Once upon a time, out in the rolling hills of the steamboat mountain range of West Texas near Abilene, the United States Air Force built twelve sturdy little structures in which they stored some very precious, but dangerous, items.
Tucked safely away inside the very bowels of the earth, this little project, designed to be sturdy enough to withstand the blast and seismic activity that would accompany a nearby nuclear explosion was, fortunately, never put to the test and the government abandoned the whole project after just a few years.
This precious and dangerous cargo was, of course, Atlas Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) aimed at the USSR as part of our M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction) deterrent during the cold war.
The missiles were removed and these hardened Missile Silos were eventually sold for salvage to the highest bidder. Most were disassembled to varying degrees and most of the metal components sold for scrap. Nature has had its way with these structures over the years and some are partially or wholly flooded with groundwater that filters through the concrete walls over time.
The only safely diveable Atlas ’F’ Hardened Missile Silo in existence is run by Family Scuba Center in Midland, Texas and is called ’Dive Valhalla’. (Valhalla is from Norse Mythology and is the great hall of fallen heroes).
The water is 60 degrees, 130’ deep and crystal clear. The silo is 60’ in diameter and everything from the dressing areas to the electric gear winch, lighting systems and the actual dive area is 50-70’ underground. Mark and Linda Hannifin, owners of Family Scuba Center feel that the main draw for divers is the exclusivity and uniqueness of the site. (After all, how many people have ever even seen a missile silo, much less taken a guided tour and gotten to scuba dive in one?) It’s a BTDT (been there, done that) dive that makes for an interesting logbook entry and a definite conversation starter..... (you dove where??).
With constant 68 degree air temperature and consistant lighting at all times, and without overhead obstructions, the diving is safe and comfortable for certified divers. For divers to have the most fun, however, we recommend advanced certification and cold water experience as well as familiarity with altitude diving procedures and good buoyancy control. Since divers must climb down stairs 30’ in full gear to get to the water and 30’ back up to get out, you need to be in good health and physical condition to enjoy this dive.
Dive Valhalla is not open to the general public, but dives are easily arranged for dive clubs and dive shops by reservation. The group must consist of an instructor or insured divemaster who will be responsible for coordinating the diving activities and maintaining safety divers ready for any problems that might occur.
Dive Valhalla staff help coordinate getting the gear and divers from the dressing room level to the water and back safely, as well as doing some of the underwater photography and videography.
Currently, divers from all over the world are already enjoying the site for advanced openwater training in deep diving, altitude dives, nitrox, rebreathers and other specialty courses. Many other divers just come to participate in a unique dive experience.
This dive site was unusual enough that CBS Sunday Morning and The Learning Channel (TLC) have filmed and documented the conversion of this silo from a cold war icon to a recreational dive site. (Watch for an episode called ’Subterranean Secrets’ on the ’Mega-Tech’ series on TLC). A Japanese film crew also shot an episode for one of their networks, look for it the next time you’re in Tokyo! Or if you can understand Japanese, check out the video clip
! (With 56k line may take up to 15 min. download time depending on internet provider.)
You can also check out Author, Chuck Ballinger’s website, Dive 50 States
, and see where he included Valhalla in his book.