Missile Silo Mishap
If you’re just after the pretty pictures, scroll down to the update section.
Where do I begin.
How about at the beginning. It started with a spark of interest in Urban Exploring, which is defined as going to places where most people wouldn’t think, or dare go. I started doing this before I even knew what it was called, most notably when I went to the abandoned Diamond Matchstick factory outside of my current hometown, Chico CA. It had plenty of old buildings and broken down cars to explore and photograph.
Fast forward to last weekend, when I went to Super Happy Dev House 20 with Sean. He is an avid urban explorer, and has the pictures on his flickrset to prove it. We went out to an old lumberyard on Saturday night, reigniting the spark to want to go out and explore closer to home. We discussed an old missile silo just outside Chico that was abandoned in the ’60’s and rumored to be still around.
I’d heard about it, after reading an article in the Chico Beat that Sean also re-linked me to. I had plans to go with another friend who I’d done a bit of urbex (?) with before, but we never got around to it – and winter is upon us so I figured there’s no time like the present.
I did a bit more research and came across a photoset from a near-identical facility located in Colorado. After seeing the spectacular photo-ops, I was quite determined visit the silo. I even came across an old photo from 1986 that some kids took while on the daring escapade in 1986 – proving that it had been done before with no ill results. By this time, my mind was made up, and I was going no matter what. There was a break in the clouds this afternoon, so I decided to go check it out – even if I had to go alone.
I borrowed Stassia’s Jetta and drove out to the site. There was a huge rock wall and iron gate on Keefer Road blocking the entrance, just like the article had outlined. This was the place. Just to be cautious, I drove up and down the road a couple times and circled as close as I could get to the facility on Cohasset, finally parking under a tree on Keefer Road a ways from the gated road. I crossed a field the quarter-mile to an empty man-made lake ever so cautiously until I heard what sounded like a construction site. Sure enough there were 3 huge earth movers working at the missile silo site, which is supposed to be abandoned! I decided it would heed me to wait until they left to do my exploring.
On the way out, there was a small, dry ravine with – get this – the carcass of a dead cow rotting in it! It reeked of rotting flesh and was surrounded by flies and covered with ants. I snapped a couple pictures and continued on my way out.
This was starting to get creepy! A supposedly abandoned missile silo with new construction going on around it, an 8-foot high chain-link fence with barbed wire surrounding it, and now a dead cow in the ravine with no apparent cause of death that hadn’t yet been removed by its owner. It may have been just my imagination running, but it felt like a scene from a bad episode of The X Files. I just had to go back to investigate!
I waited until just before dark to return, and came better equipped. I had all my camera gear in my backpack with the tripod strapped to the outside, my headlamp with extra batteries, my black fleece and sturdy shoes on. I drove up Keefer Road and parked in the same spot that I had before under the oak tree. The time was 6:15. I told Stassia I’d meet her at a coffee shop to return her car by 8 – plenty of time to explore.
I crossed over the field to the empty lake with a bit more confidence this time, as if I owned the place. I leaned up against the bank of the lake and grabbed my camera and 300mm lens. From my vantage point I could clearly see a parked earth mover, a few shipping containers and what looked like a small house – all surrounded by the chain-link fence. No people in sight. With a bit more care I crossed the main road and sat under the only large oak tree in the middle of a field of knee-high grass and grabbed the camera again. From my new position, I clearly saw the house with what looked like either a reflection from the setting sun in the window, or one of the lights was on inside. Parked in front of the house was a huge pickup truck with nobby tires and a significant lift kit – just the kind of truck a construction worker would drive. Was he packing up to leave, or did he leave his truck overnight to return in the morning? I took note and continued.
Beyond the shelter of my tree and on the outside border of the fence, I found where the earth-movers had been working. There were huge piles of dirt which had recently been moved around with no rhyme or reason as to what was going on or what was being constructed. This just added to the conspiracy theory brewing inside my head. I took a couple pictures in the setting sun and continued to the chain-link fence separating me from my goal. I paced the border several times and saw where a dozen people before me had cut through the fence to get in, and where the caretaker had meticulously patched each and every hole. There were no open holes, unfortunately, and that should have been my first clue.
