What are the first parks that enter your mind when you think of national parks and South Dakota? Most likely the Badlands National Park and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. However, the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in western South Dakota, often overlooked, stands as a lasting tribute and is a must see national site.
In 1961, top secret weapons were being buried beneath the prairie grasses of South Dakota by the United States Air Force. Since the locations of the missiles were top secret, travelers on Interstate 90 never had any idea how close they actually were to the underground,, nuclear-tipped missiles.
The 44th Missile wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base in western South Dakota operated 150 missile silos and 15 launch control facilities. Two of these sites, the Delta One Launch Control Facility and the Delta Nine Launch Facility have been preserved, and are now a National Historic Site which provides visitors a unique Cold War history lesson. The site was officially transferred from the U.S. Air Force to the National Park Service in 2002, and still remains the only national park dedicated solely to the history of the Cold War.
The site was deactivated after the signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty by President George Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991. The terms of the treaty required that the missiles be removed from their silos. The U.S. Air Force began deactivating the United States minuteman force, including the missile sites in South Dakota. Only minor adjustments have been made to the deactivated sites – much of the original mechanical equipment and historic furnishings remain intact.
The development of an official visitor center is still in progress. Currently, there is a contact station at the site. A variety of tours take place at the site, including a self-guided phone tour and detailed tour of both Delta-09 and Delta-01. Visitors to the park can listen to the self-guided tour on their cell phone at Delta-09. A self-guided brochure is also available on-site.
Visitors on the detailed tour will drive their own vehicle a total of 15 miles between the two sites. They will see Delta-01, which includes the living quarters, dining area, and a security control center. Visitors will also take an elevator 31 feet below the surface where they will see the underground Launch Control Center. At Delta-09 there is Minuteman II training missile on display through a glass viewing enclosure.
Reservation tours fill up quickly. It is recommended that visitors plan ahead to reserve a tour time. Starting on March 22nd, reservations for tours can be made one week in advance. Call the Minuteman Missile headquarters at 605-433-5552 between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. (MST), Monday – Friday (Monday – Saturday, Memorial Day – Labor Day).