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Colorado’s Highway 71 – Nuclear Death Alley

October 15, 2019

Me, posing in front of N-4. photo credit – Nancy Fey

We’ve started our ten day vacation. Heading north from Denver to the Nebraska Panhandle and South Dakota. Spending the night at Gering, Nebraska, just south of Scottsbluff; big beef, bean and back in the day, sugar-beet growing country. Over the next few days we’ll be heading north into South Dakota.

On the back fence if you blow the photo up a bit you’ll see the symbol N-4. N-4 lies on Highway 71 from Brush, Colorado to Scottsbluff, Nebraska. I would guess the distance we traveled on it today was about 100 miles.

That’s me in front of the fence.

N-4 is one of the 49 nuclear weapons sites in the northeast corner of Colorado. Behind that fence, underground is a Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile. It is referred to as “The Dan Schaeffer” Missile after a right wing Republican Congressman. Just up the road also on Highway 71 is N-3, referred to as “Gary Hart’s Missile. Former Colorado Governor Dick Lamm , Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder also have missiles named for them.

Also passed L-8, L-9, among others, before crossing over from Colorado into Nebraska south of Kimball – a town which used to claim the proud title of “Missile Center USA.” A Titan I nuclear missile stands in a park, honoring the hidden missiles that once lurked underground all around Kimball. The top third was blown off in a windstorm in 2009. The missile was dismantled in 2014, partially restored in 2016 and now calls Denver, appropriately enough, home. Maybe we won’t move to Kimball, even if houses there only average $75,000.

A Minuteman III can carry up to three thermonuclear weapons, and were initially armed with the W62 warhead with a yield of 170 kilotons. Compare that to the Hiroshima bomb which was about 15 kilotons. A part of what is called the nuclear “triad” until the end of the Cold War in 1989, the United States had some 1000 Minutemen 3s scattered in clusters throughout the upper Midwest, in Montana, both North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado and some in Missouri. Since then their numbers have been more than halved to around 400, but one of the active clusters is exactly the region we passed through. It touches three states – southeast Wyoming, western Nebraska in that state’s “panhandle’ and the northeast corner of Colorado. 
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N-4 is one of the 49 nuclear weapons sites in the northeast corner of Colorado. Behind that fence, underground is a Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile. It is referred to as “The Dan Schaeffer” Missiile after a right wing Republican Congressman. Just up the road also on Highway 71 is N-3, referred to as “Gary Hart’s Missile. Former Colorado Governor Dick Lamm , Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder also have missiles named for them.
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Between Brush and Scottsbluff on HW 71 I counted no less than 12 Minuteman III launching pads. Once you know how to spot them, they are easily identified, even without the military vehicles that stood at the entrance of some of them.

Titan Missile that used to be in Kimball, Nebraska’s park before a wind gust blew it down

12 sites with each missile carrying three warheads means that on this lonely, rather desolate road where the only living thing we saw were prong-horned antelope and a few prairie dogs – there are probably 36 thermonuclear bombs a few feet under the ground with enough kilotonage – no exaggeration – to destroy pretty much the entire world or close to it.

Should the President give the order, they are on hair-trigger alert; their computerized systems can be activate, and into launch mode in less than 30 seconds. Ready to fire at a moment’s notice on the eastern plains of Colorado not far from Pawnee Buttes. Kind of heartwarming that the supervisor of the Minuteman nuclear weapons program was arrested a few years ago, charged with heading up a drug distribution ring to the military personnel manning the weapons. Sweet.

 — in Stoneham, Colorado.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Phil Jones permalink
    October 16, 2019 10:43 am

    Drugs and nukes!!! You just know how to cheer up a guy on a gray, rainy October morning here in our ever more delightful nation’s capital.

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