The Pyramid of North Dakota

Dylan Thuras is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Dylan is a travel blogger and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Joshua Foer.


In the middle of the expansive North Dakota landscape a small pyramid appears, but there is nothing ancient about this pyramid

The Safeguard Program was developed in the 1960s to shoot down incoming Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles. Built at a cost of 6 billion dollars in Nekoma, North Dakota, the site was a massive complex of missile silos, a giant pyramid-shaped radar system, and dozens of launching silos for surface-to-air missiles tipped with thermonuclear warheads.

However due to both its expense, and concern over its effectiveness and the danger of detonating defensive nuclear warheads over friendly territory, the program was shut down before it was even operational. Today its a military-industrial shell in the middle of nowhere, or in the words of Kaluz who added this great site to the Atlas, "a monument to man's fear and ignorance."

More on the Atlas, and thanks Kaluz for the great submission!


  1. Hmmm… looks like Tyrell Corporation HQ.
    And that thingy on the dollar bill – where’s the “eye of providence”?

  2. I have lived in North Dakota my whole life, and have not heard a WORD of this pyramid. I’ve heard of the nuclear silos, but anything more than underground silos I have not heard anything about. Is this REALLY true?

  3. You can find it on Google Maps here. When I was a kid, we drove down from Canada (back in the days when you didn’t need a passport for such excursions) and were toodling round rural North Dakota rather randomly and came across it. Neat stuff.

  4. Just like the pyramids of Egypt and Central America — makes one consider just how much of human achievement has been inspired by fear and ignorance.

  5. @Benny P: take a look at the google map on the atlas entry page. You’ll have to zoom in a little, and the satellite image is really low res, but there is something there.

    Looks like you’d have to drive out into the middle of nowhere to get a good look.

  6. That RADAR system (actually, I’m pretty sure it was another one very much like it on the East Coast) was in one of my college textbooks as an example of a phased-array system. It was pretty high-tech at the time.

  7. I swear I’m not trying to be all “self promotion-y” here or anything, but I thought guys you might enjoy this. We used a historical photo of this fantastic thing in our reel… imagined it being used as some sort of audio defense mechanism, repelling the Red Menace with Ethel Merman tunes. Its HERE if you’d like to have a look. Its about half way through the movie. I’m sorry if linking like this is inappropriate.


  8. And on the pedestal these words appear:
    “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.

  9. @ Merreborn: Well that’s awesome! I may have to go out there sometime. Are there tours at all? It’s really strange that I had never heard of a pyramid. I’m ashamed at the lack of history I’ve been given about North Dakota! Though I might add it’s not in the middle of north dakota. ;)
    Have a good’n!

  10. Sorry gang, but it’s pretty obvious that the military-industrial story is a ruse. This is definitely the home base for a yet unknown supervillian.

  11. I grew up in NoDak also, about 200 miles from this place. I have never seen it, but I did have a Minuteman III silo about 2 miles from my house.

    There are all sorts of decomm’ed (and unfortunately still off limits) underground cold war paraphernalia in NoDak. Some day, there will be some cool museums/national historic sites there, but I may be an old man by the time that happens.

  12. Actually, SAFEGUARD was officially operational for a single day before the government voted to kill it. There was an episode of Frontline called “Missile Wars” that dealt with the history of missile defence systems, and they mentioned SAFEGUARD. If it’s not available on the PBS website, there are torrents of it floating around.

    The whole history of the project is sad/humorous. First, it was designed to protect military targets, not the general population… a foreshadowing of SDI. Second, it would be almost completely useless in a shooting war because 1) the entire system would have far fewer defensive missiles than the number of offensive missiles the Soviets would be launching, and 2) the system was self-defeating… when its first defensive missile detonated, the tracking radar would be completely blind to any other incoming missiles. In a real attack, each site could do a single intercept before blinding itself. Just a minor design flaw.

