause less collateral damage. Of course I am relieved that none has ever had to be used, and I hope none will ever be used! I remember growing up under the fear of nuclear war during the Cold War years. and the many times our country was on the edge.

A close up of the silo. A glass viewing window now replaces the former 90 ton enclosure door that would be blown off into the field if the missile was deployed. The missile stood in a submerged reinforced concrete launcher inside. The missile was ready to be launched remotely 24 hours a day by "missileers" who would be several miles away.

The following italicized quotes are from the Minuteman Missile web site:

"Although the phrase "finger on the button" has become common, there was no button used to launch an ICBM ( Intercontinental Ballistic and Cruise Missiles) Launch required proper authentication codes and two keys, turned simultaneously by two officers in the underground Launch Control Center (LCC). At the same time, two officers in another LCC had to also turn keys to successfully launch a missile."

Local citizens in western South Dakota grew up in the shadows of the missile field, and many organized to protest the deployment of nuclear weapons.

A model of the missile within the silo at the historic site. It is frightening to think there are many like this that are still hidden away in other states.

"Each Minuteman II carried a 1.2 megaton warhead. This singular weapon could wreak devastation upon a target, also making it a technological terror. A Minuteman II warhead had 120 times the explosive capacity of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan during World War II."

You can watch two interesting short films about the Minuteman Missile on the National Park Service web site at this link.

Nuclear arms reduction began in 1991 with the signing of START - The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

"Under the terms of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), signed by American President George H.W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991, the United States and Soviet Union began to reduce their stockpiles of nuclear arms.
The treaty did not eradicate, but did limit the number of nuclear warheads each nation was allowed to deploy. Minuteman II missiles in South Dakota had been given minimal upgrades over the past two decades and were costly to maintain. Thus they were among those selected for deactivation."

Although there are no longer any active Minuteman silos in South Dakota, 500 updated Minuteman III nuclear missiles are still deployed in the upper Great Plains. They are a reminder that, although the Cold War era has ended, our nation's defense systems must remain on alert against the security threats of today.


wolfie_cr said...

Small world, I was just there on Sept 11, found your blog by googling looking for more info on the place.

I've been to this one (also did the tour where you go to the launch facility) and then another one that its in Arizona.

What makes you think that its a model ? Both this one and the one in Arizona are the real thing, they have just been deactivated (I am positive about the one in Arizona.......about this one say 50% unless at some point someone explicity said that it was a model)

Obviously they dont have fuel or an active warhead

Anonymous said...

This is one part of our history I do not like at all. As it is very interesting it is also very disturbing.... Just the very thought that goverments had these deadly missles aimed at each other. So sad... so sad...
Hugs to You!!

jeanne said...

Good morning Pat. I have been busy with company all week and have not had time to visit. My cousin is here with two of her friends. They are staying in the cabin but we have been running the roads like crazy. They is so much to see here.

I just scrolled down to your Badlands and the Mt. Rushmore posts. You did a fabulous job of sharing your trip there. We have been to both places twice. Your detail is wonderful and the photos awesome. Good job but then you are a wonderful blogger and share your knowledge so well. Today I discovered the missile info. So scary to think of the destruction we can do in 30 minutes.
I ADORE THE PHOTO OF LEO!!!! Pat, he is so cute and I am in love with that little guy. You are so blessed with a sweet grandson like Leo. I am missing that part of having grands right now. Mine are all growing up. Of course I adore their fun ages right now. Teens!!!!
Come over to my post Pat.
YOU WON THE PICNIC GIVEAWAY. CONGRATS. Now send me your address ASAP. I am going out of town tomorrow and I will try to mail it today. If I can't, It will be a week from Sept. 21st.
my email:

Hugs xoxo, Jeanne

RoeH said...

My are really taking me back into my life! The Minuteman project was why I lived in the Dakota's for so long. My father worked on them and then I married one of the guys that worked on them. My dad retired eventually and I went on to live there for another eight years in married life. These sites were all over the place and in North Dakota I lived in Kenmare, Minot, Parshall, Grand Forks, Langdon, Grafton, Finley, and....I think that's all but there must be more. We moved every 6 months to another site. At the time, the local citizens were kind of opposed to all of this temporary population into their towns and did not like the missiles in their fields. I can't blame them. Several years ago I worked at an elementary school here in Mesa. An older woman came in to volunteer who was a winter visitor from North Dakota. I started up a conversation with her saying I used to live where she did. In explaining why I was there at the time she shrugged and said..."Hmmmpf...Missile people!" It was funny to me. All these years and they were still upset over it. One time they were doing a news thing in Grand Forks to try to get the public to accept the missiles better. They were going to set one to speak. Not actually aiming one anywhere but it was just a 'practice'. The news was alerted, people from all over came to watch it, media was everywhere. The did the countdown and at '1' pushed the button to launch it. Nothing happened. Zilch. So the Air Force's attempt at some good news about the missiles failed. Today I think the missile program was a waste of a lot of money. But then, we thought we were all going to be bombed by Russia and we needed to be prepared to hit back.

I miss my days in the Dakotas. Even with the winters there, I would move back. I loved the people there and the small towns and those beautiful prairies that on a good day, you can see the curvature of the earth.

One thing I do know....those farmers that sold part of their wheat fields to the government for these missiles were paid very well. And I mean VERY well. Yup..I would go back.

Tracy said...

Very interesting...spooky, but interesting! It is a tidbit of history that leave not the nicest taste...but history is history and we have a right to access to it and the knowledge. Thanks for your email, Pat--love to hear from you. :o) Happy Day ((HUGS))

Arlene Delloro said...

Scary stuff! I've always wanted to see Badlands, too.

Junie Moon said...

We missed this historic place on our tour of the area. Some day we'll go back and I'll be sure to stop to see the Minuteman Missile site. There's a Titan Missile place here that my friend Cindy and I plan to visit.

GailO said...

It is interesting, and humbling, to see the Cold War as history. To think that this is my history...I lived during these times...Facinating trip!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

You're right. Chilling.

Beverly said...

This post certainly makes us remember that period in our history.

Growing up in south Florida, we had to wear dog tags to school. We were repeatedly drilled for emergencies due to our close proximity to Cuba.

God has brought us through so many crucial times in our history.

Thanks for letting me know about your grandson. I don't post that information on my blog either.

Ciao Chow Linda said...

The whole subject is frightening but part of our world unfortunately.

Melissa Miller said...

What a neat place Pat! My hubby would be fascinated for sure.
I'll show him this post.

Thank you so much for your kind words of encouragement. They really mean so much to me I can't evn put it into words here.
I feel embarrassed I let it get so out of control but things are looking up this past week with heathy eating. The salt cravings are better. Mrs Dash is doing wonders for that. I'm so surprised.

I hope all is well with you and yours. I'm sure little Leo is getting really growing up and is cuter by the day.

~Blessings my friend, ~Melissa ;)

Melissa Miller said...

Forgive all my typos Pat. I'm a little dizzy from the new meds still. Sigh...:)

Just a little something from Judy said...

One very fascinating and sobering post! Thank you so much for sharing this post. I love when you visit new places, and I get the benefit of it. Like I told you before, this post is an educational gold mine.

Jenny said...

Fascinating. Thought provoking. Memory invoking. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting.


CatHerder said...

Looks like an awesome trip...but a little scary too huh?

Anonymous said...

Scarey isn't it Pat that we humans have the ability to distroy this planet many times over. What a responsibility our world leaders have.