“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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In place/out of place

Posted by Bradley L. Garrett on Sunday Apr 25, 2010 Under Archaeology, Cultural Geography, Psychogeography, Uncategorized, Urban Exploration

Only in and through the struggle do the internalized limits become boundaries, barriers that have to be moved. And indeed, the system of classificatory schemes is constituted as an objectified, institutionalized system of classification only when it has ceased to function as a sense of limits so that the guardians of the established order must enunciate, systematize and codify the principles of production in that order, both real and represented, so as to defend them against heresy; in short, they must constitute doxa as orthodoxy.

-Pierre Bordieu, Outline of a theory of practice

Getting somewhere

One of the defining characteristic of my hometown was always the Air Force base. Military bases in general do a lot to change the character of a place.  They are places of both order and recklessness, classic (though maybe he would say too literal) depictions of Tim Cresswell‘s in place/out of place scenario where what is inside the barbed wire, tall lights and fences is in, is ordered, is surveilled, is financially injected. What is out is disordered, suspect, not be to let in. The boundaries of militarized space are, we are told, above all others, are not porous.

And yet, in both California and Hawai’i where I have lived, the in slips out in the form of drunken sailors and belligerent army thugs in Jeeps with pockets full of roofies, going out for some R&R, maybe a little tussle with the locals. They are like little political terror camps, making sure the locals know the government is that close. Then they escape to their little military islands where they are supposedly untouchable.

Trevor Paglen, a fellow geographer stateside, has been taking people on trips to photograph “secret” military installations for many years. His dissertation work photographing these locations was a huge inspiration to my PhD. Trevor was the first the start visually penetrating these spaces and looking at his photographs, I thought “what would happen if we escalated the virtual infiltration into a physical one?” If the in can go out, the boundary is porous, despite all claims to the contrary and that means the out can go in as well. So we did. And what we found was shocking.

Four stories of fun

These photos are from an abandoned hospital on March Joint Air Reserve Base, a location with no address somewhere between Riverside and Moreno Valley, California. It used to be a full Air Force Base for 78 years until 1996 when Clinton cut the operations budget and a quarter of the 6-square mile base went derelict almost overnight.

Where the fuck is that janitor?

How classified?

Not very

The empty corridors seemed endless, piles of desks and chairs the only things to be seen turn after turn. But as we moved into more discrete levels of the hospital, we began to find rooms full of artefacts, including some very expensive equipment.

I believe you have my stapler?

Bad news

Dangling

We were never modern

Heart trouble

We were all enjoying the opportunity the play with expensive medical equipment. We were also enjoying the fact that everything was so well preserved in the building. Likely an effect, I assume, of being located on a military base. I mean, who would be stupid enough to go in there right? The lingering question in all of our minds though was this – why would the military leave all of this behind? We received part of the answer in the next room.

Somebody help me

The building was apparently being used for urban warfare training. The idea is to create places that emulate different urban environments to train for hostile situations in those environments. Some places, like this room above, clearly had staged scenes with fake blood. In other places, it was not as clear whether the scene was “staged”.

Is that normal?

Sometime after returning home, I was astounded to find an article in the local paper, the Press Enterprize (PE), which detailed plans to build an $80 million medical facility on the base called March LifeCare. I wonder if taxpayers are aware of what happened to the last medical investment on this base? I wonder if taxpayers know that while “Donald Ecker, managing partner of March Healthcare Development, is said to want ‘to move on a breakneck speed’ on the project” (by the way he stands to make 2.2 million on the deal according to PE) there is a derelict hospital across the street being used for wargames? I wonder if any of the patients of this “old” hospital know that their x-rays are laying around in there?

Clearly I was not the only thing out of place here.

Paint bullets

A goner for sure

March Air Reserve Base is a minimum security base in a rather decrepit state. Still, with an abandoned military prison now explored as well as a partially active base, it makes me wonder – how porous are these boundaries? And more importantly, what the fuck are they doing with our money in there? I call for the in to be outed!

Wash up

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