There was a spot in the corner of the fence where the barbed wire had been mangled and cut in some places; someone had scaled over it before me. I took great care climbing over and landed on the other side safely. Now there was nothing between me and the grand missile silo I’d heard so much about. But there was more than just a missile silo here… there were a half-dozen or so shipping containers placed in a row, and the construction equipment I had seen working earlier parked next to a house-sized aluminum hangar. There was even a semi truck parked outside. Definitely not “abandoned”. Much to my surprise, the door to the hangar was open, so I took a peek. Inside, there was another semi truck, an ATV, a golf cart, and a fairly good sized makeshift machine shop complete with a drill press, band saws, and tools. Again, not what I expected at all. Careful not to disturb anything, I went back outside and wiped my prints off the door handle (just in case, right?). I checked one of the shipping containers which had its padlock hanging loose. Inside there was another ATV, what looked like a pile of parachutes or tents in the back, and a huge stack of ammo boxes front and center. The conspiracy theory was all but true in my mind.
I was getting pretty freaked out by all this, so I turned my attention to the house in the center of it all. It was about 100 yards away from my position at the shipping containers, and I could now clearly see that there was a light on inside. I watched it for several minutes and – was that a silhouette I just saw? No, couldn’t be. Or was it? I took my shaking nerves as a sign that it was time to scram, so I stumbled in the dark back to the fence and made my escape. I started my journey back to the car along the perimeter of the fenced-off area.
I grabbed my iPhone which has a decent map of the area, and could determine my position along the fence. I couldn’t help but notice on the map that one of the silo doors was just on the other side of the fence from me, calling for me to explore. My nerves had calmed down enough for me to feel confident to scale the fence yet again to have a peek. After all, I was well out of view of the house.
I went to the opposite corner of the fence where, again, someone had mangled the barbed wire into a manageable mess. I climbed over with a bit more trouble than before, but on this part of the fence there was a bar about halfway up the fence on the opposite side that I could get a foot on. From it, it was just a few feet to the ground, so I dropped down and evaluated my situation. From the map, I could tell that there was a silo door next to a lone tree in the center of the property. I made my way towards it under the darkness of night.
Standing on the door was like nothing I’d done before. Just knowing the history of the place under my feet, that 160 feet below my there used to lie a Titan I nuclear ICBM that could launch at the touch of a button – that’s some power! I started getting giddy with excitement, I wanted to find the entrance to the underground silo and control center more than anything now! I took another look at my auto-dimmed screen to find where the next silo door was, and found it a few hundred feet away. Again, I got the same humbling rush standing on the huge concrete and steel doors. On the map, I could clearly see where the house was – smack in the center of the gated-off area. I could also faintly see what must have looked like a concrete subterranean entrance just maybe 50 feet from the house.
The only light other than the clouded-over moon and stars was coming from the porch light of the house. I sort of used this to my advantage as I approached the house. Next to the house, right about where the entrance was, there was one of those portable water towers on stilts. It cast a shadow from the porch light that I ducked in while I took carefully placed steps toward the house. I stopped and hid behind a pile of excavated rocks for a minute while I re-evaluated my situation yet again. I was very close to the underground entrance to the silos, plus I was positioned well – behind the shadow of the entrance and the water tower. Taking another look, I saw a ski boat next to the truck parked near the house as well. So this was starting to look more like a family’s house, not just a caretaker keeping watch over the construction site. But I was so close to the entrance I could taste it.
I left the cover of my pile of rocks and went to the entrance. What I saw was straight out of a game of Half Life. There were two huge concrete doors that opened out of the earth like cellar doors protecting some unknown treasure. Beneath the doors was an elevator that took up the length and width of the opening, surrounded by a chest-high gate. I felt as if I had to first gather the red key, knock out the 2 guards in front and kill all the aliens before I could continue. From my position I could see the elevator, and the blast doors, standing almost 10 feet high, protected my view from the house. But from what I could tell, there was no staircase or ladder to descend to the depths of the unknown. I didn’t have the full view, though – there was another side to the elevator that I couldn’t see. The far side, however, didn’t have the protection of the blast doors for cover, they were in plain sight and lit from the house. I had come too far to give up, so I tiptoed my way around the concrete door, and poked my head around to take a look. I didn’t see much before I distinctly heard a sliding glass door open from the house – I was found out!
It was not the sound of the sliding glass door that scared me. It was the sound of the dogs.
