Google Maps will take you most of the way to Drew Miller’s latest Fortitude Ranch, but not quite all the way there. We were trying to track this place down for our story, and per Miller’s instructions, we approached the pinpoint that Google had guided us to, and then took another turn down a steep dirt road and before disappearing off the screen’s tracking system. We were truly off the grid in central Colorado, just like Miller likes his prepper refuge sites to be.
Prepping for the worst of times is nothing new. Some sources point to as far back as the Cold War Era, when tensions were high with what was then the Soviet Union, and some even further back, to when prepping really picked up speed in America. Schoolchildren were trained to duck and cover under their desks in case of nuclear attack. People started building fallout shelters. Nuclear missile sites were constructed across the country. Today, decades later, one could argue not much has changed. People are still afraid of issues with North Korea and Russia, and global warming and steep overpopulation have also creeped into news headlines. Fears for the future range from pandemics and governmental and financial collapse to nuclear detonation, depending on who you ask. People are stocking up on canned and dehydrated food, learning self-defense, stashing cash, and coming up with escape plans for when things go even more downhill.
“The U.S. government has spent $5.5 trillion on nuclear war, weapons of nuclear war, (and) missile bases since 1960. And that figure actually was from 2016. So it’s even a little more, growing since then. But a lot of money has been spent, a lot of energy has been spent and you wonder, ‘Will it ever be used?’ It’ll be a really bad day if that ever does get used,” said Edward Peden, who lives in an old Atlas E missile base he dubbed Subterra outside of Topeka, Kansans, with his wife, Dianna Ricke-Peden. “I am a historian with a degree in history. I taught history for some years, and humanity has very rarely ever developed a weapon and then not used it. And, of course, we did use a couple of nuclear weapons in 1945. The United States is the only country ever to detonate a nuclear explosion to harm others, but we did that in Japan, of course. I also spent quite a bit of time with population studies. The planet is grossly overpopulated. We are having trouble feeding everyone. Water is being contaminated more and more. We need a serious population reduction.”
The Pedens have sold old missile bases, communication bunkers, and underground properties across the country for more than two decades. Their business, 20th Century Castles, has even offered up locations near Cortez.
Fortitude RanchMiller, the CEO of Fortitude Ranch, is always on the lookout for danger.
“I’m an intelligence officer. So, you know, I kind of grew up watching for threats and looking at what could be coming down the pike that could cause trouble. We’re very, very good at avoiding things like the Soviet Union or China getting military superiority and the ability to beat us, because you got the Department of Defense, and they’re devoted to that. But there’s no one out there looking at, ‘Hey, what happens if some terrorist guy gets one of these CRISPR machines and takes polio or some other virus, mutates it, then releases it, and kills off most of the human race?’”
Don’t call him a doomsday prepper, though. Miller finds the term derogatory toward those he believes are just being smart about the future. He has special contempt for the National Geographic show “Doomsday Preppers” for their portrayal of preppers.
“The first rule of prepping is, don’t tell anyone you’re a prepper. That’s the standard school, and the reason you don’t is two reasons. One, because if you’re a prepper and your neighbor is not, they’re all going to come bothering you when there’s a disaster – begging for your food or worse, breaking into your house. The second reason you don’t tell people you’re a prepper is that stupid TV show,” Miller said.
TV shows like “Doomsday Prepper” make survivalists look like nutcases for entertainment, Miller said, when most of the people that he knows who prep are intelligent, normal people.
“Most of our members own their businesses. They’re professionals. They’re former military. Some of them are active intelligence officers still serving. They’re not going to tell you they’re a prepper. … “Doomsday Prepper” is a gross distortion of who preppers are. Preppers are smarter than average, more wealthy than average, and, you know, they’re just being careful,” Miller said.
Miller’s business, Fortitude Ranch, isn’t just in Colorado, though. It’s a network of survival sites across the country. These locations are meant to house and protect survival communities if ever things go sideways, and also act as recreational facilities for people to vacation at when things are copacetic. Miller is protective of the specific locations of the sites, preferring to keep their whereabouts vague. His first completed site is located in West Virginia. He recently began building his second site amongst the central Colorado mountains. His goal is to eventually build 12 Fortitude Ranch sites across the country. He’s already looking at sites in Nevada and Wisconsin as his next targets.
To join Fortitude Ranch, interested parties must purchase a membership. When things begin to fall apart, it’ll be important to have numbers, Miller said.
