Tuesday – February 12, 2013
Another beautiful sunny day with the temperature in the low 80’s here at the Long Pine Key Campground in Everglades National Park. We decided this would be a nice day to do the Nike Missile Base tour that is located within the park, nine miles from our campground.
The Nike Missile Base tour starts at 11:00 a.m., every day of the week. The tour takes 90 minutes to complete. Visitors meet at the Daniel Beard Center and a park ranger provides a 20 minute introductory lecture on the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. This crisis created the urgent need to establish a Nike Missile Base in southern Florida. The Army had to obtain special authorization to place the base on National Park land.
Following the lecture, we boarded our vehicles to follow the park ranger for a one-mile trip to the Nike Missile site. Even though this is a decommissioned missile site, two locked gates restrict access to the site. After the park ranger provided our group entry within the restricted area, we could see in the distance the outline of three missile barns. Because of the high water table in southern Florida, the missiles were housed in these barns instead of underground silos. During the period of the cold war, each of these barns contained three missile launchers, with four Nike missiles mounted on each launcher. In the event of a missile attack on the U.S., the missile launchers would roll out of the barn on tracks to their individual launch pads to be launched.
Once our group was on the missile base, we parked our vehicles to begin our walking tour of the base. The park ranger conducted the walking tour accompanied by a very informative lecture on the buildings and the large earth berms that dotted the landscape on the base. Security was very tight here when this base was active. There was a dog kennel that housed the German Shepherd guard dogs that roamed the perimeter of the base with their handlers. Security guards were under orders to shoot any trespassers that violated their orders to stop. The base was deactivated in 1974 with the land and buildings returned to the care of the National Park Service.
Each missile barn is bordered on one side by a large earth berm. Each berm contained a concrete bunker room, approximately 10 feet wide by 20 feet long by 7 feet high. The berm served two purposes; one was to protect Army personnel dispersed throughout the base from an accidental explosion from within the barn. The bunker itself provided a shelter for the launch personnel located within the barn.
The highlight of the tour was when the park ranger unlocked one of the missile barns and allowed all of the visitors inside to look around. There was one deactivated Nike Missile on display inside. It was mounted on its launcher surrounded by equipment that was required to launch it. It was a very impressive and deadly display of the weapons technology the U.S. had available during that era. Thankfully, we never had to use it.
The tour was over at 12:40 p.m. We were a bit hungry, so off we go to the Gator Grill, located about 9 miles from our campground. We had passed by it several times on our trips into Florida City, and it was always busy. It did not disappoint! We each ordered their 1/2 pound hamburger with all of the trimmings. They were absolutely delicious and definitely worth a return visit.
We decided to wash the hamburger down with a milkshake from a vegetable market called "Robert Is Here," which is located about one mile further north from the Gator Grill. Sharon had the fresh strawberry and I had the fresh papaya and passion fruit. OMG, the calories we consumed today. Oh well, we’ll do better tomorrow.
Tomorrow another adventure begins.