#17 Caverns, Dunes & Nuclear Missile Silos

Well here I am sitting in a Starbucks in Oklahoma trying to catch up on this damn blog! I’m only getting an average of 50 overall views per each post but I could care less. At the end of the day this will serve as a journal for me to look back on my adventures and experiences. I’m gonna try and cram my whole time in New Mexico into this one post so that I will be almost all caught up excluding the last 4 days in Oklahoma. So here goes nothin’!

I woke up on March 24th in the Las Cruces, Walmart parking lot and knew that my first day in New Mexico was going to be a good one…! The first stop I had for the day was the famous White Sands National Monument which I had been wanting to visit for the longest time. White Sands has a lot of history, mostly military as its the area where the United States tested the first “Atom-Bomb”. The area is still a partially active missile range and there are warning signs at the park discouraging people from touching anything they find in the sand as it could be “Live Ordnance” (active explosives). After three hours of driving from Las Cruces I found myself approaching the reflective dunes. These were whiter than any dunes I had seen before which is due to the fact that they are white gypsum sand. As I drove into the park I noticed people everywhere sledding down the dunes, it seemed like it was a bigger attraction for families to go sand sledding then for hikers and photographers to go explore. Here are a few snaps I got

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this might have been one of the most ironic things to see, plowing sand haha!

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The dunes were extremely challenging to shoot as they reflected so much light. Needed ND filters

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playing video games in the dunes ūüėČ

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Don’t know why but this image really speaks to me… everybody is on their own journey

I didn’t spend a crazy amount of time at White Sands, it was one of the few spots I’ve been where I really could have used the company of somebody else. Not because I was lonely but because the landscape is so vast you need a human figure to establish scale. The same can be said for shooting abandoned places, I love shooting them empty but I also love having someone with me so I can capture a more “relatable” and “human” image and show the grandeur scale of some of the locations I go. Nonetheless I made the best of the circumstances at hand and got some incredible photos of some random people frolicking in the desert. After leaving the park I got back on the road to head towards southern¬†New Mexico. My next location was an abandoned Atlas F missile Silo. Yes…. another Nuclear missile silo and a different kind than the Titan II from my last entry. The Atlas F was actually the first operational “ICBM” (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) in the United States. I don’t want to share too many details as to preserve the location but long story short it was a crazy exploration and probably one of the most precarious I’ve ever done. The physical shape of the missile gantry and the whole structure itself was corroded beyond belief… I was just hoping that I didnt fall through the floor and plunge into the abyss at the bottom. The control rooms were gutted and filled with kids shitty tags and kids names which is pretty standard with a spot like this. As much as I hated seeing all the shitty graffiti etc. I was just happy to finally be standing in a nuclear missile silo!

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Standing in what was once the top floor of the “Control Room” looking out the escape hatch

 

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Looking down the silo where the missile once stood… My hands were shaking as I cautiously hung my arm over the edge. You can see the corrosion from the lack of floors below…

