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I am a New York-based writer, travel lover, and author of The Drive North and Destination Paranormal. I have several other books in the works, including fiction.

Touring a Minuteman Missile Silo

“A nuclear-missile silo is one of the quintessential Great Plains objects: to the eye, it is almost nothing, just one or two acres of ground with a concrete slab in the middle and some posts and poles sticking up behind an eight-foot-high Cyclone fence; but to the imagination, it is the end of the world.” ~ Ian Frazier, Great Plains, 1989

I studied a lot of Cold War history, particularly from the Soviet side, in high school and college. Looking back on those days, I think they helped make the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site one of the best stops I’ve made in a very long time. But with construction underway for a new visitor’s center, no one needs to be a historian, or a rocket scientist for that matter either, to enjoy it.


The one thing you do need to do though is plan ahead. I didn’t do that, but thankfully got lucky on the day I planned to stop, the one day during the week that that launch facility is open to the public for tours. I didn’t know this in advance and was rather surprised as I had a ranger come running towards me out of the building shouting, “you’re just in time, hurry up!”


I couldn’t imagine what I would’ve been late for, but I found out that it was the last tour of the day; I was visiting at noon. The reason why I didn’t know this is because I hadn’t read the brochure for the Badlands National Park thoroughly. For some reason they thought it best to put the information on the Minuteman Missile there instead of under its own section.


Silly me for not knowing this.


I did the stops a bit backwards from how they’re supposed to be done. As I was driving east from Rapid City I decided to hit the Delta-09 stop first. This is where the missile was actually in the ground ready to be fired. Thanks to President George H.W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev signing the START treaty, a replica now takes its place. A ranger was on hand during my stop to answer questions, but I gathered that they pop in and out as time allows.


My second stop was for the Delta-01 facility, which is just a military name for where the missiles were launched. The structure really just appears to be a house that’s fenced in. And with the exception of the launch facility 30 feet in the ground, that’s all it really is too. There are support staff that live upstairs and offer security for the missileers below.


The park rangers give the tour up top, but once you go down into the launch facility one of the actual missileers takes over. The gentleman that gave our tour was really quite something else. My jaw dropped when he told me he was on duty when JFK was shot. I also learned later, from a ranger at the visitor’s center, that he was the only one to ever fire a missile in the U.S. – a dud for testing purposes only.


I would’ve missed this great stop had I not accidentally come across a map in the Badlands brochure for what exits everything are at off of Interstate 90. There are no signs along the freeway that point to the different stops, so it’s essential to know where you’re going. Thankfully I got lucky.


My last stop, to the visitor center (freeway exit 131), was very underwhelming as the ranger shrugged and said that there was nothing there and that he couldn’t tell me anything that I hadn’t already learned at the other two sites. The new facility, which is under construction, will go much more in depth when complete. But, for now, all that’s available are a couple of posters to read and a short video to watch.


I do suggest taking time to talk with the rangers a bit though. The guy that said he couldn’t tell me any more actually gave me a lot of information that wasn’t already on the tour; he just needed to be prodded a bit with a few innocent questions before opening up. I suppose it also helped though that I was the only visitor in the center at the time.


Luck prevailed once again.

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2 Comments on “Touring a Minuteman Missile Silo”

  1. starlaschat March 27, 2012 at 8:40 am #

    That’s great that you had the opprotunity to see the minuteman missle silo up close. I’m glad you have the pictures as I know what they look like on the outside above ground. I’m finding that there is a lot of history that goes a long with the silos.


  1. A Cold War Minuteman Missile Launch Hot Seat | Jason's Travels - October 19, 2012

    […] one-time hot seat during the Cold War is now the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota. Share this:TwitterFacebookPinterestStumbleUponEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first […]

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