Ever want to peer over a gigantic nuclear missile? Minuteman Missile National Historic Site lets you do just that. And it’s terrifying…
Want something that’ll scare the bejeezus out of you? Read this wonderful statement from the National Park Service:
During the Cold War, a vast arsenal of nuclear missiles were placed in the Great Plains. Hidden in plain sight, for thirty years 1,000 missiles were kept on constant alert; hundreds remain today. The Minuteman Missile remains an iconic weapon in the American nuclear arsenal. It holds the power to destroy civilization, but is meant as a nuclear deterrent to maintain peace and prevent war.
Yikes. Thankfully, the Cold War is over, and now at least one of these missiles is actually available for viewing in middle-of-nowhere South Dakota.
Of course, we went… We saw…
This is our trip to the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site…
So before you actually gaze upon a missile once powerful enough to pretty much end the world, you really need to stop by the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Visitor Center.
A beautiful building perched atop the South Dakota plains, the visitor center tells the story of the Minuteman Missile field, a field that once contained 15 Launch Control Facilities and 150 missile silos, each holding a nuclear Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.
The small, but thoughtful museum in the visitor center also tells of how these missiles were part of a larger strategy to deter our nuclear enemies (mainly the USSR) from launching their own nuclear attacks against us. (That whole “assured mutual destruction” thing.)
The museum is interesting, and, honestly, somewhat terrifying. The thought of two world superpowers with thousands of intercontinental nuclear missiles pointed at each other tends to be a scary thought.
The visitor center should be your first stop for a few reasons. First, one can’t fully appreciate the missile silo visit itself without first having reflected on the fact there were once thousands of nuclear missiles scattered through the Great Plains. Second, the visitor center is the only place you can get your ticket to actually tour the Launch Control Center itself.
Pro Tip: The tours for the Launch Control Center fill up fast, so if you really want to see it, stop by the visitor center as early as you possibly can. From the NPS:
To see Delta-01, visitors need to attend a ranger-guided tour. Tickets are given out on a first come, first served basis, on the day of the tour at the visitor center. Tickets are limited and in high demand. During the summer season, it is best to arrive early in order to obtain tickets. Due to the size of the elevator and the confined space underground, tours are limited to 6 visitors at a time.
Missile Silo (Launch Facility Delta-09)
Just off I-90 at Exit 116, you’ll find a little patch of plains with a fence around it. Odd, considering there’s pretty much nothing anywhere near it. Inside this fence, you’ll find an 80-foot deep missile silo that once housed a Minuteman Missile with a whopping 1.2 megaton nuclear warhead.
Today, you’ll find an unarmed missile sitting under a silo door retrofitted with glass so you can peer into the hole and imagine all the destruction this little spot in South Dakota could have once inflicted.
Pro Tip: Call the number on the sign at the gate for an audio tour of the site.
Launch Control Center (Delta-01)
Ok, before we go any further, we’ll admit: We didn’t get to the visitor center in time for a ticket to the Launch Control Center. Nonetheless, here’s a little bit about the place where someone could have fired a nuclear missile during the Cold War.
From the NPS:
The thirty-minute ranger guided interpretive tour of Launch Control Facility Delta-01 begins with a walk through of the grounds and topside support building. Visitors will see the living, dining, and recreational areas for the eight people stationed on the topside at Delta-01, working three days on and three days off at a time.
Visitors then descend via an elevator 31 feet underground. They enter the Launch Control Center by walking past an eight ton blast door built to protect missile crews from the effects of a nuclear blast. Visitors will see the complicated array of electronics used by missileers during their alert shifts to monitor the missiles and learn what it was like to have the awesome responsibility of thermonuclear war at their fingertips.
Final Thoughts on the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
South Dakota has a lot to see and do… Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, Wall Drug, heck, even the Corn Palace, but the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site might be the hidden gem of the state.
Considering the fact it’s all right off I-90, there’s no excuse for not stopping and letting yourself reflect a little on the nuclear age and the Cold War.
Again, the NPS sums it up pretty perfectly:
The park presents an opportunity to reflect on a peaceful prairie that once held the power to destroy the world…
Well, isn’t that just something to reflect on?
To plan your trip, visit the NPS’s Minuteman website.
Our South Dakota adventures were part of a crazy, awesome road trip called MINI Takes the States. For 2 weeks, MINI owners rallied across the country hitting up cities like Green Bay, race tracks, and everything in between. We had the pleasure of driving both a MINI S convertible and a MINI John Cooper Works, both with 6-speed manual transmissions. It’s pretty much the most fun you’ll ever have.
The best part? The whole trip raised over 1,000,000 meals in partnership with Feeding America. Learn more here.
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