We’ve had some nature, and some history, more specifically, 19th century history. Now it is time for some very recent history: a real Cold War missile, carrying a nuclear warhead. Well, I think they’ve removed the warhead at this point. Too bad.
During the Cold War, the US military placed a number of intercontinental missiles at various points insides the US, armed with nuclear weapons, ready to go in the event of a Soviet attack. This system of missiles, called “minuteman missiles” for their short response time, were part of the nuclear deterrent system the US had built up to prevent attacks. The missiles (150!) were stationed at various facilities in South Dakota, to reduce the number of casualties in the event of an attack (or accident?), and because South Dakota is sufficiently far north to reach just about any point in Russia conveniently in about 30 minutes. If you have an intercontinental ballistic missile, that is.
We learn all of this from a self-guided cell phone tour: you call a particular number, and are guided, step by step, around a decommissioned missile silo, in the middle of nowhere. We had wanted to go on the guided tour, which would have taken us not just to the missile silo, but also to the launch control center, but these tours are small, rare, and popular, and so we failed to secure a spot. But the silo itself is simply ‘open to the public’, if you can find it, and so we at least get a look at the actual missile.
While the Minuteman II Missiles, the type of which this is an instance, are no longer in use, there are still 450 Minuteman III Missiles stationed at various locations, ready to go. A comforting thought?