Having A Blast
Relive the Cold War through 'atomic tourism'

Sure, you watched the Cold War on television growing up. And you've probably seen the world blow itself to thermonuclear bits at least a dozen times in the movies. Maybe you thought those thrilling days of yesteryear, when we lived on the nuclear knife-edge, were long gone. Well, I'm here to tell you that they're still alive and open for business at a location near you.

See also...
... by Barney Greinke
... in the Whoa! section
... from October 25, 1999

I'm talking tourism. Nuclear tourism. The new craze that's sweeping the nation. I'm talking mutually assured, atomic doomsday, duck-and-cover, radar-guided, supersonic, fail-safe, Armageddon, DEFCON-5, 50-megaton, turn-your-key-style Cold War tourism.

So turn off the Discovery Channel and toss any kids ya got into the car. It's time to hit the atomic highway.

"But He'll See the Big Board!" First stop: "the big board." You know, THE BIG BOARD, the one that shows the USofA, Russia, and all the missiles flying in between. Every nuke-holocaust movie's got it -- Fail Safe, Dr. Strangelove, War Games. Ever imagine you'd see the real Big Board? Maybe sit in one of those comfy chairs and talk on the red phone to the president? Try to convince the man on Air Force One that those blips on the screen are really Matthew Broderick's fault? Well you can. Just give a call to Strategic Command over at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. When they're not busy fighting World War III, they give a terrific public tour, complete with a Big Board demo.

What Could Be Bunker? Or maybe you want to see that other Strangelovian artifact: a secret, underground, post-apocalyptic government survival facility? Then go check out the Greenbrier Bunker. Situated under the exclusive Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, the bunker (a.k.a. Operation Greek Island) was where the U.S. Congress was to be airlifted if we ever started trading nuclear love taps with the Russkies. Revealed in a 1992 Washington Post article, the facility is now open for public tours. One look at the freeze-dried scrambled eggs and the 100-person dorm rooms full of summer camp metal bunk beds and you'll think twice about ever running for Congress, I guarantee it.

Tear the Roof Off the Sucker. In a Day After mood? How about checking out an atom bomb crater or two? Or one of those houses with the mannequins in it that gets its roof blown off every time The History Channel needs to show footage of a 1950s nuclear blast? You might try giving the Nevada Test Site a call. For absolutely free, they'll stick you on a tour bus with 25 other bomb devotees and send you on a daylong tour of the most nuked spot on earth. The tour guides are friendly, knowledgeable, and quite enthusiastic about emphasizing the minimal danger posed by radiation at the site. Don't forget to pack a lunch, bring photo ID... and be a U.S. citizen.

(While you're in the area, consider taking a quick hop up to Rachel, Nevada, the little town near the world's most famous secret airbase. The neighbors of the Groom Lake facility, a.k.a. "Area 51," are friendly, talkative, and happy to tell you where to go, and not to go, to "maybe see things." Just stop by The Little A'Le'Inn, take a seat at the counter, and try to not look like a government spy.)

Start Me Up. Want to know the ultimate thrill of sending a few megatons towards Moscow, Beijing, or Belgrade? Then cruise down to the Titan Missile Museum 20 miles south of Tucson, Arizona. There you'll find a real live Titan missile silo, holding a not-so-real-live Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile (just like Mom used to make). Take the tour -- and if you find yourself in one of those "end all life on earth" sort of moods, be sure to volunteer when your docent needs someone for the infamous simultaneous key turn.

Fun for the Whole, er, Nuclear Family. Got an itch to see some nuclear weapons close up? So do I, but that's not gonna happen. They've got the next best thing, though, over in Albuquerque at the National Atomic Museum. There you'll see inert versions of dozens of U.S. nukes on display -- from Fat Man and Little Boy to Trident II reentry vehicles; from backpack-sized demolition munitions to the gargantuan early H-bombs you'd have trouble fitting into your living room, let alone in a bomb bay. They also show films and host a full calendar of events, tours, and field trips. Bring those nieces and nephews too young to know that one nuclear bomb can ruin your whole day.

And Let's Be Careful Out There. There's plenty more, too. The Cold War happened everywhere, to everyone, and there are hundreds of other "Cold War battlefields" scattered across the land. Factories, airbases, army posts, navy yards, laboratories, test ranges, bunkers and government facilities of all sorts. Don't be afraid to give these places a call. Almost all of them have displays or museums, and most of them have tours available. Just be sure to let 'em know you're coming. I can tell you from personal experience that the boys with the M16s aren't too fond of people poking around their nukes uninvited.

Barney Greinke has spent the last two summers driving around America on a grand Cold War Tour of his own devising. It's been so successful, he's even spent a little "quality time" with the FBI and OSI.