Business travel to Maryland presented an opportunity to find some of the Washington Defense Area Nike sites. I traveled up a day early, to allow for a day of personal adventure before settling in for a week of hard work.
Saturday, 3 Dec 2005
From DFW, I flew to Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD). I hoped that traffic would be less hectic at Dulles than at DCA, and I was right. My flight was about two hours late, so it was dark by the time I fired up the rental car. So much for knocking off a Nike site before sunset. I located a motel in Chantilly, Virginia, for the night.
Sunday, 4 Dec 2005
Just as I was about to depart the motel my cell phone rang. My tour guide had to change our 1030 meeting time, was 1400 okay with me? Sure, no problem. Juggle the schedule a bit: pay a morning visit to the Nike site I missed the previous evening, then add a visit to the Udvar Hazy museum at Dulles, then tag another Nike site prior to the appointment. Lucky for me I had my laptop computer with the latest DeLorme Street Atlas software and GPS receiver -- last minute route changes were no hassle since the software gives me spoken directions. Cool!
I had visited Great Falls Nike Park, formerly W-83L, 38-59-31, 77-19-35, back in 1997. My revisit was short, just verifying that more ball fields have been built, the signature berms around the refueling / warheading area still stand, and the out-of-place radome from an Air Force gap filler radar still sits as a play shelter!
What I didn't find in 1997 was the IFC site. This time I knew where to look for Turner Park, formerly W-83C, 38-59-44, 77-18-45. Two towers stand, and one or both of them may be original Nike radar towers. One has nondescript metal walls, the other has been blocked-up into an observatory building! Although this is a county park, the whole place is still fenced and was locked up tight.
The National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is well worth a visit if you are at Dulles with a couple hours of free time. New, spacious, easy to get around in -- it is a nice museum. Lots of well-maintained artifacts, grouped in three main areas: military aviation, commercial aviation, and space. The big attractions are the B-29 Enola Gay, the last Concorde SST to make a commercial flight, and the space shuttle Enterprise. I was also interested in the Nike Ajax and SA-2 Guideline missiles, considering the stops I would make on this trip.
After the museum I pointed the rented Taurus south and aimed for another Nike site. The launcher site W-74L, 38-48-49, 77-21-21, has become Popes Head Park, and is so decimated that the only evidence I found was some security fencing along the north side of the former access road. What I believe to be the former location of the magazines is now a nice flat grassy area.
The nearby IFC site W-74C, 38-49-01, 77-20-29, was locked up, so I snapped my typical locked-gate photo and went on my way.
Next stop, Lorton, Virginia and the former W-64L, 38-42-33, 77-15-10. The gate was open and I drove right in since I was expected. My host was Gary Powers, founder and director of the Cold War Museum. The museum is about to sign a lease on this property, with grand plans in the works. Gary and I have exchanged e-mails for several years, on various Cold War subjects, so I was glad to finally meet him and get inside the gates of the former Nike site as well. A couple of original administrative or barracks buildings still stand, as do a couple of other structures, but most of the buildings are 1970s or 1980s metal buildings added during this site's service as a minimum security prison. The two launcher "strips" are still visible, with concrete caps showing the location of the magazines' elevator doors. Gary is a high-energy guy -- full of ideas and the drive to see them through. As we walked the sites he described various goals of the museum, their facility plans, and grants they were hopeful of receiving.
We also drove over to the control site, W-64C, 38-43-15, 77-14-42, for a quick look. This property is used by the county for maintenance activities, with original and newer buildings in various states of repair. As we were touring the site, I asked Gary what message he'd like to share with the readers of my web page, and he said that he would like my readers to:
"Please consider making a year-end donation to the Cold War Museum. Your gift will help us plan for the new year and the new physical location. Tax-deductible contributions and artifact donations to the Museum will ensure that future generations will remember Cold War events and personalities that forever altered our understanding of national security, international relations, and personal sacrifice for one's country. Please help spread the word about the Museum. Together we can make this vision a reality. If you should have any questions, want additional information, or would like to subscribe to our Cold War Times email newsletter distribution list, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org."
After heading to a nearby burger joint for coffee, Gary and I said our goodbyes and I pointed the car toward Maryland and started calculating the remaining daylight. Traffic was light so maybe I could salvage one more Nike site. (Where are the flashing lights and siren on a rental car when you need them?) Well, I made it over to Croom, Maryland, with a few minutes of daylight to spare, and looked for W-35. Back in those early days of 1997, I looked for and found W-35C, and stumbled across W-35 Housing.
At that time I didn't know where to look for W-35L, but I headed straight for it this time, centered at 38-46-13, 76-43-52. I found the gate locked, with signs indicating the former launcher site is used by Croom Vocational High School. My drive-by recon of W-35C and the W-35 housing indicated no major changes since 1997, so I didn't stop for photos in the fading daylight.
Instead, I just took a series of country roads to Lexington Park, Maryland, and settled in to my motel room. The next five days would be busy ones, working on NAS Patuxent River -- Pax River, as it is informally known. I had official business at the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum, but I also spent a lunch hour there, seeing the outside exhibits.
Monday-Friday, 5-9 Dec 2005
This was a productive week, only slightly hampered by some winter weather. On Monday afternoon and through the night it snowed, about five inches total. It was the first snowstorm of the season for this part of Maryland. This was my first research visit to a Navy installation, so it was both challenging and fun.
Saturday, 10 Dec 2005
To start the day, I made a failed attempt to see the former Beantown Communications Site GWEN 824, (BATM), 38-37-02, 76-50-49. The former GWEN site is north of this access gate, and I believe the tower no longer stands.
Another Nike housing area was on my list, this one another set of three multi-family buildings supporting W-44. I found W-44 Housing in good condition at 38-39-20, 76-52-22, now called St. Sebastian Town Homes.
Not far from the housing, at 38-39-12, 76-52-06, control site W-44C is nicely maintained, but there were no signs to tell me its current purpose or owner. If the buildings are vintage Nike, they have been extensively remodeled.
I was a bit worried about the status of the launcher site W-44L as I made my way past brand new housing developments, but I was pleased to find it unharmed, centered at 38-39-17, 76-51-20. It is home to the American Indian Cultural Center, and was unfortunately closed at the time of my visit.
Okay, just one more Nike site and then I'll go home. IFC site W-45C, 38-38-16, 77-00-13, was gated with some post-Nike antennas visible on the site. Signs did not indicate the current owner.
W-45L, at 38-38-37, 77-00-55, was unlocked and wide open, and advertised for sale. A sentry house and administrative building still stand near the road, and two other buildings stand near the warheading area. Lots of junk was strewn on the launcher "strip" and it appeared that a low wall had been built around one or more of the launchers at some point in time. As far as I can tell, W-45 did not have a housing area -- if I'm wrong please let me know!
After that it was time to wander back to the airport. The trip home was good -- plenty of space on the airplane and a smooth flight.
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