Yesterday, I was saddened to hear of the passing of a man named Ken Robinson. It apparently happened a while ago, but I had never seen it mentioned in the news.
For years, Ken was the lone caretaker at Missile Site Park in Greeley, Colorado. It’s a retired nuclear-warhead-equipped, Atlas E site that now serves as a museum and a campground. I scheduled multiple tours of the property through Ken, as he was also the site’s official tour guide.
Ken had a military background, and he took pride in managing the facility and park. He was not only very knowledgeable, but was also a good story-teller. In fact, I’ve long been thinking of writing a novel inspired by one of the stories he told me. Maybe I’ll move forward on it one of these days.
Back in June of 2013, I wrote a column for the Greeley Tribune about the first time I toured the site and met Ken. I’ve added it below.
As an adult, I find myself occasionally looking back at some of the significant history that was playing out when I was a kid, and I muse over how completely oblivious I was.
The Cold War, for example, was something I was certainly aware of in the 1980s, but I only grasped it in the broadest of terms. I knew Americans were the good guys, Soviets were the bad guys, and both of our countries (who were armed with nukes) were the two biggest kids on the block. In other words, what I understood of the Cold War could have been learned simply by watching the movie, “Rocky 4.”
Coincidentally, now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure my childhood knowledge of the Vietnam War was learned from the “Rambo” movies. Was Sylvester Stallone really that influential on my world views back then? That’s pretty scary.
Anyway, it really isn’t all that surprising that a child my age didn’t know the specifics of the Cold War. As parents, we don’t want our children to have to stress out about the encompassing dangers that come with living on this planet. We don’t want them to worry about things they can’t control. Besides, we also understand that our kids couldn’t possibly wrap their minds around the scope of such things in the first place. One can only hope and pray that by the time our kids are our age, they’ll be looking back on Islamic terrorism as a thing of the past.
Though I didn’t always understand it at the time, the history I’ve lived through is the history I find most interesting these days. Thus, I was quite intrigued when I learned that Missile Site Park (just north of the State Farm building on the west edge of Greeley) is home to an actual Atlas E missile site from the Cold War era. That means that a nuclear missile, targeted at the Soviet Union, was once kept there in an underground facility, and it could have been launched within 45 minutes of receiving an order from the U.S. government.
It’s funny… I’ve been driving in and out of town on 10th Street for many years, and I’ve often noticed the “Missile Site Park” sign planted on the side of the road. Yet, I had always just assumed there was nothing out there other than perhaps a few monuments and some open land. From talking to many others, it seems I wasn’t alone in that assumption.
I was totally wrong, and the facility there is extremely impressive.
A couple of months ago, I scheduled a tour of the site (which is now a museum) with some friends. We made it a father/son trip, in which we brought our boys along to hopefully give them an idea of the challenges Americans faced when we were their ages.
The caretaker of the site, Ken Robinson, was our tour guide. He’s a retired military veteran and one heck of a nice guy. He, along with his two guard-dog companions, walked us through the extensive, underground bunker. Ken proved to be extremely knowledgeable. He peppered us with many facts about the facility and the era, and he answered every obscure question we could think to come up with. He even told us some entertaining stories, including one about a group of dooms-dayers that showed up at the site on Dec. 12, 2012, in hopes of seeking shelter from the “end of the world.”
The long, underground tunnels were a kick to walk through. The feet-thick, steel blast door slowly sliding open and shut made us feel like we were being separated from the rest of the world. Because the facility also serves as a public records archive for Weld County, some of the old living quarters are now filled with tall shelves overflowing with very old books. Some of those thick, stately books even date back to the 1800s, the sight of which prompted more than one comparison to scenes from the “Harry Potter” movies.
The sheer size of the site is impressive in itself, with enough concrete in the walls, floors and ceilings to build a sidewalk from Greeley to Salt Lake City. That’s not an exaggeration. It was one of the facts Ken relayed to us.
The only disappointment with the site was the knowledge that most people in Greeley probably don’t even know of its existence. That’s a shame.
It’s not always easy to compel our kids to care about American history, but as parents, we have an obligation to at least try. It’s important that our children learn about our country’s past. We’d be doing them an injustice if we didn’t try and teach them how our country has preserved the freedoms we all enjoy today.
With a resource like Missile Site Park right in our own backyard, I can’t think of a more convenient visual tool for facilitating one of those conversations.
For anyone interested in scheduling a tour, information can be found on the Weld County website here.