After I finished up at the silo I found the nearest Walmart and called it a night. The following morning I got back on the road and made my way towards another abandoned Atlas missile silo. ¬†My hope was that this one would be accessible too and just my luck… it was! When I was walking down the stairs into the silo I saw a dead rattlesnake which spooked me a bit. I love snakes but I realized I needed to be a a bit more thoughtful on my excursions. Every time I’ve trekked through the desert on this trip I’ve always kept my head down and my eyes alert but for some reason once I entered the silo I was more alert for human threats then animal! Probably from watching to many horror movies! This Atlas silo was honestly fucking terrifying though… All the blast doors were still closed but someone had used a blow torch to cut small 1ft x 1ft holes to crawl in. After crawling through the first two blast doors I got to the third right before the stairwell. At this point I felt like an experienced Atlas explorer already knowing the layout from the day prior. I shimmied my body through the third blast door at the top of the staircase and looked down in horror when I realized I was standing over a near 25ft drop and all the stairs had been cut off from the walls making a death fall to the bottom. The funny thing was this wasn’t even the actual silo, just the stairwell to get down to the control rooms and the silo. After having explored another Atlas the day prior I was content with not dying trying to get to the bottom of this one so I crawled back through the three blast doors and re-emerged into the bright New Mexico daylight. I wanted to call it quits but for some reason I had this yearning to get down to the actual silo and see if any of the metal framework was still in tact like the one from the previous day. The goal was¬†to find a silo that was in better shape so I could go deeper¬†down and get a shot looking up and out of the structure. I looked down the escape hatch and saw that the metal ladder had been sawed off halfway down so it was about a 12 foot drop to the control room. Fortunately for me somebody had haphazardly secured a rickety old wooden ladder to the bottom of the old escape ladder making entry into the control room a possibility. I decided if there was ever a chance to get into the actual silo this was it as the control room could spit me out right at the entrance to the silo. First I had to get down the old ladder and then I had to find a hole to drop down into the bottom floor of the control room. I did both with success and found myself looking down the dark tunnel to the final blast door at the entrance to the silo room. At this point I was sweating my ass off and breathing heavily through my respirator… but I couldn’t stop… I had to get through that blast door and lay my eyes upon the silo. So I took my backpack off and rested it on the ground outside the door and began to crawl through the final blast door. When I got through I quickly realized all that lay before me was a 4ftx4ft cement ledge which I was standing on and an old railing secured to the side. My hands were quivering as my body pumped with adrenaline… I pulled out my stronger flashlight and shined it into the pitch black in front of me… I looked down in a combination of awe and horror. Everything in the silo had been stripped out, literally every piece of metal, wire, piping etc. Think about the picture you saw above but completely stripped with just the cement walls and completely pitch black. Just a small opening into a room with a 100ft+ drop into nothingness. I will be honest it was one of the most terrifying sights I have ever seen in my life. I think it was a combination of crawling through the little hole in this huge metal blast door only to come out on the other side standing on a 4ft ledge with a pitch black drop to nothingness in front of me. Its like in Star Wars when Luke, Leah, Han and Chewy fall into the trash compactor and the walls start closing in on them… I was waiting for the blast door to start inching forward slowly pushing me off the ledge into the pit of death. Unfortunately I was a little too pumped up and scared to get my tripod out and try and take photos looking down into the darkness…. I was basically feeling like, alright get me the fuck out of here….! After crawling back through the blast door I got back to the bottom floor of the control room. Next I had to crawl out through a small hole cut in the first floor which was about 12 ft above me. I shimmied up some piping and conduit to the small hole in the floor. I really put my physical capabilities to the test as I clung to a pipe with one arm and pulled my burly camera bag off with one arm then somehow man-handled it through the hole. Once my bag was through I climbed up and found myself back¬†on the first floor of the control room gazing at a beam of light coming through escape hatch. I was at the final phase of my nuclear missile silo escape…! The rickety ladder lay before me, this was it… if I didn’t make it out on this id have to find another way and there was no other way. Luckily i’m a skeletor boy and my weight didn’t over-burden the ladder. Seconds later I was grabbing the rungs of the secured metal ladder and making my way to the surface. When I reached the top I truly did feel as if I was in a post-apacolypse movie of sorts. I took my respirator off and inhaled a hearty breath of fresh desert air! Something about being underground is unnerving to me. I’ve always been a bit claustrophobic but I think its good to do things like this to try and overcome that.

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Rattlesnake greeter. He was actually further down the stairs but I moved him up to scare people!

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Looking down the escape hatch, this was the top half of the ladder that wasn’t cut off

 

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this is a picture from the previous days silo which had open doors thus providing light, the blast door that is circled in the picture is the exact same as the second silo but all of the metal you see in this picture was stripped out and it was literally just that door and then a giant drop

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a closer perspective to try and help you imagine the pitch black death pit. It was just the blast door which was closed and that small concrete ledge its on, everything ended where the white is and all the metal and everything was gone from the walls, just pure concrete silo death pit

This is gonna end up being a much longer blog post then I anticipated but I have a lot of adventures to cover haha! After taking exterior shots of the launch area I walked back to my truck. When I got back I met an old timer who was pulling up, I thought he might have been the owner so I was already preparing my alabi. He got out of his car and curiously asked “Were you exploring the missile silo?” to which I played dumb and told him I had just pulled over to take a pee and get some stuff out of the back of my truck. He then told me all about the silo and once I realized he was just a curious explorer like myself, I fessed up and reveled to him that I had just been in the depths of the facility. We chatted for a few minutes and both agreed that its absurd the amount of money the military has wasted commissioning these weapons of mass destruction. After saying goodbye I got back on the road and continued south.

