“Understanding the past embraces all modes of exploration.”
- David Lowenthal

Military security

Graveyards come in many forms. When I was an archaeologist, I used to dig them up all the time. I remember once, when I lived in Hawai’i, I was digging up this skeleton that was embedded in beach sand. I had my trowel under his ribs chipping away at the sand particles embedded in the ribcage and then the whole body came tumbling down on me. This guy Kulani that I worked with said, “cool bro, now you’re cursed like the rest of us”. I put the skull in a brown paper bag and marked it XJ-107 or something. It was clearly a traumatic experience. In Paris, we party in mass human graves. And of course, the whole dereliction fetish component of urban exploration is really just an obsession with decay, death, waste and transition. We explore architectural and memorial graveyards all the time. I don’t think it’s strange though. As Geoff Manaugh muses,

…the quasi-archaeological eyes of those poets and artists [from the past] would still be enraptured today. Wordsworth could very well have gone out at 2am on a weeknight to see the cracked windshields of car wrecks on the sides of desert roads, new ruins from a different and arguable more interesting phase of Western civilisation. 

Beauty in death, filled with life

So when I was in Las Vegas this summer and heard there was a massive desert graveyard filled with hundreds of “retired” planes, beautifully preserved in the dry Mojave air, I knew we needed to get in there and play around. The problem was that it was on an active military base. So I called up the crew and they flew into McCarran from Ottawa, Paris and London. We rolled out the satellite images over a few cans of Tecate on the kitchen countertop. With Witek, Marc and Otter on this mission, success was the only option.

The Job

After driving for ages from Vegas to the high desert outside Victorville, stopping to build massive bonfires in the Mojave and climb around in some old mines at Calico, we rolled up the the perimeter fence around George Air Force Base (The Southern California Logistics Airport). I won’t lie, the security was intimidating. But, as always, there was a weak point and we found it. Luckily, the military security patrol didn’t see us before we cracked their security routines.

In our sights

Shots in the dark

Fast forward to 2am. The problem with exploring in the desert is, firstly, that you have to drive there and, secondly, that you have to park your empty automobile in a blatantly obvious place, given there’s no cover. Given the only thing within 10 miles is the military base and we really didn’t like the idea of having our truck found while we were in there, we parked it in a ruined meth den roughly two miles from the access point; rammed it in-between the buildings and prayed for the best as we set off across the desert with our camera gear. As we neared the gate, security was doing their patrol. We saw the headlights and dove behind some knee-high sage bushes, turning around the bush as they went past like a Scooby-Doo cartoon. When they had passed, we ran like hell and threw my Mom’s clearly expensive bathroom towel borrowed from the Vegas pad over the barbed wire. Once over, we booked it for the first plane we could see, a massive United Airlines 747.

Behemoth

This first fat boy was a cargo freighter (maybe converted?) and the ladder was down. It was pretty stripped out inside and not very interesting. We exited and saw the next plane in the row – a British Airways 747! Someone asked for my truck keys and popped the hatch behind the landing gear – up we went. Inside, it was sticky and hot and awesomely intact.

Saw it

Did it

Loved it

There were endless planes of all sorts, learjets, FedEx planes, little short-flight hoppers and massive military cargo aircraft. It was a wicked playground.

On time for

This encounter

It was a long night. We must’ve gone in six or seven planes. We photographed dozens. We saw hundreds. At some point we realised there was a security guard inside the fence as well and had to hide in landing gear a few times. It was the most fun I have ever had in the United States.

Hiding from security

The tail end of an

Endless array

The Boneyard was like nothing I have ever experienced – it was massive, pristine and surreal. We had a great time there and I would love a revisit, especially given we only went in something like 2% of the planes there. Then again, I hear there’s a much bigger one in Arizona that has a space shuttle in it…

 

London Consolidation Crew. 2011. All up in your military base.

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Fiberglass and Tumble Weeds – Boron Federal Prison

Posted by Bradley L. Garrett on Wednesday Apr 7, 2010 Under Uncategorized

“You should create your own icons and way of life, because nostalgia isn’t glamorous…live your life now.”

-Marilyn Monroe

Alien dump

I grew up in Riverside, California, on the Western edge of the Mojave Desert. My interest in urban exploration came from my childhood here, full of frequent trips into the Mojave exploring old mining towns to break up my rather mundane suburban childhood. Coming back to visit this year, I knew that what I needed from this trip was to rediscover what it was that brought me down the UrbEx path. So I hit the desert for some old school federal trespass.

