Cold War relic

ICBM Launch Site

One of many missile launch sites in Western South Dakota

There was a time when Western South Dakota was on the front lines of the Cold War and the relics of that time can be found on the prairies throughout the area. It was a time when acronyms like ICBM and MAD were well-known and the nuclear-tipped-missile launch sites from which the Cold War would have turned hot were commonplace.

Today these sites have all been de-commissioned and the land sold back to the original land-owners. But there are still a few sites where an intrepid visitor can walk over the tops of giant underground bunkers and command posts.

Sites typically have huge, virtually unmovable, thick concrete caps designed to withstand all but a direct hit from a nuclear weapon.  The missile silos that still exist beneath these caps once contained ICBMs (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles) that were aimed at cities like Moscow, St. Petersburg and Vladivostok.  The cold war mantra was MAD — Mutually Assured Destruction — a policy forever etched in the public mind by the movie character Dr. Strangelove.

If this sort of thing interests you, the best educational opportunity is at Wall, South Dakota, where the Minuteman National Historic Site is operated by the US Park Service.  For more information go to  If you wish to visit a site on private land, make sure you get the land-owner’s permission first.

By the way, the huge concrete caps shown in the photo above were opened by an explosive charge which would blast them off to the sides just seconds before the actual launch.  Fortunately for humanity, it was a sight no one had to witness.  Many of these launch sites can be seen from highways, however the majority are in remote locations.