Known as the peaceful prairie with the power that could destroy the world, the national historic site South Dakota that housed the Minuteman Missile is an awe-inspiring place to visit for its historic impact alone. Visiting the site can bring home the seriousness of the Cold War and better understand the importance and danger of nuclear weapons.
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The historic site is the only one operated by the national parks service that was designated specifically for the Cold War. It was established as an educational and historic site in 1999 to help people understand the arms race, the Cold War, and the development of the intercontinental ballistic missile system (ICBM). In fact, it houses the last standing Minuteman II system in the US. There are routinely around 50,000 visitors annually.
The site has three separate areas that are open for visitors to experience. It is open all year round
Visitor Center: Considered the best starting place for a visit to the historic site, the visitor center is home to a wealth of information about the story of the site (focusing on its impact on the Cold War) and the missile system located on site (known as the Minuteman, an intercontinental ballistic missile). There are staff located at the visitor center to help visitors find their way around as well as to answer any questions they may have. Also located in the visitor center are public restrooms, wi-fi, a film about the park, exhibits, and an on-site bookstore.
- Film: The park film, which lasts about thirty minutes, provides visitors with a deeper understanding of the importance of the missile defense system and its use as a nuclear weapon deterrent. It includes footage from the archives (interviews, recordings, images, etc).
- Exhibits: The exhibits located at the visitor center focus on the Cold War, and its challenges as well as its paradoxes. The outside showcases a sculpture that uses elements of bas-relief as a contrast to the symbolism of the two superpowers during the war. There are multiple exhibits located in the lobby as well as on the inside, with a variety of themes like meeting the men and women who handle the missiles, and split second decisions.
Launch Control: Visitors who wish to tour the facility that holds the launch controls for Delta-01 are required to make reservations in advance. This can be done either by email or by phone. The tours are led by park rangers and lead visitors through the groups as well as the topside support building. After that, visitors will take the 31 foot descent down the elevator into the underground portion of launch control. All guests must be able to climb at least two ladders that are 15 feet in length in the event of a failure of the elevator system,
Missile Silo: Another interesting place to visit is the missile silo for Delta-09. Operational from 1963 through the beginning of the 1990s, the aboveground portion of the facility is now open for tours (self guided for visitors who have the use of a cell phone).
Field trips are always welcome at the historic site, as it can be a great way to teach students history with the use of an actual historic site. The ranger led field trips and educational tours depend on the size of the class visiting.
Classes that have 18 students or fewer can tour Launch Control for Delta-01. This field trip usually takes around two hours and gives students a general, basic intro to the Cold War and the way that the missiles helped prevent war and preserve peace. After the intro, the classes will break up into smaller groups of around six students who will take a tour of the facilities located both above and below ground. The tour also includes a visit to the missile silo
Classes with more than 18 students will meet directly at the missile silo. It lasts around 45 minutes and includes a discussion about the role of the missiles, a general introduction, and the future of nuclear weapons.
Tours must be booked at least two weeks prior. They are free and are offered from October through May.
The historic site is home to an incredible bookstore with many different books that focus on topics related to the missile, the Cold War, and the people who have spent time there. With other educational information and gift related items, purchases made at the bookstore go back into helping support the programming offered at the site.
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, 24545 Cottonwood Road, Philip, SD, 57567, Phone: 605-433-5552