It’s like something from straight out of the pages of a sci-fi novel: deep in the Texan scrub, miles from the nearest town, a rusting hatch lies closed to the world. Few people, perhaps, could guess what lies beyond it. Fewer still would be ready to open it up and step into the unknown.
The site – in its earliest incarnation, at least – has long since been abandoned, left to slowly, silently decay in the elements. Nevertheless, some explorers set aside any fears and ventured underground to see what lies beneath.
Unexpected guests are warned to stay away, but these explorers were undeterred. For one thing, they are veterans of investigating the unusual – and this place was just too good to miss.
Going below ground into the empty facility revealed a starkly-lit interior, with metal staircases winding down into the belly of this timeworn piece of history. In fact, fascinating sites like this had led two of the explorers to quit their day jobs to spend their time on the road, seeking out the most unusual nooks and crannies in the U.S.
What the explorers found below ground level here is simply mind-blowing: a giant shaft penetrating 180 feet down into the Earth. But what could it have been used for? What could it have contained? A clue is provided by the reinforced doors you need to pass through en route into the bowels of the complex.
Not many people have been to Valhalla, that’s for sure. Situated just outside of Abilene, Texas, it’s out of the way and more than a little forbidding – just the way its previous owners, the U.S. military, probably liked it. After all, it was from here – and sites like it – that World War Three might have been waged.
One of a dozen such silos dotted around Texas and operated by Dyess Air Force Base, Valhalla was a nuclear missile launch site. That deep shaft? It once contained an Atlas-F hardened missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead with more than a megaton of explosive power to a target thousands of miles away.
And that eerily quiet room behind the rusted door? That’s where the site’s commander would have been on hand for receiving instructions on how to unleash Armageddon. Still, things are different around here nowadays.
This Texan site was one of six around the U.S. to house these weapons of mass destruction. The Atlas ICBMs were an operational part of the nation’s terrifying arsenal from 1959 to 1965. With the development of the lower-cost LGM-30 Minuteman missile, though, Atlas launch sites such as Dyess Air Force Base’s were soon decommissioned.
As part of the deactivation process, anything that could be of use to the military was stripped and removed, where possible. In fact, some Atlas rockets ended up being given new, more peaceful leases of life on the Mercury space program.
The military did, however, leave behind various eerie compounds for intrepid souls to explore decades later. And in this particular facility what lay in store for the explorers was not merely the shaft of a missile silo, but one that had flooded to a depth of almost 130 feet. Furthermore, even though the water is incredibly clear, they could only see some of the way down. So what’s below the surface?
Inside this forgotten silo, one of the explorers, Brandon, snapped pictures for his blog. Yet while most people might leave it there, these guys are not “most people.” The eerily still water that might make the average explorer turn around had the opposite effect on them. Yes, they were set on diving into the darkness.
The scuba enthusiast later recalled, “My new dive buddy mentioned that there was a decommissioned nuclear missile silo that was dive-able in Texas. If you know me, you will know there is no way I am leaving Texas without diving.”
The water was cold and clear – but where had it come from? Well, over the years it has percolated through the concrete, gradually filling the shaft from the bottom.
Even in these clear waters, however, near the bottom of the shaft special dive lights are necessary. And while the present owner of the silo in fact gave the okay for the dive to happen – equipment is even made available – what the lights revealed to the divers was more than a little spooky.
The torchlight showed twisted metal strewn across the submerged shaft floor, some of it having apparently fallen from the upper walls of the shaft when attempts were being made to remove various instruments. Occasionally, the light would reveal control panels – reminders of how close the world had come to oblivion.
Beneath the water’s surface the environment was a little strange, even for an experienced diver. The reinforced concrete walls create a sense of confinement that you just don’t get out in the open water. “The walls of the silo are mostly featureless and smooth which can make for a very eerie feeling when ascending and descending,” Brandon explained.
Adding to the eeriness was the fact that there are no currents, no waves from boats, no noises and certainly no animal life here. Few, if any, diving experiences can compare to this. “We could have a nice enjoyable dive with the apocalypse going on overhead,” recounted Brandon.
That said, this Texas silo is not unique. Right across the U.S., explorers are discovering former nuclear missile launch sites that – thankfully – are no longer needed. And for many, including Brandon, the mission to see a different side to these onetime launchpads for destruction continues.
“Now, I hear there is a Titan missile silo in Washington State that is dive-able,” he wrote on his blog. “I’m going to have to find my way out there.” We look forward to catching up with him when he does.