It’s easy to imagine the end of the world, especially if you work in the news business. So I leapt at the chance to spend the night at Raven’s Ridge in Kansas, a luxury condo development built in a decommissioned Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile silo.
About that experience, more in a moment. But first let me lay out my bona fides as (unofficially) Nightline’s senior apocalypse correspondent.
During my 14 years at ABC News, I’ve covered wars, terrorist attacks, famines, earthquakes, wildfires, global pandemics, refugee crises, nuclear meltdowns and nuclear standoffs. You name it.
If and when the apocalypse comes, I’ll probably go out reporting on it — one last live shot at the end of days. Hopefully it won’t come to that, but I’d like to think that if it does I’ll be ready.
All of which may explain my particular fascination with two genres of stories: the Roman Catholic Church and the people who prep for doomsday.
In addition to covering the Vatican and issues of major concern to the world’s largest and oldest Christian denomination (and, hello, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse figure prominently there), I’ve done more than half a dozen big stories in recent years on preppers, ordinary folks who worry about Doomsday for their own secular and spiritual reasons.
I’ve visited bunkers in the Arizona and California desert, finding out what people are stockpiling and learning about the various perceived threats.
Beyond all the obvious threats, I’ve explored some unusual ones too.
In 2010, I traveled to Mayan ruins in Palenque, Mexico, interviewing so-called 2012’ers about what they believed was an ancient Mayan prophecy predicting the end of time on the winter solstice of 2012.
In 2011, I went to San Francisco to interview Harold Camping, a fire and brimstone preacher with a huge radio following who convinced his followers that Jesus would return to earth May 11, 2011 and the Rapture would start.
His most devoted followers sold everything, only to be disillusioned when the end didn’t come.
So back to the bunker. "Nightline" producer Adam Desiderio and I traveled to Kansas last week, driving hours north of Wichita to the missile silo.
Developer Larry Hall met us there. I had interviewed Larry four years ago, when his survival condo idea was in its infancy. In our "Nightline" report, we called it “Noah’s ark for the paranoid man who has everything.”
Larry conceded people doubted Noah too, all those years ago.
Now he has built his ark and it is a sight to behold. If you can get inside.
The walls are nine feet thick. There’s a pool, a rock climbing wall, a dog park, a schoolroom, a movie theater, a spa and a gym. There are also some very comfortable condos priced at millions of dollars each.
It’s the ultimate man cave. Nuclear hardened. And Larry says he has already sold out.
The structure is 15 stories deep. The rooms all have flat screen HD TV’s instead of windows. You can program any view you like, but most choose to tune in the view from outside. It’s the only indication what time it is, and it helps overcome any feelings of claustrophobia hundreds of feet underground.
The place is built to sustain 75 wealthy people — homeowners and their families — indefinitely as they wait for the proverbial dust to settle.
There’s enough freeze-dried food to last 10 years, Larry says. On top of that, they have a hydroponic garden where they plan to grow 70 varieties of fruits and vegetables and there’s a fish farm where they’ll raise tilapia.
He also showed us another abandoned missile silo where he’s just getting started on his second luxury condo development. For now, it’s just a cement hole with a rusty staircase. But Larry has big plans for it.
The old Cold War era fluorescent light bulbs are still in the fixtures from when the second silo was decommissioned in 1967. You can imagine the buzz of the lights as those guys in crew cuts with missile keys waited anxiously for the order to launch.
One thought struck me, as we took our tour. This is truly a swords into ploughshares development. The US government built these places with doomsday in mind.
Today the threat may be different but the fear remains. But for some the smoldering aftermath will be a lot more comfortable.