Minuteman N-9 (10.29.16), Grover, CO, 2016

Silent Sentinels

The area surrounding the Pawnee National Grassland northeast of Greeley, Colorado has seen a long history of contested land uses.  Ranching is the main agricultural activity that has flourished, the landscape dotted by stock tanks and windmills with cowpaths etched between in a large-scale game of Tinkertoy.  More recent activities are increasingly intrusive on the landscape.  In the last 10 years almost 400 wind turbines were installed on the bench just north of the grassland.  At the same time, the discovery of oil and the growing use of fracking has resulted in the drilling of almost 100 wells in the private land that is interspersed within the prairie. The light pollution at night from both the windmills and oil wells is considerable, not to mention the increase of heavy truck traffic from the oil-field activities.

Interspersed within all of this is another, more ominous neighbor: dozens of nuclear missiles.  Installed in the 1960’s in a loose pattern to make destruction by the Russians difficult, these missile silos dot the landscape every few miles or so and sit silently on a hair trigger, surrounded by a tall, barbed-wire fence.  Each location has the same characteristic elements: a tall white spike housing a security system, a newer security system mounted on a telephone pole just outside the fence, and a characteristic orange weather vane on one of the fence corners.  Once you know all these components, it is easy to pick out the silo locations from the surrounding landscape.In the end, the most striking thing about the missile silos is the dichotomy between how unobtrusive they are, placed within the peaceful landscape, yet they represent unimaginable destruction.  It gives one a pause when you realize what exactly you are looking at.

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