 

My objective for the next day was to go visit the Carlsbad Caverns which is probably the most famous cave system in the United States. I took some back roads on the way to Carlsbad and wasn’t disappointed in the oddities and places I saw, eventually stumbling upon a massive abandoned mining town! After parking my truck I pulled the drone out to get some quick aerial photos and see if there was any potential security, trucks, or people on the property that I should be wary of. I got some¬†great shots and a better idea of what lay ahead of me then landed the drone and got my gear ready to walk up to the town. I musta spent more then 2-3 hours poking around the area as there were endless things to shoot. I’m not gonna include any history here as I will be saving that for the book. The spot was so cool I decided to go back later that night and shoot it under the stars which was slightly unnerving as I was by myself in a ghost town and all I could hear was the howl of Coyotes in the distance. Luckily I brought my hatchet with me in case shit popped off haha! Here are some photos, the good ones will be in my book!

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After shooting until about 11pm in the ghost town I went to the nearest Walmart and called it a night. The following morning I woke up and made my way to Carlsbad Caverns shooting some little abandonments along the way. When I got to the caverns it was probably 10:30am and there were already swarms of families and little kids running into the main office. My soul began to shrivel up as I realized I had picked one of the worst days to visit the park, a SUNDAY! Nonetheless I was prepared to come away with some good shots so I went and got my ticket and then began my descent into the caverns. All that I can say is Wow…. I can’t believe such a massive cave system exists… I guess it shouldn’t be surprising but I’ve never witnessed any caverns or caves of that scale in my life. It was very interesting shooting in the caverns¬†as they have lights setup in random places all throughout. You also have to be wary of random tourist turkeys flashing their cell phone lights this way and that way while your trying to get your shot. Sometimes I wish spots like these weren’t national parks and people who were truly adventurous had to explore them. Unfortunately if that was the case their would probably be a lot of graffiti and trash as there are always shitbirds who ruin it for everybody. I can appreciate the fact that they are preserving it and generating money for the parks department but sometimes you just yearn for things to be untouched and the way they once were. If that was the case I would have needed some serious spelunking experience and good crew of people so I guess i’m thankful for¬†the way it is.

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the man-made walkway descending into the caverns

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the interior of the caves can be very disorienting in photographs, at least to me!

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stalactites…. I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if there were an earthquake…yikes!

After shooting at the caverns I made my way back into Carlsbad and stopped at “My Daddies BBQ” for the second day in a row. If there is one type of food that I favor more than anything else its BBQ! This was a small family owned hole in the wall type restaurant that had some of the best Q I’ve had in a while, so good that I went two days in a row! After smashing my second days worth of BBQ I hopped into the Ranger and continued north to my next location… a massive “Gammadion cross” (swastika) in the desert. I hate to be a tease but those images will be saved for the book, I need to give people enticing reasons to want to support my efforts haha and this one seems mysterious and alluring! Don’t hate me!

 

The following day I drove all the way from southern New Mexico to Santa Fe in the northeast of New Mexico. While making the drive north I found so many cool little ghost towns and defunct gas stations. One of them happened to have some treasures inside, a bunch of old vintage cars, here are a few teaser photos!

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The following day the weather got pretty bad in Santa Fe so I pulled a full day at Starbucks and caught up on photo edits and prepared to head to Oklahoma. The first leg of my Oklahoma journey will be in the next post and its definitely been the best part of my trip so far! Stay tuned and thanks for reading as always! You can follow me on Instagram @JustinJenny to see daily videos of all these locations and keep up with my adventure. Share with your friends the more viewership the more potential I have to get my work recognized!

Cheers!

  • J.J

 

 

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