The Rest of The Second Day

Well, it’s taking me longer to tell you about our vacation that it did to actually take it. Yikes!

So, here’s what we did for the rest of day 2:

After we left the prairie dog town alongside the highway near the Badlands, we visited the only remaining Minuteman Missile site in South Dakota.

From the mid-1960s through the early 1990s, 1000 missiles in the upper great plains were pointed at the Soviet Union, ready to be launched at a moment’s notice. Each missile carried a warhead equivilant to one-million tons of dynamite, or sixty-six times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Rotating shifts of members of the Air Force monitored the missiles around the clock.

At the end of the cold war, all of the missile sites in South Dakota were closed down, except for one, which now serves to educate visitors. There are still 400 active ones in other states.

The tour starts with the Launch Control Facility, an unassuming building on the prairie surrounded by a chain link fence.

From this building, 10 missiles were monitored around the clock. Nothing has been changed in the building since the early 90s. It contained a security control center, back up generator, and living quarters.

Commander's quarters

Crew quarters

There was also a kitchen,

and living area.

I did a double take in the kitchen when I saw the paper posted to the fridge. Surely this wasn’t a note directing people to keep the fridge clean like I’ve seen everywhere I’ve ever worked. Surely the Air Force doesn’t have this problem too. I took a closer look.

Ha! Despite military discipline, the dirty community fridge exists. Tee hee.

There was a phone in the living area:

Ahh.. the days before cellphones.

Next we went down the elevator to the underground control room.

The heavy entrance door to the room had been decorated.

The missiles were monitored in 24 hours shifts of a 2 person crew in a room 30 feet below ground reached by an elevator. The crews entered and left the room together, as no one man was supposed to ever be in the control room by himself.

Here’s the control room.

Most of the time the crew spent monitoring their 10 missiles.

When not working, they would read, watch tv, or take long-distance college courses. In the event of nuclear war, they each would have received a coded message directing them to launch one or multiple missiles.

They each had their own key which they would have inserted into separate locks at the same time.

The locks were 12 feet apart so no one man could launch a missile by themselves.

Hard to believe there was a time when we were this close to nuclear war.

If you want to see more pictures or learn more about the Minuteman Missile National Historic site, click HERE.

After we were done touring the missile site, we hit the road headed for Custer State Park. It was late afternoon when we arrived there and the light was not good, so I didn’t take too many pictures, but we drove around anyway to familiarize ourselves with the park.

The pic below was taken from the Needles Highway scenic drive in the park.

Built in 1922, the highway is a narrow road that winds its way through pine forests and between granite formations that resemble needles. Several tunnels were cut through solid rock when the road was built. Thought it was built as a two way road, cars were a lot smaller back then and so the tunnels are one way.

This is the most narrow one. We squeaked through, and then like several other of our fellow travelers, we pulled over to watch others squeak through the narrow space as well.

This one was a jaw dropper: a truck pulling a large motor home.

We were amazed to watch as the driver got through with just a few inches to spare.

Then we hopped back into our truck and headed down out of the mountains to get to our hotel. Just outside the park we entered a little valley as the sun set with a lush green pasture dotted with cattle.

But not just any cattle:

Longhorns!  We just had to stop and take a few pics.

For some reason, they took an instant disliking to Harland, and one of them shook his head bad-temperedly at him.

Bad bull. Bad.

We slept well in our hotel that night, and were up early the next morning to drive the Wildlife Loop road in the park hoping to see the bison herd.

We weren’t disappointed.  Stay tuned.



Cattle, corn, wheat, beans, mud, snow, ice, and drought. Plenty of fresh air and quiet. Our life is sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes joyous, but never boring.

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9 Responses

  1. The missile site is so interesting! The sign on the fridge..yep, seen those at my work sites too…hahaha! too funny! Also, that huge mural of the deer in the living room…oh man, that is sooo retro! Moving on..that tunnel is soo cool! I cannot believe how small, and yes I guess our vehicles are a lot bigger these days!! Also, I am loving those Longhorns!! How wonderful to see so up close!

  2. Lana says:

    What a great vacation/series! It’s particularly special to me because I grew up just north of that part of the world. I never visited a minuteman silo (actually, they were highly classified, and security was very tight – you could not get into one, or even close to one), but I remember hearing about them when they were being built. It was a pretty scary time. We had family in Hot Springs, so we visited the area you traveled to many times. It’s a beautiful, amazing, unique country and your pictures are incredible – definitely do the area justice! I wish I had your photographic talent!! Really enjoy your blog. I went to college in Kansas, so I have a real affinity for your writings and pictures.

    P.S. When you gave hints about where you had spent your vacation, I just knew where you were talking about!

    • Suzanne says:

      So glad you are enjoying this Lana, and I’m happy to bring a little of your old home to you. Thank you!

  3. Louise S says:

    The Minuteman Missile site was FASCINATING to me. I’ve heard about it many times but never investigated anything about it. Thank goodness, the servicemen had a “boring” job and never had to turn their keys in those locks. Thank you for taking us on this trip and sharing your pics and information, Suzanne. You’re awesome!

  4. Doe in Mi says:

    Wow, what a wonderful post. Very informative and beautiful too. Awesome Suzanne thank you.

  5. Wow! Fantastic pictures!! I want to go visit both spots!!! Amazing.


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