  13. If anyone from the area is interested in researching the history around this place, perhaps visiting and taking some photographs…

    University of North Dakota Students for a Democratic society has been looking at the history of student movements in the region. There’s some interesting literature about protests in Nekoma after Kent State, I’ll post some of the stuff we’ve found :)

  14. A similar anti-missile bunker layout without the
    pyramid;possibly inter-related with the N Dakota system;was installed in Alberta.It was put up for sale after it was decommissioned,the Hell’sAngels
    made a serious bid for it.’Twould make a fine grow-op,perhaps that is why the N.Dak unit is off

  15. We’d visit northern North Dakota to visit my grandparents. One of my uncles worked for ‘the gov’ at the time and would drive us past the pyramid and tell us about what they were doing. Such great memories… espionage/cold- war stuff!

  16. As a proud(ish) citizen of Concrete, North Dakota, I live right in the middle of many cold war era buildings. I’ve even toured the PAR site twice, yay me. While Nekoma is virtually abandoned, the PAR site is a very active air force base.

    I know they give “open house” tours of the PAR building ever year or so, but I’m not sure about the Nekoma building. Whatever though, It is smaller than the PAR building ergo, not as awesome.

  17. This has to be one of those newfangled “squelette” type thingies. It’s still waiting for the day that it will be topped by a solid gold levitating pyramidon sporting an allseeing eye on four of it’s five faces.

  18. I lived in Cavalier ND as a kid and for a little while there went on PAR portion of the base regularly. The air force had a program that let locals sign up to use the gym in the mid to late 80’s.

    I distinctly remember being very impressed by it.

    I dug around and found this R&D report on the making of the PAR radar facility. Halfway through it has a cut-away view of the building.

    It can spot an object the size of a basketball 2,000 miles away.

  19. I’m reminded of “Pyramids for Minnesota”, a piece by the late Thomas Disch published in the 1970s. If I remember it correctly, he half-seriously called for pyramids to be built in North Dakota’s next-door neighbor to give folks something to do and something interesting to look at.

    Somehow the reality of the ND one doesn’t seem as appealing as the idea of the Minnesota ones.

    (Though I’d still be tempted to take a gander at it, if I ever am driving in that area of North Dakota.)

  20. Dad worked for IBM and on this project specificallhy for awhile. I remember him going up to ND and getting issued a down coat, pants and gloves. I still have a paper wieght with a model of this in it.

    Thought is was used by NOAA or somebody like that for awhile?

  21. To #37: That’s mowed grass and planted fields. Although HUGE capacitors would be awesome.

  22. SAFEGUARD was very much real life Missile Command. The pyramid was flanked by areas with rows and rows of missile silos. Further silos were placed a few miles away. That most of these missiles would have detonated over Canada might not have been discussed with the Canadians…

    The long-range Spartan missile would attempt interception outside the earth’s atmosphere. If the Spartan failed to intercept the incoming missile, the high speed (but short range) Sprint missile would attempt an interception within the atmosphere. Both missiles used nuclear warheads…

    This video is a great overview of the system, with real footage starting at 2 mins, after the educational animation.

    How fast was Sprint? see 2:56 and 3:35 in the video. “The Sprint accelerated at 100 g, reaching a speed of Mach 10 in 5 seconds.” Incredible.

  23. Ian Frazier wrote a short piece about this in his wonderful book, Great Plains. Use Look Inside, search for missile, then choose p88 to read the 1.5 page essay.
    That book was one of my top five favorite books, and that essay was one of my favorite essays from it. It’s nice to finally see it.

  24. Kaluz may have said, it is “a monument to man’s fear and ignorance.” But it is also a monument (not that we need another) of the contemptuous waste of taxpayer money on projects so ill thought out that they get shut down before they go operational. I wonder at a people who tolerate such crap by our beribboned, fat-assed generals who waste more dollars and lives than they are worth. Does anyone remember the horrific damage done to our soldiers in the early days of Iraq by the road side bombs – all because Rumsfeld and the Generals sent our soldiers into harms way with vehicles that had no protection on the bottom from these explosions. I think it was Rumsfeld who said, “Sometimes you can’t think of everything” or words to that effect. May he rot in a Tehrani jail.

