Deep beneath the plains of Deer Trail, Colorado lies a hidden system of tunnels that once housed instruments of nuclear annihilation. I wended my way to the site of the only Titan I Missile Silo still accessible to those bold enough to explore it.
It was a very cold morning with a biting wind, so I bundled up in several layers and ventured out. There are two entrances to the missile silo complex that do not require rope and repelling gear, and the easiest is a metal gate at the bottom of a large depression in the ground. The gate was welded shut long ago, but several bars have been removed by unknown adventurers to allow access.
Several discarded, bullet-ridden refrigerators lay nearby.
Immediately inside the main entrance is a collection of tumbleweed and, because I visited in early March, snow and ice that had blown inside.
Surprisingly there was no indication that animals had sought shelter within the complex. The long dark passageways seemed an ideal refuge from the harsh Colorado winter, but something about the place seems to repel wildlife. I’m guessing it’s the strong unnatural odor that hangs in the air, the result of chemicals, rust, and decay. I wore a fairly heavy-duty breathing mask, which kept my lungs safe, but the few times I took it off to adjust it, the strange industrial smell was pretty strong.
I followed a corridor to an area where large pyramid-shaped structures hung from the ceiling.
Upon closer inspection I found a plaque indicating that they are dust collectors. Unfortunately it has been many years since they were operational, and there was quite a lot of dust in the air.
The first section I explored appeared to be an air intake/filtration facility, judging by the huge fans.
Massive pipes and hoses also occupied the area.
Next I explored the Power House.
It is absolutely gigantic. Due to the enormity of the chamber, I was not able to adequately photograph it because my flashlight and headlamp did not throw off nearly enough light to illuminate its cavernous extent. The Titan Missile Silo is a difficult place to photograph, not only because of the pitch darkness, but also the dust particles floating through the air tend to catch the light and interfere with focus.
I carefully walked out onto the catwalk along the upper portion of the power house. The mesh grates that used to cover the catwalk have mostly been removed, leaving huge gaps through which one could easily fall to the ground far below and end up severely injured or dead. I was careful to watch my footing as I walked along the thick metal beams.
Large hoses and connectors were scattered throughout the chamber.
The thick metal springs pictured below served as mounts for the generators that once occupied the power house.
Quite a bit of trash was scattered on the ground and a pile of ashes and charred beer cans marked the spot where someone had built a bonfire. There were other strange pieces of equipment in various states of decay.
Double doors led into a corridor with many branches leading off from it.
It also contained the charred remains of a couch. I have no idea how it ended up there. It must be an artifact from when the place was an active military installation because I can’t imagine how someone could have gotten it through the narrow entrance to the complex.
Just off the corridor is a tall room with a large elevator that was used to remove the last of the salvageable equipment from the site about 15 years ago. I climbed the stairs that wrapped around the outside of the shaft.
At the top a broken set of stairs led up to a sealed door
with clever graffiti on it.
The wall was separating, allowing a draft to enter from outside.
Some of the corridors were extremely long. To give you a sense of how far they stretched, I stopped in the middle of this one and took a picture in both directions. No end in sight.
Eventually I reached a room where a hatch in the ceiling hung open and snowflakes drifted down from it.
I looked up at the sunlight streaming down and considered climbing the ladder up to the surface, but without any idea of how stable the ladder was, I decided it wasn’t worth the risk. I made a mental note to look for the shaft when I got back up to the surface, but I wasn’t able to find it on the huge piece of land.
Many sections of the facility were flooded with water discolored by rust and chemicals. Most of the walkways were removed, leaving only metal beams, so I had to remain surefooted to avoid plunging into the icy water.
Each section of the complex had thick metal blast doors that weighed 3 tons apiece. The hinges of some were so rusty that they could barely be moved.
There were three launcher areas, each marked with a little sign painted above the entrance.
Each had a corridor similar to the one pictured below, though not all were flooded. A sump pump was located in every launcher area, but without power they are useless.
Someone left an inflatable raft behind, probably from a time when the water level was much higher.
The moisture has caused every metal surface to rust over the years since the facility was abandoned.
The actual silos that housed the Titan rockets are enormous. Standing at the edge and looking down at the abyss below is a terrifying experience. It is at least a 50 foot drop to the contaminated water that has accumulated inside them, and probably extends another 100 feet to the floor of the silo. I can only imagine how horrible it would be to fall in.
Despite the darkness and massive size, I managed to get a picture of the blast doors, which weigh an astonishing 115 tons each.
The Titan I Missile was the US’s first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) stored in underground silos, and the first with a multistage propulsion system, which gave it greater range than Atlas missiles.
It is strange to walk through the dark, rusty corridors of the abandoned facility and think about the threat of nuclear annihilation that weighed upon the nation’s conscience throughout the Cold War. The threat still hangs over our heads today, but people don’t seem nearly as concerned.
The Titan I Missile program was incredibly expensive and inefficient. Each Titan I launch complex cost $1.36 billion to build, adjusted for inflation, and only operated from 1962 to 1965, when they were made obsolete by the Titan II.
Titan I rockets had to be fueled up from the underground storage tank immediately prior to launch, then raised above ground on the enormous elevator system, leaving it exposed for some time before launch. The entire process took fifteen minutes, a slow reaction time compared to the Titan II, which used hypergolic propellants, which could be stored inside the missile.
After deactivation, the Titan I missiles were scrapped or donated to museums. Most of the decommissioned ICBM silos were sold to private parties and have been repurposed or sealed off, but after more than fifty years, the Deer Trail site still remains abandoned.
After nearly four hours of exploring the incredible ruins of the Titan I launch complex, I emerged into the freezing Colorado air. The sight of my car filled me with relief; I half expected it to be towed away, or to find a police officer waiting for me to emerge, but this time I lucked out.
I drove around the property to photograph the interesting above-ground structures. I could only snap a few shots before my fingers became too numb to work the camera and I had to retreat to the car to warm the feeling back into them.
If you ever get the opportunity to check out the Titan I missile silo launch complex in Deer Trail, Colorado, I highly recommend you do it. But please realize that it can be extremely dangerous if you aren’t careful. I would feel awful if anything bad happened to someone who decided to explore the Titan after reading this.
Be sure to bring at least one high-powered flashlight and a headlamp (for optimal photographic excellence, bring as much lighting as you can, and use a camera with a good low-light sensor). Please bear in mind that there are many places where you could easily fall a great distance or into icy polluted water, so watch your step and take your time. Also, be aware that there is a lot of dust and some asbestos in the air. Be sure to wear a dust mask, or better yet, a breathing mask with filter cartridges.
One thing you don’t need to worry about is radiation. The radioactive material in the Titan missiles was well contained and was removed with the missiles. I suppose there could be low levels of radon, but that is true of any underground structure, including your own basement!
The stunning photos of an Abandoned Titan I ICBM Nuclear Missile Silo Launch Complex were taken by Jim Sullivan. Jim Sullivan is a traveler, who shares his stories with followers.