Yes, that was it, dogs. Definitely more than one, definitely aggressive sounding, and I was certain they were moving right towards me, and fast! I didn’t bother to stick around and find out – instead I took off as fast as I could the opposite direction under the shadow of my water tower once again, and dove behind the cover of my rock pile. My heart was pounding! I had a few seconds to decide what to do. I heard the dogs still running towards me. I had maybe a 50 foot head start on them – not much – and a chain link fence holding me captive to the place I had worked so hard to get to.
I took off running again, moving as fast as I could to the chain-link fence. I was still a few hundred feet from it, and the dogs were right on my tail. They caught up to me after a few seconds, and I could count three of them. A huge dog that better resembled a bear than a household pet was trailing a few feet behind me to the left and growling a deep, throaty growl that scared the shit out of me. To my right, there were two smaller dogs, about rottweiler size or so, each barking their own version of “Let’s get this sonnuvabitch!”
I should mention at this point that I had just donated two pints of blood just four hours earlier. Of course they discourage any sort of physical activity for a day or so, and recommend a hearty dinner to make up for all the lost fluid, lest you pass out or get lightheaded. Save the 7-up I had at the blood bank, I hadn’t eaten since.
I could just see the fence now, coming up quick out of the darkness. There was that split-second decision to either stop and climb carefully up and over the barbed wire and hope the dogs aren’t the bloodthirsty human flesh-eating type, or just jump and hope for the best.
I, of course, chose the latter. In one swift and less than graceful movement, I grabbed the top bar of the 8-foot high fence, braced my foot on the lower bar, and half somersaulted/half fell over the remaining strands of barbed wire to safety. I did not stop there! I ran another 50 feet or so to a cluster of trees where my lack of blood caught up with me. I dropped my backpack as flat as it could go and pressed my body flat against the ground behind the tree. It was when my heart slowed down that I heard the rumble of the truck over the barking of the dogs. Then came the headlights peeking over the hill before the truck parked behind the yapping dogs and brought out the spotlight.
I couldn’t see much with my face pressed to the ground, but the field behind me lit up in an instant with what must have been a high-powered spotlight. The beam swept the field briefly before it stopped, trained on the tree that I was hiding behind! I held my ground and didn’t budge for what seemed like an eternity before the light moved on. Another lifetime later, the light was shut off and the truck moved on past the dogs, still barking at my scent from my upwind position.
When the faint glow of the taillights disappeared, I jumped up and made a break for the field. I was halfway to the next grove of trees with a good 5oo feet to go, when the truck’s headlights bobbed over the hill again. I threw my bag down and dropped to my face in the middle of the field of knee-high grass. The truck stopped and started its sweeping the field with its sun-like lamp again. I didn’t bother looking up this time, I covered myself as best I could and just waited it out. When the beam of light disappeared, I stole a glance and saw just the taillights of the truck. After another second, I saw the back-up lights of the truck. I couldn’t tell what the driver was doing, but I wasn’t too keen on sticking around to find out, so I grabbed my bag once again and sprinted to the cover of the next cluster of trees.
Keeping a safe distance between myself and the road, I made my way through my protective covering of oaks. I passed the dead cow once again, and froze twice as the driver made two passes up and down the road past me, spotlight still searching for an its target – me.
I made it to the edge of the woods with one more 500 foot clearing and a stone wall between myself and the safety of the car. I waited another minute to see if the truck would make another pass. When it didn’t, I made a healthy jog across the clearing with an eye out behind me for the truck. My heart had caught up with my adrenaline rush, so I was tripping and panting my way across the field which was already cluttered with volcanic rock and cow patties.
At long last, I made it to the safety of the Jetta, literally threw my stuff in the passenger seat and chirped the tires as I sped away into the night.
As it turns out, there’s another Titan I ICBM site nearby, and I wound up accessing and exploring it a few months after I wrote this post. I didn’t write about that trip, but I have a few photos from it available on my California Silo set on flickr.
The site in Chico is still privately owned, and I DO NOT recommend even attempting to access it (if the above hasn’t already scared you off). The other nearby site has been BLOCKED OFF from all access since I visited it, and it is impossible to enter unless you want to break through the 110-ton 4 foot-thick concrete and steel silo bay doors.
I found another Titan I site in Colorado, with pictures at my Colorado Silo set on flickr.
Comments are closed on this entry, but feel free to send me email with questions or to share your story. (firstname.lastname@example.org)