In a past article, I talked about the Stinger Missile Production Facility (Site J) and how I had come to find out about the different military sites in the area. One of the most complex and best sites is the Atlas & Centaur Test Pads. When I attended High School at Poway High the mascot was the “Titan”, a mythical Greek creature who fought with the gods. Some people believed this was in relation to the Titan missile that was built during the 60′s which launched several astronautics into space. While a rumor, it holds some truth. In the 60′s a missile was developed in Poway by the Convair division of General Dynamics was called the ‘Atlas’ missile which launched many manned flights into space and still is used today by NASA and other agencies.
[Caution] I’m sure I don’t need to warn you, but this is an ACTIVE military base, and you could get in a lot of trouble for going to these sites. Not only do you have to watch out for military personnel, but also wild animals. This is for informational purposes only, don’t be stupid.[/Caution]
There are two different areas to the Atlas and Centaur test pads. In the photo below, the site on the lower left is still in use as a place for explosive ordinance disposal, and the site on the top right is abandoned. This information is only about the abandoned site. Maybe later I will visit the other area, but it could be extremely dangerous with unexplored ordnance in the area. You can also view the site on Bing Maps.
There are several different ways to get to the area to explore, and none of them are too easy. The GPS coordinates for the general area is 32.907067, -117.021392. I recommend going at night when there is no one around, or if you go doing the day do it on a weekend when most of the construction workers in that area are gone. One way is to bike there from Maple Grove Lane in south Poway, but you have to go around several fences and it would be very easy to be seen if anyone is driving along there (which they frequently do especially right now because of the power lines and construction in the area). You could also bike Spring Canyon Road which is longer, but I think there is less traffic on it. You can also hike to the site along the road, or take the canyon (image below) and hike around the perimeter of the fence and come around the back.
When you get to the site, you will see a large concrete block that is built into the mountain, possibly used to hook up the large atlas engines to test them, allowing the smoke to escape down into the valley below. Below is a short history on the atlas missle…
“The Western Development Division awarded a development contract for the Atlas to Convair in January 1955, and Convair completed construction of the test stands in 1956. Convair Division of General Dynamics Corporation conducted static test firings of an Atlas missile at its Sycamore Canyon test facility northeast of San Diego.
The Atlas A was the first R&D configuration that ultimately led to the operational Atlas D, E, and F missiles. It consisted of minimum propellant, propulsion, and guidance systems. Its maximum range was only 600 nautical miles, and its maximum altitude was 57.5 nautical miles. A total of eight Atlas As were launched–all on the Atlantic Missile Range–during the period June 1957 to June 1958. The B series was the second Atlas developmental configuration. Its propulsion system was close to operational capability, and one series B missile traveled 5,500 nautical miles down the Atlantic Missile Range. Atlas 4-B, the second in the series B test flights, was launched successfully on 2 August 1958. The eighth missile in the series, Atlas 10-B, placed itself into orbit with the Project SCORE payload on 18 December 1958, becoming the world’s first communications satellite in the first successful use of the Atlas as a space launch vehicle.
The Convair Division of General Dynamics produced three different models of the Atlas ICBM destined for deployment with the Strategic Air Command. The first operational version of the Atlas, the “D” model, was a one and one-half stage, liquid-fueled, rocket-powered (360,000 pounds of thrust) ICBM equipped with radio-inertial guidance and a nuclear warhead. It was stored in a horizontal position on a “soft” above-ground launcher, unprotected from the effects of nuclear blast, and had an effective range, like all Atlas models, of approximately 6,500 nautical miles. The second Atlas ICBM configuration, the series E, possessed all-inertial guidance, improved engines (389,000 pounds of thrust), a larger warhead, and was stored in a horizontal position in a “semi-hard” coffin-type launcher. The series “F” missile was superior to its predecessors in several ways. Like the E model, the Atlas F was equipped with all-inertial guidance, but possessed improved engines (390,000 pounds of thrust) and a quicker reaction time due to its storable liquid fuel. The Atlas F missiles also were deployed in “hard” silo-lift launchers which stored the missiles vertically in underground, blast-protected silos and used elevators to raise the missiles to ground level for launch.
Meanwhile, considerable progress was made in developing second-generation ICBMs such as the Minuteman. Among the numerous advantages the newer missiles had over the Atlas was their ability to be launched from hardened and widely dispersed underground silos. Minuteman was also more economical to operate, more reliable, and because of its silo-launch capability, better able to survive a nuclear first strike than their first-generation counterparts.
Consequently, on 24 May 1963, General Curtis E. LeMay, Air Force Chief of Staff, approved the recommendations of the Air Force Ad Hoc Group for phaseout of Atlas D by the end of FY 1965 and the Atlas E’s by the end of FY 1967. On 16 May 1964, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara accelerated the phase-out of the Series E Atlas from the end of FY 1968 to the close of FY 1965. In addition, Secretary McNamara ordered the retirement of all Atlas F ICBMs by the end of FY 1968.” – FAS.org
There is a lot of history to the sites, but unfortunately I could not find much information on these palces in particular or photos and videos of the area, although I am sure there are some around. The only old photo I could find of the site is below, along with some new ones.
In the last photo above with the concrete, the most likely use for this was to hook up those engines and test them. If you continue on that part, this is a small building in the background. Don’t let the size deceive you though. There are two levels and the bottom level has a passageway that is around 400ft or longer. There are no longer any computers or very much equipment but this would have been filled with the launch computers and more during the 50′s when they were testing the equipment. I entered through the bottom level on the left side of the building. Once underground, to the left is the engine generator room and some other electrical areas. If you go to the right there is a very long passage at least 400ft in length that comes to a dead end. What the room was used for I could only guess. Along the way there are two air vents that you pass by one of which can be entered from above through a ladder built into the vent.
On the top floor of the building, there isn’t too much in there but some sandbags. Some sources say that this was used as training for the San Diego police and SWAT teams, as well as possibly Navy Seals or the like for training. Often you can find some birds and bats in the upper level in the corners. You can see one in the pictures below in the gallery. I wish I could have been there in the 50′s to see the secret tests going on, but alas we can only see a few of the remnants to the area.
On my scale of 1-5 of place to explore, I give this a 5. Although dangers, this is easily one of the best places for urban explorers to explore. Some of the dangers in the area include: asbestos, old and (possibly) weak concrete structures, wild animals (snakes, bats, bees and mountain lions), broken glass and military police. The area is remote enough to get no cell phone coverage and in anything happens you could be in serious danger. I recommend bringing at least 2 liters of water or more; during the summer it can get over 100 degrees easily. You also should wear some sturdy hiking boots and bring along a small backpack with a few flashlights with new batteries or some extra ones, some snacks and a first aid kit.
As always, please be careful exploring and ALWAYS tell someone where you are going. If you want any more information on this location, don’t hesitate to contact me. Patrick@abandonedsandiego.com