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One for the Road: Remnants of the Cold War

By Shadow

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Leaving Sturgis last year, I decided to take a road I’d never ridden before and, at the same time, avoid the Interstate. Heading east on Route 34 past the Buffalo Chip, I figured I’d drop south at Underwood so I could ride Route 44 through the Badlands. I forgot that many secondary roads are gravel, dirt, or some combination thereof, most meant to serve farms, and it was likely that either the road would become impassable or possibly end up in a cow pasture. Worse yet, I might happen upon someone driving a big piece of farm equipment. If you’ve ever seen the size of some of these machines, they can extend far beyond the edges of the road. One of us would have to go into the field and it probably wouldn’t be the combine. The next choice was at Enning, a few miles east—same type of road, only rougher, and this would have been 40 miles. After a while, still on 34, I decided to abandon the idea of riding through the Badlands. No big deal; I was thoroughly enjoying the road I was on and it was taking me places I’d never been. Plus riding through the farmlands was soothing, the weather was delightful, and traffic was nearly nonexistent.

When I got to Billsburg, there was a paved road heading south and a sign pointing to Philip, so on a whim I took a quick right and cruised down Highway 73. Maybe 10 miles down the road, I saw a sign for the Missile Inn Bed & Breakfast. Intrigued, I continued until I got to 10 Mile Road where the sign told me that the Missile Inn Bed & Breakfast was 1 ½ miles west. Another 10 miles south was the town of Philip where I refueled my bike and myself, asking at the gas station/grocery store about the Missile Inn. The clerk didn’t seem to know much about it. So I found their phone number on my smartphone and called them. Were they open to visitors? Yes. Did they have any rooms available for tonight? Yes again. Was it really a bed and breakfast? I was assured that it was. I told them I’d be there by 6:00.

It was mid-afternoon and I figured I still had time to ride through at least a part of the Badlands. I continued on 73 to I-90 where I shot west for a dozen miles through the Grasslands, riding a loop around the Badlands and heading back to Philip. I rode north on 73 again and took the turn onto 10 Mile Road. There was no way I could miss the Missile Inn. It’s a military-style structure with a very tall barbed-wire security fence guarding the road in. The gate was open, so I rode inside and parked near a satellite tower just outside the building’s entrance.

Proprietors George and Sandee Gittings greeted me warmly at the door, showing me to my room in the former barracks. I was delighted at the décor; the beds had green John Deere tractor coverlets and hanging on the walls were vintage and modern John Deere photos and posters and signs and toy tractors. The bedside table had a lamp with a John Deere base and shade, and even the windows had John Deere curtains. The other four guest rooms featured Western, Southwestern, Native American and world travel themes, but I thought mine was the coolest. It was John Deere heaven.

The Gittings shared some history about the place. During the Cold War, around a thousand nuclear missiles were stored in silos around the west, with about 150 of them in South Dakota. Missile launch control centers were housed separately from the missile silos. By 1994, officials began the decommissioning of the missile and control sites, and the Missile Inn is one of the dozen or so decommissioned launch control facilities in South Dakota. The Gittings, who were natives of the area and had farmed land nearby, acquired the property from the government after the underground control center was sealed, with the agreement that the new owners would never break through the many feet of concrete.

After I settled in, George took me on a tour of the facility, explaining what each room in the old barracks and the huge vehicle storage building was used for. He showed me where the elevator to the lower-level control center had been, and where the helicopters landed. Sandee showed me old newspaper clippings, booklets and articles that related the history of all the Air Force facilities across the west.

Although we couldn’t go down to the control center, there was still some non-classified memorabilia around, such as the elaborate mural of a medieval castle that one of the guys from Charlie Company had inked on the living room wall to pass the time, and an old duty roster that the Gittings had framed and hung in the entranceway.

After a restful night’s sleep, I was served a hearty breakfast and went on my way. The Gittings seemed to enjoy sharing their piece of American history with me, and I thoroughly enjoyed my stay. It was one of the most unique places I’ve ever slept in. I grew up during the Cold War era, and its storied history still fascinates me. Now I want to visit the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site just off I-90 Exit 116, only about 40 minutes from the Missile Inn. And I look forward to my next visit with the Gittings.

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