Day 4: August 8, 2016
We began our day with a trip to the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in Philip, South Dakota. It was on the way to Badlands National Park, which was our ultimate destination for the day.
We didn’t actually tour the Launch Control Center, as that is a few miles down the road and we didn’t have time with our busy agenda for the day. There are a limited number of spaces on tours each day, for a small per person fee. The Launch Control Center was active between the 1960s and the mid-1990s, when most of the nuclear missiles were deactivated. The United States during the peak of the Cold War had about 1,000 active nuclear missiles, and each control center controlled 10 missiles. So, you can do the math – this was not the only control center.
Even without going on the tour though, the Visitor’s Center was well worth the stop. Exhibits covered the length of the history of nuclear armament, from the dropping of the first atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Cold War, the tense periods with Cuba and Russia, and the eventual agreements to move toward disarming nuclear weapons around the world. Several years ago, I toured the Titan Missile Site in Sahuarita, AZ, near Tucson, so I was able to translate that experience without seeing this silo site.
When I toured the Titan site in AZ, I was amazed by the technology that existed in the construction of the silo. On my tour there, a volunteer was asked to try to open a blast door that weighed several tons. It was so well balanced and constructed that it moved very easily on its bearings.
The Minuteman Missile Visitor’s Center had a piece of the Berlin Wall that visitors could touch.
They also had a genuine missile silo toilet – a historic toilet for my collection! You know I had to get a photo of that! Sadly it was damaged (probably by other historic toilet photo collectors) so I didn’t get to pose properly for the photo. This one will have to do…
After the Minuteman site, we went just down the road to the Prairie Homestead – a South Dakota State Historic Site. There were two draws to the site – the first was the sod house, built in 1909 by the Ed Brown family. The home also had a later wooden addition; another home that was moved from its original location, and which doubled the size of the original house. It would be difficult to live in sod, which had bugs who would move through it and drop into the home (yuck), as well as the fact that sod walls make for a damp environment and tend to sag over time.
There were also several outbuildings on the site, including an outhouse, but I’m not sure if the outhouse was original or reconstructed. That didn’t stop me from getting photos of the historic toilet and its perpetual guest. There is a root cellar, and an old well. The barn has animals, including chickens and goats, which I’m sure would keep the kids busy and entertained if for some crazy reason they got bored watching the more famous four legged residents.
The other big draw of the Prairie Homestead is that they have white prairie dogs! Staff indicated that these prairie dogs are a separate species, but they aren’t. They are actually leucistic black-tailed prairie dogs, meaning they don’t have the pigment in their skin, but do have pigmented eyes, so they aren’t albino. Many species of animals have leucistic individuals, including other mammals (white lions and tigers), reptiles and birds. These prairie dogs were certainly lighter in color than others that we saw during our trip, and they didn’t have the typical black-tipped tail of other members of their species. The fact that these prairie dogs interbred among themselves causes the genetic mutation to continue.
I loved watching them, and took lots of photos of them popping out of their burrows. They are so adorably cute!
These white prairie dogs were moved to the site in partnership with the Oglala Sioux tribe, but if you aren’t interested in seeing the sod house, you can see the white prairie dogs for free just down the road from the gas station.
By the time we left the Prairie Homestead it was lunchtime, but we had so much left to do in our day!