It’s interesting growing up and living with nuclear missiles in your “backyard.” I always known that southeastern Wyoming was loaded with them – it’s FE Warren Air Force Base’s job after all – the base is one of three strategic missile bases in the U.S. There was always that morbid knowledge that this region was a Soviet target, and perhaps still is by United States’ foes – and perhaps the morbid blessing of knowing I wouldn’t have to worry about surviving all out nuclear war because, well…. I wouldn’t. Most of the time, it’s a forgotten thing until I’m driving some lonely stretch of highway or some backroad and happen upon people with machine guns at a fenced off missile silo, or get stuck in a convoy when they’re hauling the warheads. I’m mostly weirded out by the sheer number of people in this area that don’t realize they’re surrounded by nuclear missiles, honestly!
So as a child of the late Cold War era, a current day resident in a region full of nukes, and fresh off of reading The Missile Next Door, one of Wyoming’s newest historical sites pipped my interest!
The Quebec 01 Missile Alert Facility State Historic Site is located about 30 miles north of Cheyenne off of Exit 39 on I-25. I can’t really say it better than the official blurb…
This site is significant as the only accessible Peacekeeper Missile Alert Facility left in the world and will strive to preserve and interpret the Cold War history of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, fostering an understanding of the mission and duties of the personnel and crews assigned to work there.Wyoming State Parks
The facility was constructed in 1962 originally for the Minuteman missile program, and then repurposed in 1986 for launching the Peacekeeper program. Its purpose is what a launch facility sounds like… a facility that would launch a nuclear missile over the North Pole to the Soviet Union, hitting its target in probably less time than you can get a pizza delivered (~30 minutes). The site was decommissioned and vacated in 2006 when the Peacekeeper program ended, and re-opened as a Wyoming State Park historical site in August 2019 after the state was able to acquire the facility. To be clear, no nuclear missile was ever at this site as launch control and the missiles themselves are kept far apart from each other. There were also redundant launch control facilities, so in case one was taken off line, there would still be a way to launch a missile. The more you know…
I’m sold, let’s go explore some history!
My parents and I chose the last Saturday that the site was open for the season in September 2021, which is easy to find due to signage off of I-25 (and really… there’s not much else off the exit aside from cows… yes, the site is really that plain looking ranch house with some funny things around it to the west of the interstate). There was free admission on the weekend we visited, but otherwise admission is $8 for adults, $4 for children, and $7 for military (as of 2021).
We explored the above ground exhibits, which are self-guided, while waiting for the next tour of the underground control chamber to begin, which run every half hour. Photography is allowed! (For those who are claustrophobic, you can watch a video tour from the safety of the above ground, wide open world.)
A few others joined us, leading to a rather crowded control chamber tour. We first descended 60 feet underground on an elevator (don’t worry, there’s a very long ladder in case the elevator breaks! But naturally, this means the tour is not able to accommodate those who may not be able to climb that ladder in the case of an emergency or elevator failure), and then went through the first of two blast doors (8 and 12 tons apiece). The underground facility was built to withstand nuclear blasts that could occur around the facility, ensuring that we’d (meaning the United States) would retain capacity to launch our missiles in return. The whole underground pod was actually laid on a massive suspension system which would help absorb any bombing impacts!
Time to enter one last blast door to the incredibly small room two missileers would share at a time during their shift in the launch room!
Probably the most obvious thing one notices is how antiquated the equipment is even by 2006 standards. But in conversations I’ve had with friends in the Air Force, the benefit is floppy discs cannot be hacked. Noted! (60 Minutes did an expose not too many years back on the outdated, analog equipment the country’s missile program runs on, but there is something to be said of analog technology. However, its hard to source parts when something breaks…)
There is an escape hatch, but the tour guide pointed out that even if you managed to dig your way out, the sand backfilling the hatch probably would’ve been turned to glass, and would you really want to crawl out to a nuclear wasteland anyway? (It’s honestly a VERY heavy topic to think about…)
Missileers would pull 48 hour shifts (I’ve read 24 hours in other resources, and honestly I cannot remember what the tour guide said) in the launch chamber, which was equipped with a microwave (equally ancient looking as the computers are), stocked with food, a toilet (not much privacy), and bunks for sleeping. Definitely not a job for those who are claustrophobic! Or women until the late 1980s…
Overall, the tour was very short and sweet (and you are watched with eagle eyes to make sure you do not touch anything or appear to be a little too into photographing the rotary telephone like I was), but still worth it to see into this piece of the United States’ history (and present… we still have nuclear missiles all around the Cheyenne region, though they are of the Minuteman III variety currently).
Quick facts about the Quebec 01 Missile Alert Facility State Historic Site:
- Located at Exit 39 on I-25 north of Cheyenne
- Open May 1st – September 30th
- Tours of the underground facilities available every half hour
- Self-guided tour of the above ground facilities at your own leisure
- Participates in the Wyoming State Parks Passport program
- Website: https://wyoparks.wyo.gov/index.php/places-to-go/quebec-01
Interested in other nuclear missile history? The National Park Service operates the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota. Similar to Quebec 01, you can tour a launch control facility, but even better, you can tour a missile silo (which is where the actual missile is – launch control facilities are never where the actual missile is!). I haven’t been to this NPS unit yet, but I’d like to one day!