Because of that green UFO?

My friend Joel tipped me off to the existence of Boron Federal Prison Camp, a US Air Force site that was abandoned  in 2000. I rolled into Boron on an incredibly windy day, with light rain splashing in off and on (rare here I assure you!). I found all the gates open and amazingly drove right past a dozen derelict buildings, straight up to the old water tower.

Dusty Industry

It was only when I stood at the edge of the cliff at the water tower that I realized how extensive the site really was. There were at least 30 buildings here, some multi-storied, spread out over maybe 5 or 10 acres.

Rural Sprawl

As I looked out across the flat expanse of desert toward Barstow, the wind was whipping my hair in my face and I was constantly wiping water drops off of my lens. I decided to take shelter in the only thing higher than the water tower – the stucco church.

Monument to the gods of television.

Stencil worship

I stepped into the church and found myself in a silent room that had one wall painted and others covered in banal graffiti. As I stood there, I came to realize how much different this exploration felt than those I had been undertaking in Europe. It was so much lonelier. Part of this, of course, can be chalked up to the fact that I was indeed alone, but there was also a spatial dimension. It seems to me that perhaps because of the availability of space here in the desert, it is much easier to simply walk away from a place. And when that happens, an essence of loneliness particular to this dusty landscape seeps in. It is a loneliness, a sadness, so deep that even destruction of the place does nothing to erase it.

When I explore in more urban landscapes, the predominate emotion is fear-fuelled adrenaline. There is a sense of urgency that drives explores and has been one of the difficulties I have encountered in trying to get video footage of our explorations – we never really stop to take it in. We move fast, we pack multiple explores into a day. It’s like derelict architecture speed dating.

In contrast, this federal prison invited me to stop, to spend the day, to really take the time to let it scar me. It felt less like a conquest and more like an invitation to meditate on the possible pasts that led to it’s untimely death. The site encouraged more of an archaeological eye, little artefact mysteries to be uncovered around every corner. The fear of being caught here (which was very high, with possibly sever consequences) was so overwhelmingly overshadowed by the lonely introspection the place invoked that I simply sat down for some time to listen to the wind whipping power cables and slamming doors open and closed and forgot that a patrol might roll in at any moment.

I went on to explore the kitchens, mess hall, work corridors, carpentry shop, the fire station, basketball court and finally the “vehicular component factory”, whatever the fuck that means. It had been almost completely stripped out, every window broken, and despite the emptiness of the place, it continued to have a particular thickness to it. It was a place full of sad memories, left to rot our here 50 miles from the nearest city where the incarcerated inhabitants could do no harm.

Deserted

The Mess Hall

Barricaded

The camp seemed to be connected with a company called Unicor – a name which I think has an oddly Orwellian feel to it. There was also an active air traffic control station on site covered with live cameras which was beginning to make me a little nervous 3 hours in.

1984

Road to government vaugeness

I jumped into the truck to follow my gut instinct that it was time to leave, feeling rather satisfied with my day, when I noticed a side street I had not seen before. I drove down it, finding nowhere to park (a vehicle is a serious limitation to exploration I have realized – hiding a car in the desert is usually almost impossible) and walked into what turned out to be derelict inmate housing.

Reasonable traffic conditions

As I walked down row after row of empty cul-de-sacs lined with derelict tract homes, I was pulled right back into the sadness of the place. I walked through people’s homes and looked at their landscaped yards, taking notice of which domestic plants had escaped and were thriving without human intervention. In one, I found a constructed mini-bar and waited a while for a drink to be served. In another, a brick oven filled half the backyard. I imagined summer BBQs in 120 degree heat, families of inmates coming together for a few drinks and a chat about who-was-whose bitch that week.

Patio Party

I was struck anew by the imposing affectual qualities of the place and when I reached an abandoned playground. I stopped to play alone on the teeter-totter.

Does anyone remember playing here?

By the time I left the housing area, all numbed by the weirdness of my experience, my truck was blocked in by a stereotypically overambitious security guard wearing a fake federal badge. He told me I had been filmed and that he was supposed to call the FBI (I call bullshit on that one buddy) but I think he could sense that I had come here for different reasons than he might normally encounter. We ended up chatting about the history of the place and he sent me off with a stern warning, locking the gate behind me.  After a day of modern ruins, ghosts and self reflection, I drove off into the Mojave Desert in a familiar cloud of pink dust looking for the next adventure.

Not that I'm nostalgic or anything

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