The Cold War- a great time to listen to the dulcet tones of The Ink Spots singing I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire while wondering which superpower would ultimately prevail. Today, even though the United States won the Cold War, not much has changed: during the Cold War, there was paranoia over potential nuclear attacks. Today, there is paranoia over potential terrorist attacks (with or without nuclear weapons). During the Cold War, there was biting, heated political rhetoric about democracy versus communism. Today, we have…biting, heated political rhetoric about democracy versus communism or socialism. The phrase, “the more things change, the more they stay the same” seems fairly applicable regarding these situations, but one thing that has changed, and for the better is the decommissioning of numerous ballistic missile facilities due to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (“SALT”) and Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties (“START”) that occurred at the end of the Cold War.
Today, the only remaining Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile site (“ICBM”) that remains open to the public – or slightly operational at all is the Titan Missile Museum in Sahuarita, Arizona. Since I’m a sucker for strange spots, I decided to swing by and check it out when I was in Arizona a couple of weeks ago. The first thing you realize about the missile site and silo is that during the Cold War, the government of the United States was very smart. How so? Think about it: the silo, the missile, and the site were and are located in the middle of nowhere in an inhospitable desert. If there had been nuclear war, the area would have been reduced to a location that was in the middle of nowhere in a now inhospitable and radioactive desert. In short, no loss to the United States whatsoever. Take that commies! (People of Sahuarita, I kid – no hate mail, please, I love being out in the middle of inhospitable nowheres).
The second thing you realize about the site is that the Titan missile in it protected the United States not just from the Soviet Union, but from the Borg as well. That’s right: the Titan missile protected us in the past and will protect us in the future as well, if Star Trek: First Contact is to be believed. Again I say, kudos to you government planners! What’s that? Start Trek isn’t real? Pshaw, that’s not what I hear! In any case, Star Trek: First Contact was filmed at the silo (in part) – so it must be true! But onto my review of the actual museum and tour, as opposed to my observations of things I learned even before I entered the site (such as to also watch out for rattlesnakes. I know! They hang out in the desert! Who knew!).
The tour: well, the museum and tours are run by volunteers of the Pima Air and Space museum, and all joking aside, they are very knowledgeable about the site, the history, and the region. I was impressed by all of the knowledge all of the staff members brought to the facility and the tour; however, at times, I felt that there was a little too much information being imparted, such as the exact composition of Titan II rocket fuel, and how it was transported from three different sites to Sahuarita. I like technical information as much as the next guy, but at times, there was definitely some information overload. I have to admit that as a Cold War espionage aficionado, I found the information about how the crew entered the silo and base through a number of secured locations in a certain amount of time fascinating.
There were some odd moments on the tour, however, starting with the requirement that every man over 5’10 wear a safety helmet. What about women over 5’10? That question was never answered for me – and was probably information that was kept on a need to know basis. Secondly, this was another site where photography was supposedly not permitted. Seriously, Arizona, what’s up with that? This time, I was told it was for “national security reasons”. Now look: I’m as patriotic and respectful of National Security as anyone, but you’re honestly going to tell me I can’t take pictures of an over thirty year old facility that’s been decommissioned, open to the public, and full of thirty year old technology because of “National Security”? That boggles my mind. As you can see, I took two pictures – one of the interior corridor, and one of the blast door. If the release of these images means that the commies will win the Cold War that’s already over, I’m sorry America. The coolest thing of the tour – despite being inside a nuclear ICBM silo – was the simulated launch at the end of the missile. If I had gotten to touch the missile, that would have been the best part of the tour easily. Having said that, despite receiving a little too much information at times on the tour, it was definitely a good experience that I’d recommend.
Directions: The silo is located at: 1580 W. Duval Mine Rd., Sahuarita, Arizona, which is approximately two miles west of the Interstate 19.
Tips: Apparently, there are tours of the silo that allow you to visit the crew quarters, and at times, stay inside the silo. While those options sound pretty darn neat-o to me, I sadly was not there at the right time to experience those options. Personally, I think the tour is best suited for anyone who was born after 1991, as it will blow their minds as to the state of technology back in “the dark ages” of the Cold War.