    Any idiot can throw money at a problem – George Bush and Dick the Cheney did it with abandon and what really did we get for our money – it takes real leadership to plan, consider, and steward the public’s resources. One of these days we aren’t going to have money to throw at anything and then where will these arrogant bastards in the Pentagon be? (Probably working for Halliburton or some other overpaid contractor, don’t you think?)

    More importantly, where will America be? The pyramids of Egypt were monuments to dead pharoahs who did not care how many dollars or lives it took to create monuments to their pathetic egos. The Kansas pyramid is a monument to the greed, corruption, stupidity, and carelessness of all of us. We “talk” about what kind of America we will leave to our children. Indeed. What kind of America? What kind? Instead of “talk” maybe we ought to do something before it is too late.

  25. I drove by the pyramid on my way to Langdon last week for a Geography Teachers’ Conference. I was wondering what it was, but I didn’t have my camera handy to take any pictures.

  26. I lived near that pyramid. I wrote about it here, with some photos. They let people walk around it a few years back.

    There’s another similar large pyramid/radar device near Cavalier, ND that’s still in use.

    My family also now owns a missile site that was on our land for years. Never gave the strangeness of either site much thought, since they’ve always been there. Protests were common during the building of the missile sites, and you’ll still see the evergreen trees planted by protesters by the road near the driveway to the sites. People are always curious about the missile site and the pyramid, though, when they come through.

  27. My family lived in Nekoma in 1972 & 73.
    My parents contracted to clean the MSR base.
    As a child I had no idea what it was. I went to school in Nekoma and I met some great people from the MSR base. When it was dismantled, my folks rec’d a computer circuit board as a reminder.
    It’s weird that I was totally un-aware of the impact of what was really going on. It was just another job site for my family. I spent the night at a slumber party on that base. I still remember the girls name, Jackie Pfifer! We were cheerleaders together at Nekoma School. Go Trojans!

    1. When I was in 3rd grade my dad went out there to help also to clean the missile. I also went to school at Nekoma. There was two other couples, friends of my parents were there too. We got a tour of the missile. It was really huge inside and so many floors up to the top. I remember new housing outside in a fenced area, no one lived in any of the houses.

  28. My coworker grew up in Nekoma…
    This site was one of three proposed sites as a missile defense system to intercept soviet nukes. Two sites were started, one never made it off the drawing table. The Nekoma site was the only one finished.
    There are 4 phased array radar antennas, one on each side of the pyramid designed for tracking missiles. Around this site (and another not too far away) were interceptor misslesl basically this was a defensive installation not a offensive missle.
    The base was really a hand in a poker game for disarmament – sure the soviets could launch a strike, but with our 3 defensive systems we woudlnt have near the damage that the soviets would have. It was wide open – in publc view…and readily available for the Soviets to see…as was the second site that was under construction.

    It was only operational for a few months before it was decommissioned and the disarmament began. I’m a little torn on if it is actually a waste of money or if it was a good thing. It cost a mint to make – but then again it really got people working torwards disarmament. If you have ever seen how much money was spent on missles in ND….you can about imagine how much money we ‘saved’ by building Nekoma and not spending it on the hundreds of missile sites that were imploded in the 90’s.
    The Minot AFB still has active missiles in ND…lots of them. But there isn’t near what we had when I was a teenager.

    There is a sister site to this near cavalier, ND that was made for long range aquisition of missles – same phased radar antenna system, but only one panel. There are a number of sites like Cavalier still operational along the coast of the US under the name ‘Pave Paws’ that are activly looking for missles….cavalier is mostly used for tracking space debris now.

    Fargo Native…

  29. I was assiged as security in the Air Force nearby, the place was supposed to be closed down but there was alot of activity there in the winter we noticed. Kind of a spooky X-files kind of conspiracy stuff floated about in the rumor windmill.



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