Abandoned military sites can be some of the most intriguing places on earth. They often attract a lot of attention and tend to be almost creepy in nature as time goes on. Sometimes, you’ll find that a lot of the military artifacts remain intact, while other times, buildings are torn down, vehicles are transported away, and the land is used for other purposes.
In North Dakota, there are four notable areas that host interesting abandoned military bases including Minot Air Force Station, Fortuna Air Force Station, the Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex, and the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site.
Let’s dive into some more information on each of these historical military sites located in North Dakota to see why they were important in their time and for what they’re used today.
Minot Air Force Station
Located 14 miles south of Minot, North Dakota, Minot Air Force Station was the first major installation for the U.S. Air Force in the state, opening in 1952. It was originally created to act as Ground Control Intercept (GCI) and detect long-range Soviet bombers and other suspicious aircraft in American airspace.
The Minot Air Force Station was closed in 1979 where it was abandoned for five years but in 1984, a portion of the base was reactivated to serve as a Minot Communication Site. Since then, it closed once again in 1997 and was sold to a private company.
Minot Air Force Station remains as the most complete of the abandoned military bases in North Dakota with many relics still standing. It’s a symbol to remember the times when North Dakota’s far-north location put them on the front line when it came to the military’s radar network.
Fortuna Air Force Station
Fortuna Air Force Station is probably the largest of the abandoned military facilities in North Dakota, located in Divide County. It was opened in 1952 to operate as GCI for unidentified aircraft, similar to what Minot Air Force Station was used for.
Before the advent of the intercontinental ballistic missile, Fortuna Air Force station was a facility designed to track incoming aerial threats, which some would say is a politically correct way of noting that it was a place to scout out Soviet bombers.
As the technology of missiles continued to evolve, the Fortuna Air Force Station simply couldn’t keep up with the times and was partially deactivated in 1979 and closed completely a few years later in 1984.
Most of the buildings and structures from the Fortuna Air Force Station have been since torn down except for the main concrete tower. It used to house a large radar dish and is now said to be used as a communication tower for civilians in the area.
Nekoma Safeguard Complex/Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex
The Safeguard Program was launched as an anti-ballistic missile system during a period of unrest in U.S. history to protect the country from perceived nuclear attack.
There were originally three Safeguard complexes set to be constructed: one in Missouri, one in Montana, and one in North Dakota. Due to the Salt I Treaty of 1972, what’s now known as the Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex in Nekoma, North Dakota is the only complex that was ever finished.
The Salt I Treaty allowed the U.S. and the Soviet Union to each have two anti-ballistic missile defense bases, not three. So, before construction even began on the Missouri complex, it was canceled. Then, due to unforeseen circumstances, the Montana construction was halted midway through construction and was never completed.
This meant that the Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex is the most advanced nuclear anti-ballistic missile facility ever built. It officially opened in October 1975 but government officials became wary of the project right from the start.
Questioning the effectiveness of the program on top of how expensive it was, the Senate closed Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex only four months later in February 1976.
Military service members who were stationed at the complex were obviously reassigned but it left severe economic impacts on the civilians of the area. Unemployment in the surrounding counties rose to up to 8.6% and the populations of nearby cities dropped dramatically by up to 55%. Enrollment in schools dropped by half and local businesses suffered.
Probably the most notable landmark of the Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex is the large pyramid-like structure that is often referred to as “Nixon’s Pyramid”.
Since becoming an abandoned military base in North Dakota, the complex was bought by a local farming group and now they farm the surrounding land. There have also been talks about turning this location into a tourist attraction.
Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site/Oscar-Zero and November 33
What’s unique about the military base that’s known as the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site is that it’s separated into two parts. Above ground is Oscar-Zero and underground is November-33. This area came into being during the Cold War era and lies under the city of Cooperstown, North Dakota.
Since November-33 has been preserved from the elements as an underground site, tourists can visit the nearly unchanged base. Those who have been claim the experience to be both fascinating and unnerving as you clearly see how the tensions of the time affected people’s priorities and what the military was focused on during the Cold War.
Both Oscar-Zero and November-33 were established in 1965. The teams that worked there lived and worked at Oscar-Zero and 66-feet below the ground at November-33, missiles were launched. The goal was to use these missiles to intercept any incoming missiles sent by the Soviets before they ever even got close to making landfall in the U.S.
November-33 is where you can see huge blast doors, old school control rooms, and forgotten papers on the desks. The launch ignition panel for the missiles is even still intact. It all makes for a surreal experience from the perspective of modern eyes.
For Americans living through the Cold War, the threat of nuclear war and total obliteration was real. It was at the top of their minds and this mindset is evident in places like the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site.
The site was decommissioned in 1991 yet everything remains as it was. Now, as a historic site, it’s a chance to remember the past and feel grateful that we never had to use the extreme weapons that were there.
If you’re in North Dakota and you’re interested in exploring some of these abandoned military bases in North Dakota, do so with tact. Some of these areas are now owned by private companies, meaning these sites are private property. Make sure that you’re obeying the law and exploring with care.
Otherwise, these areas are a chance to discover the past of the U.S. military and can certainly be a rewarding way to spend a day.