Tour de Force: The Minuteman Missile Historic Site Ranger guide

“Ride up in the elevator, ask a thought-provoking question, IE. Could you turn the key?”

Written by Allan Lasser
Edited by JPat Brown

In the 1990s, during our nuclear disarmament initiative, the Congress preserved two intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos as historic sites. The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site (MMNHS), in rural South Dakota, lies just off Interstate 90.

Today, the public can visit and follow a National Park Ranger on a loosely scripted tour all the way down into the launch control center itself. That script - recently released via a National Parks Service FOIA - covers the basic history of the Cold War, provides fun facts and trivia about the park, and reinforces the fundamentals of tour guidery.

The tour begins outside the facility’s gates, where visitors learn the facility was activated in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis and that the silos were arranged in a “bicycle wheel” configuration with the launch facility at the hub.

Proper UV protection is also cautioned.

Before entering the facility building, all tour guides should give a safety briefing, most notably “Do not touch anything.”

There’s no mention of what happens if you break any of these rules, nor is there any explanation on how a facility designed to withstand a nuclear explosion is unable to withstand the oils secreted by human skin.

Inside, the guide discusses the structure of the Air Force unit that occupied this space.

The artifacts inside the space tell the story well, but the eating habits deserve special mention.

Like the ability to launch missiles at the USSR, midnight chow was also under lock and key.

Then, the guide should lead the tour group into the elevator and together the group descends to the underground launch control center. Once underground, the guide should draw the group’s attention to the heavy, nuke-proof Dominoes door.

To be fair, it looks like it’d be pretty hard to miss.

The inside of the launch control center has been left as it was, with meager accommodations for the two soldiers who occupied it on 24 hour shifts.

Having gone as far as possible, the tour group should return to the elevator. As a fun icebreaker for the long ride back to the surface, visitors are encouraged to contemplate unleashing nuclear Armageddon.

For a facility whose secrecy lasted until just a few decades ago - and where any unauthorized person approaching could be fatally shot - the access the public is afforded to these missile silos is remarkable. While as a destination for family fun, a missile silo is hardly Disneyland, we are fortunate that a space like this is preserved for the public’s benefit. Not just as roadside attraction, but a relic of a global cultural battle that lasted decades.

The full script is embedded below, and check out the other responsive documents on my request page.

As a bonus, the National Park Service was even kind enough to send me a history book that costs $7 at the park’s gift shop!


Image via National Park Service