“We say you need at least fifty people so we can have a lot of guards on duty at night. Our guard stations are designed so that each guard can see the guard at the next station,” Miller said.
As opposed to many prepper sites, Fortitude Ranch is a refuge for the middle class, Miller said. Indeed, many survival hideouts, particularly bunkers, can dip into the millions as far as price goes. The Pedens’ Subterra is currently on the market for more than $3 million. These bunkers have all kinds of amenities, from pools to toilets for their pets.
“It’s just wonderful, but it costs you $1.5 million to buy a small condo, and then you got to pay your condo fees on top of that. So the super rich either build their own little bunker or they join Survival Condo. Ours is the only model that exists that the middle class can afford,” Miller said.
Miller’s planning goes beyond just stocking up on food and building guard towers, though. Once people are in close quarters for long periods of time, social dynamics must be considered, though Miller believes those who are serious about survival will look past their differences and work together for the good of the group.
“First of all, we got staff to settle disputes. We set the rules. No one’s getting voted off the island. You don’t have to worry about that kind of nonsense, and we’ll take care of problems. But by and large, I tell people I don’t think there’s going to be problems. There’s a big difference between if it’s a club and people are coming out and they’re fighting over radiation detectors. The real emergency people are going to realize, ‘Hey, I got to make this work,’” Miller said.
We all live underground“I’m speaking to you from underground here in Kansas in a million dollar – well, it was a multi-million dollar Atlas E missile site back in the 1960s. We have a very interesting little home that we totally enjoy,” Peden said in a phone call from his Midwest bunker.
He and his wife moved into their unique home in 1994; they bought the property about 35 years ago, while Ronald Reagan was president and the possibility of nuclear war and the safety of his wife and two daughters was at the front of Peden’s mind. Built in 1959, the Atlas E Missile Site was active during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and was decommissioned in 1964.
If you look through the photos on Subterra’s website, the cozy residence makes it hard to imagine the mess that Edward and his family were faced with when they first purchased their home.
“When I bought this site, the room I’m sitting in here, it has a fifteen-foot ceiling height … but it had eight and a half feet of water,” Peden said. “We had to dump it out. Then it had a massive clean up. All of the government sheetrock had melted down on the floor from the water and it all had to be removed. There was a lot of mold and rotten wood, and all that had to be cleaned up before we started really building our home in this underground structure.”
It took about ten years to clean up the bunker on a shoestring budget. Now, the property, which sits on 34 acres of land, boasts a half-mile paved driveway, an 8-foot security fence, two observation towers, garden spaces, an 11,000 square-foot underground shop, a 2,000 square-foot living space, and four bedrooms, along with many other amenities.
Eventually, Edward and Dianna started their real estate business and began selling missile sites across the country. Now, how, pray tell, you may ask, does one get into the business of selling properties like that?
Twenty-four years ago, Peden said he started making phone calls after coming across a book called, “From Snark to Peacekeeper,” about missiles and missile sites. The book contained the locations of missile bases across the country, so Peden started calling the counties where they were located to find out the names and addresses of the owners of the sites that had been decommissioned.
“And so it didn’t take us long. Just in a few months, we had like twenty-three former decommissioned missile site properties for resale on our website. And we’ve sold all of those and more,” Peden said. “We have actually been a part of sixty-one closings of bunker-type, underground, hardened real estate structures.”
Since then, the couple sold properties all over the country, from Maine to Roswell, New Mexico, and just about everywhere in between.
“I’m a very simple guy. I have a degree in history and I taught secondary school for years. But to be able to just track down these rare multi-million-dollar historic properties, and to be able to market them and sell them, has just been unbelievably good fortune,” Peden said.
Now that he’s 71 years old, however, Peden isn’t as concerned as he used to be for himself.
“Except I worry for my children and grandchildren and the future of the country,” he said.
Though he has a lot of concerns about President Donald Trump at the helm, Peden and his wife are ready to move back up to the surface. They are looking to sell Subterra, which is on the market for more than $3 million.
As for the unease and fear others are still feeling across the country, whatever the reason may be, Peden says this:
“I advise always (that) love is letting go of fear. … But I really am a proponent of a more peaceful, loving environment. I’m hoping for that for the planet, and for all the citizens of the planet. And I know it’s probably just kind of unrealistic. Maybe I’ve become kind of a dreamer, but I’m hoping that we somehow might convert our fear. Fear is just not much fun, and fear feeds on itself. Fear is very destructive, and this country seems to fear so much.”