By Rick Rojas

ROSWELL, N.M. — Past the city limits, where the main street with the UFO museum and the McDonald’s in the shape of a flying saucer gives way to a lonely highway coursing through an ocean of scrubby terrain, the green door pops up like a periscope.

Jim Moore, a real estate agent here, sells mostly ranch houses in tidy neighborhoods or stretches of undeveloped land in a place where that is abundant.

But for some reason, he said, when an odd listing comes around, it tends to fall to him. And on a recent morning, he pulled off the highway onto a gravel path leading straight to his latest example.

The 25-acre parcel, a 20-mile drive from the city’s downtown, has a worn trailer where the former owner lived and then that green door, which opens on a stairwell heading deep underground.

There, visitors who do not fear enclosed spaces will find a marvel of military architecture that has had Moore’s phone ringing with inquiries from across the country: a missile silo, decommissioned decades ago.

From a real estate perspective, it is a fixer-upper, to put it mildly, one that appeals to a small and idiosyncratic cut of potential buyers (one of whom has already signed a contract, placing it off the market for the moment). At the height of the Cold War, the site had been the home of an Atlas-F missile, an intercontinental ballistic weapon with a warhead over 100 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki in World War II.

The missile was taken out of service after just a few years, and left behind was a subterranean lair worthy of a Bond villain, burrowing 10 stories down and capable of withstanding a nuclear blast.

Over the years the site has become dilapidated, showing damage from the time it was left unattended and became a hangout for teenagers and a source for vandals scavenging for scrap.

Still, in his listing for the site (price: $295,000), Moore described it as having “lots of potential uses.” Would-be buyers agree and have come to him with all kinds of ambitious ideas: Marijuana growers and hydroponic gardeners looking for a secure farm, the owner of a document storage company who proposed turning the silo into a cylindrical archive, starting at the bottom and working his way up.

And there have been plenty of what he called “doomsday types,” looking for a virtually impenetrable bunker for when things above ground turn sour.

“I’ve had a lot of calls, a lot of promises,” said Moore, 67, noting he has had more than a half-dozen people express serious interest only to not follow through. “They’d love to have it, but it seems like they lack the money.”

Roswell, a city of 48,000, has a reputation that extends far beyond southeastern New Mexico, known for the extraterrestrials that the government insists did not land here but nonetheless took over, populating the shelves of downtown shops and the signs of fast-food joints.

It was the city’s isolation — locals say it is a good 200-mile drive to get almost anywhere else — and its proximity to an old Air Force base, closed in 1967, that attracted the military to build the dozen missile sites, including this one, that ring Roswell. In all, 72 Atlas-F missile sites were built, scattered in mostly remote locations around the country, close to Air Force bases that could supply them with forces.

The military designed the missiles and the bunkers that housed them with the utmost urgency, working at a moment when the concern over national security was so severe that it bordered on panic, said Gretchen Heefner, a history professor at Northeastern University in Boston and author of the book “The Missile Next Door.”

“They had no doubt that this could be it,” she said. “This was what the Cold War was going to hinge on.”

With doors weighing thousands of pounds and yards-thick walls of concrete and steel, the silos that were constructed to house these missiles were not going away.

“In reality, these structures, the way they were built, will last well over 1,000 years,” said Larry Hall, a developer who has worked with the sites, comparing them to fortified European castles.

For sale: missile silo, bomb not included;
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Roswell, New Mexico missile silo for sale - Boing Boing