A field of sunflowers isn't an unusual find in western South Dakota. But look a little closer and you'll notice something out of place: a high security fence. It's all that remains of a silo that used to house a Minuteman II nuclear missile during the Cold War.
"We had one in the middle of one of our fields. It was about a half a mile away from our house. So basically from the time I was old enough to know what a missile site was, I knew that there was one close enough that if it ever went off that we had problems," Interior rancher Gene Williams said.
At the height of the conflict, 1,000 nuclear missiles were scattered around the west, 150 of them in South Dakota. It was part of a policy called mutually assured destruction or MAD that helped stave off a nuclear war. But for people living in the area, it was a time of uncertainty.
"Well, my dad always said that we were probably fortunate that if they ever went off we wouldn't have to live long enough to see what the aftermath would be," Williams said.
"We didn't really even pay any attention to it, because we were used to the traffic by here. You know, it was just a part of life," Missile Inn owner Sandee Gittings said.
By 1994, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty known as START prompted officials to decommission many of the missile sites, including all the silos in South Dakota. The National Park Service has preserved one facility near Wall that includes a missile control center and one disarmed Minuteman II missile.
There, visitors can see the tools that had the capability to destroy the world.
"You knew that there was a weapon of mass destruction sitting there, and hopefully it never got used. Thank God it didn't," Williams said.
There are more than a dozen launch control facilities around western South Dakota. They're mostly owned by private parties at this point and one has even been converted into a bed and breakfast.
"It was used as storage for a lot of people for quite a long time and then six-and-half-years-ago we started working on it," Gittings said.
Gittings says it draws in people from around the world who want to experience what it was like to be on the front lines of the Cold War.
"We had some people that stayed for about a week that were from South Africa, then in February I had a phone call from a guy wanting to know if he could land a helicopter here. And I said how big? He said it was a small one and I said good," Gittings said.
Also preserved at the site is a large mural, painted in black marker by the men who were stationed at the facility.
"They just think this is just the neatest thing, and that mural is the big thing," Gittings said.
For Gittings, the bed and breakfast is a way to make a little money while sharing a piece of history with her guests.
"It has been a very unique experience. We both like to visit with people and it is very, very rewarding," Gittings said.
And Williams hopes that the legacy of South Dakota's missiles will teach people different ways to resolve conflicts.
"Hopefully, people find a better way to get along in the world rather than basically pointing a gun at each other's head and saying if you move, I'm going to pull the trigger," Williams said.