You Are In A Maze Of Twisty Little Passages, All Alike

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Catskills, Underground

Just as we left Albany, the pouring rain actually began falling, as the rest of the group promised as they decided to leave and not even try camping another night. It wasn’t at all how I’d hoped this would go; I barely managed to keep the last meetup together, and this time we only explored one place before falling apart, albeit on mostly good terms. I didn’t really care anymore though, we were still trying to explore, and it doesn’t rain underground. I’d gotten decent directions from one of the cavers I met last month on how to see the Rosendale mines, so even without the 9 people we lost back to New York City, we gave it a try. My first interpretation led us into Widow Jane’s Mine, the touristy one on the property of a museum, made even more touristy by a half-set-up installation art exhibit. I didn’t want to stay too long just in case any of the artists were still around and wondering who would be creeping around the mine, so we tried the other one. I had to ask for directions again when my reading of them led into a deer trail and a swamp, but on the second try we were in.

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While the cement supply ran out around 1900, these mines found (and some still have) other uses, being vast underground spaces with miles of passages, and acres of chambers, ranging from dry to flooded to completely underwater. This mine was once the nation’s largest producer of culinary mushrooms. Another one nearby was rumored to be an underground emergency shelter for the state legislature if Albany had to be evacuated — that one is now a data storage center for Iron Mountain, providing something a bit more down-to-earth than a cloud backup.

None of the mushrooms themselves, nor obvious signs of growing them, remain in the mine. However, there is still a slight infrastructure, in the form of downed power lines following some of the walls, and a few pieces of machinery left behind near the entrance.

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Beyond that, the mine opens up into a dark, seemingly endless maze.

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Not wanting a repeat of my last mine adventure, I approached this one with a working headlamp and fresh batteries, instead of a tiki torch. And this time there were no psychedelically-induced Lovecraftian horrors crunching underfoot with every step. But I still didn’t dare challenge the maze with anything more than the obvious, simple route following along one side of it. Not on a first venture into this particular abyss, and not with someone concerned enough about getting lost to be trying to make arrows in the ground with a tire iron to mark where we have already been.

The boundary, for this time anyway, was usually a shoreline, with flooded passages beyond begging for an inflatable raft, or a hotter day to make swimming in the flood zone more attractive than on this 48-degree rainy night.

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The farther in we went, the less flooding there seemed to be, as the air thickened with steam and a miscellaneous sense of going deeper and deeper underground.

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Each room was numbered, in more or less increasing order, counting how many chambers were between us and the surface, on a path not entirely different from the one we took to get that far. These markings, however, were far from reliable. This particular set of “OUT” arrows point directly into the mine. I have to wonder if the arrow pointers got lost, or if they were simply sadistic explorers who wanted to keep the less experienced from ever wanting to come back!

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About 80 rooms, or nearly a mile, into the mine, there was a “shed” full of machinery. The need for a building in the mine somewhat confused me, with the entire thing already being sheltered from the elements, but it seems to have been a storage area for (mushroom-era?) farm implements of some type.

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More troubling, though, was the passage behind this, with rising and falling ramps. Not only is this an enormous maze of twisty passages, but apparently it’s a multi-level vertical maze too! We stayed on the “center” level, and avoided any ramps, trying to keep this adventure relatively short considering we didn’t start until after midnight.

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On the way what we thought might be back, we found a spot that appeared to be “raining”. I imagine it was actually cave drips, but it seemed like just the tiniest portal to the outside world, letting in the weather drop by drop.

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As we continued, we eventually made our way to the exit — the same exit we came in through, no less — to find it was still pouring rain! I definitely need to go back here though. This was just one level, and counting only the ramps we could see, there are three more below, at least one more above, and plenty of buried river to take a boat out into…

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Anything Goes

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Concrete, Rochester, Underground

It seems like I have the most exploring success when I try the least. Right as I was ready to stop putting any effort into it at least until after Christmas and bonus time, I heard from a TV producer who was thinking of including me in his show. Of course technical difficulties got the better of us for a while, and a video chat and photo slideshow turned into a phone call, but it seemed promising. Then the next day I got a very frightening email saying that they wanted to see a sample of a 10-minute documentary by the end of the week (!) and weren’t in any hurry to answer my questions clarifying it. Having never shot video before, and being at work for almost all of the daylight hours, I knew I was probably screwed. Eventually I found out I got that message in error, and they didn’t actually need me at all anymore.

