Just north of the Badlands, at Cactus Flats, there is a small National Historic Site dedicated to an unsettling reminder of the Cold War: missile silos. In South Dakota alone, there were 150 nuclear-tipped Minuteman Missile silos “planted” in ranchlands, ready to strike targets in the Soviet Union after a short 30-minute flight over the North Pole.
Several of these sites (Delta and Bravo units — each with a Launch Facility and 10 missile silos) were just north of the Badlands’s boundary. There isn’t a real “Visitor Center” yet, but that will soon be built. Tours start with a short movie, providing history and context regarding the Cold War, then everyone proceeds up the interstate — first to the Delta Launch Control Facility, which can easily be viewed from I-90 if you know what you are looking for, and ultimately to a missile silo further west. Yes, there really is a sign at the bottom of that exit ramp now, reading
<— MISSILE SILO
Although buried, the silos were never exactly “hidden” but for most citizens I think the adage “out of sight out of mind” applies. Who wanted to think about nuclear annihilation? Thankfully, the Minutemen Missiles were deactivated as part of the START treaty. In most cases, it seems that the military removed the missile and dynamited the silo facility before returning these imploded sites to ranch-owners with long lists of prohibited uses (limited reusability). Through Minutemen Missile NHS, visitors can see the one silo that has been preserved in situ, like a terrible fossil worm, with the warhead removed, some internal parts filled with cement and components of the launching mechanisms welded together, rendering them “dead” but plenty realistic. It is also a powerful experience to stand in the underground control center, which is like a buried spaceship, where two men would have needed to insert their two keys simultaneously, to activate the launch sequence….
This interesting-but-eerie site, a shrine to our collective cold-war angst, is located spitting distance from the interstate, with the menacing teeth of the Pinnacles visible in the distance.
For more information, including a movie, panoramic photographs of rarely-seen sites, history and maps of minuteman missile silo locations, see: Minuteman Missile National Historic Site