When we visited the Everglades National Park, I expected to see alligators, crocodiles, birds and mangrove swamps. The last thing I expected to see was a former Army base where soldiers waited day and and day out for Soviet bombs to come screaming across the Florida Bay from Cuba. In the event of an attack, they were prepared to fire Nike Hercules missiles in defense. We participated in a number of ranger-led programs while we were at the Everglades, but a tour of the Nike Hercules missile site was one of the highlights - probably because it was so unexpected slap dab in the middle of nature.
Unlike some of the other programs, you don't have to sign up for this tour. You meet the ranger out front of the Dan Beard research center and off you go. One word of caution - use the bathroom before you drive down to the research center. The scientists working there won't let you use their bathroom. Just saying - it pays to be prepared.
Ranger Leon led our tour. It always amazes me how the park rangers and volunteers can retain so much information in their brains and present it back to you in an interesting and engaging manner. Ranger Leon was particularly amazing - you can tell he is passionate about this program and keenly interested in the history of this era.
After some historical scene-setting (which is particularly useful for folks like me who weren't alive during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and didn't pay too much attention in American History class in school), Ranger Leon took us on a short walking tour of the former battery control area. I like how all of the buildings are painted in that retro flamingo pink color.
We then got in our cars and drove a short distance to the launch area. As you enter the launch area, you can see a number of missile barns sitting among the tall grass. Top tip if you take the tour - stay on the pavement, there are evil snakes lurking in the grass.
We got to see some of the artwork that the soldiers decorated the base with.
Here's one of the missile barns up close.
The moment we've been waiting for - a look at the Nike Hercules missile. Ranger Leon was really good with the kids on the tour. He had them help him open the doors to the barn.
Here's a close up of part of the missile head. To be honest, I was a bit more interested in the color scheme they painted the walls with. Orange seems like an interesting choice for a military base.
I thought this Nike logo was a bit weird. I don't usually think about missiles in the context of families. Mom, dad, the kids, their dog and a missile. Something doesn't seem right here. I'm assuming they meant something else.
This missile stuff was serious business. You probably had to have super-duper clearance to get onto the base. Of course, why would you want to if you didn't have to? The place had all these deadly weapons in it and was a target for Cuba during the Cold War. It's the kind of place I would have happily be restricted from.
Some sort of important machinery. I just took the picture because I liked the orange paint on the wall.
If I saw someone go into electric shock, my first step would be to scream. Don't rely on me to find a wooden pole or rope to save you.
This is probably why they worried about electric shock. The sign makes it clear, "Danger - High Voltage!"
More orange paint and my favorite sign.
Want to know more? Check out this interesting article in the NY Times with a picture of Ranger Leon who led our tour. You can also find an informative post on the Florida Rambler site.
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