During that confusion I made a frantic plan to explore the mental hospital again, even though I thought I’d never go back after having one great chance, so I met up with Casey and one of his friends there. This time, Hell’s Hundred Meters got the better of us, as a security guard (who didn’t even work there a few days earlier, and was borrowed from a nearby apartment complex) stopped us and sent us on our way, just as we were about to climb into the wide open window.

We didn’t do much better at the old church on West Main, only this time it was a relentlessly nosy neighbor who circled the property at least six times while we looked for a way in, which there wasn’t one of anyway.

The next day, I made it to the drains at least, showing some people around the tunnels on a frigid December night before we went for garbage plates. There was a suspiciously placed cop at Maplewood, and it just snowed so we would have had to make a lot of noise and/or waste a lot of time trying to make the cover budge. We settled for the “Motivator” drain instead – we really need to go back and see what’s beyond the river of shit sometime. I didn’t bother to take any pictures, but drains don’t really change from one time to the next anyway.

Finally, last night we got out again, and made it into the deep drains. Even after a few times there, it’s still an amazing experience. The thought of being over 100 feet underground and miles from the nearest exit is one thing, but then there’s the tremendous echo (almost a minute in some parts of the tunnel), the pitch blackness, and the sound of being in the city’s vena cava, a slow and steady flow of a buried river, directly below the Genesee.

The scale of this place is such that I doubt any explorers have even been to the end. Just on the most direct main route, there are about 11 miles of tunnel, from the airport to Durand-Eastman park. Most of the distance, however, is in a network of branches that cover downtown and the entire west side, and being less prone to overflow, have gathered deep, putrid mud. Making matters worse, there is only one entrance and exit to the system, most of the ways out consisting of one of these: a dead end with no way up, and a sheer, dripping 100 foot rise up to ground level.

It’s just the ending I want for a year like 2014 though. Far from the dismal failure I expected, I made it to 50 locations, and even made a few exploring friends, admittedly not as many as I lost, but such is the life of the hopelessly inept.

Summer Reruns

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Concrete, Rochester, Underground

Back in the subway for the Nth time. It’s a waste of a chance to get out somewhere with a real explorer, but maybe, just maybe, it might lead to something better in the future. Until then, I guess I should just be glad to have gotten out at all.

Spider!

Hmm, maybe it was worth the trip. I never had a wide angle any other time I was here.

Missiles? What Missiles?

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Buffalo, Industrial, Military, Niagara, Underground

My friend came in from Ithaca this weekend for some exploring, and after some Friday night drinking and draining (making use of his crow-wrench tire iron that I took by mistake almost six years ago and *still* forgot to return), we thought we should try some new places out in Niagara Falls, see if we could find a “missile silo” someone posted on UER about a month ago. It didn’t go according to plan at all, we went around in circles looking for it, found a few fenced off vacant lots, and finally something that looked like a plausible base.

I think there were missiles under here at one time (back in the 60s, at the latest). Unfortunately, all that’s left is about a 10 foot drop into stagnant mosquito water. No missiles, and no structures solid enough to explore down there.

At least there was a shed to explore? A serious waste of effort is all this was.

So we continued on to Niagara Falls, and went to one of our old favorite spots instead, the Tesla power plant.

We climbed to the top, but there wasn’t much of any view out the window.

And someone had been using it as an epic paintball field.

There are certain ingredients which are, whether we try or not, absolutely integral parts of our adventures. Along with the tire iron, there’s the inevitable car trouble, getting a special kind of lost, attempts to sing along to “Ásilos Magdalenas” with more passion than vocal range, and our life-long frenemy Mother Nature always trying to fuck shit up on us yet again. This time, on a beautiful May afternoon, we saw Her wrath in the form of a thick, sopping fog in Buffalo’s main drain that prevented any possible photos that didn’t look like this:

But, before we left, the steam cleared out, and we cooked up a piece of pi.

Fuck Mighty Taco.

The Underground Art

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Rochester, Underground

It may be trivially easy to access, and everyone’s been there, but one of the best things about the Rochester abandoned subway is that every few months, the graffiti changes like the exhibits in a gallery. This time, we were here to remember Seth (HIAR) who took his own life last winter, and try to get pictures of as much of his art as is still around…

Phosphorescence

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Rochester, Underground

Sometimes blogging at work has its positives… like discovering am explorer sits at the desk right next to me! We decided to take the first Sunday of spring and go to the drains and play with some fire and glow sticks.

Explorers in their natural habitat:

Garrett the fire god:

Incendio!

Now entering RGB color space

What else are you supposed to do when you find a dead mau5 while you’re exploring?

Eventually we just smashed the glowsticks and went Jackson Pollock on the place.