This Adventure:




    Part 01

    Part 02

    Part 03

    Part 04

    Part 05

    Part 06

    Part 07

    Part 08

    Part 09

    Part 10

    Part 11

    Part 12

   Part 13

    Part 14



    Main Page



Intro/Rant 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14


The River Stynx

Refreshed after a short interlude on the surface, we headed down the ladder once more to strike out for launcher #1, the last of the silos and remaining water-logged mystery among the launchers.  There was a dark foreboding about the last tunnel leading out of the staging area.  As we lugged the kayak into position for one last journey down the flooded tunnels, there was an eerie quiet about the place.  The lads from Undersea Adventures had departed, leaving us to close up after we left, and the very walls seemed to absorb the modest voices of our furtive movements in that vaulted space.

Half-buried entrance to blast lock #2 beckoning us onward with promises of mystery and adventure and possibly a hint of tetanus.

Of course, excited as we were to see new territory, we didn't expect anything unexpected for the most part.  It was almost becoming routine now that we'd been to launchers 2 and 3 and scaled the mighty cribwork to its highest heights, conquered the camera-killing waters of the propellant terminal and floated serenely through the equipment terminal.  What could possibly surprise two jaded explorers like us?

This opening into blast lock #2-- normally about 8 feet high-- has been reduced to about 4 feet by accumulated sand washed in from the surface.

Well let me tell you...

Settling once again into our damp dinghy, we shoved off over the deceptively-clear waters of the tunnels.  This time however, things were a bit different.  

Inside blast lock #2, we began to encounter foam glass pipe insulation.  Buoyant and crunchy, it bobbed innocently around the mouth of the launcher tunnel ahead.

Passing through the blast lock we were greeted with the usual monolithic concrete painted in bright colors of warning: RED! Caution!  Don't hit your fool head or anything!

Inner blast door of blast lock #2 yielding to the elements and the launcher tunnels beyond.

But once past this familiar bulwark, we were greeted by a sight as-yet unknown to us.  There ahead in the tunnel, something strange floated on the surface of that calm, clear water.

A LOT of something strange.

Looking up at the ceiling of blast lock #2 at a blast valve that once protected the blast lock from overpressures entering via the launcher air system.  The valve plate has been removed, revealing the return spring above.

What Stale Hell is This?

Launcher tunnel to silo #1 choked with pipe insulation-- but there was something else there that lurked unseen...

As we crossed the threshold into the launcher tunnels, we could easily make out what floated on the surface of the waters ahead.  What began as a few disparate chunks of foam glass pipe insulation quickly turned into a tunnel filled with discarded, floating, pumice-like material that covered the surface of the water.

Moving forward, the obstruction of the tunnel by disused pipe insulation worsens making passage increasingly difficult.

At first this was just a bit of a curiosity, some new scenery that bumped harmlessly against the hull as we moved down the tunnel.  Then there was more and more and more of it until it began to seriously hamper our progress.

Pushing our way into the floating mass of debris, Walter was finding that this unexpected obstacle was making for rough going in the kayak.  I wasn't much help either, my hands full of camera gear and lights, Walter was stuck doing all the work negotiating this strange gauntlet of garbage while I sat there like so much ballast.

It was shortly after we entered this mess that we started to notice a foul air about the place-- something was rotten here, but we slogged onward into the engulfing mass that continued off into the darkness without apparent end.

At this point the clogged passage had become almost impassable as the kayak could scarcely pass through it or over it.

The stench grew worse as we became increasingly bogged down in the dense glass foam, its aroma taking on subtle hints of flatus, delicate notes of untreated sewage with sulfurous undertones and finishing with a delicate character of rotten eggs.  Uh oh...

We had both been bitching about the foul odor, but now it occurred to me that what in fact we were likely to be experiencing was the "silent-but-deadly" calling card of H2S, otherwise known as Hydrogen Sulfide gas.

H2S and You

All joking aside, this was no laughing matter for us.  Hydrogen sulfide gas is a killer that strikes down many people every year from oil field workers to sanitary sewer engineers and maintenance people as well as unwary urban explorers.  It lurks at drilling sites as a petroleum by-product, unseen coal mine effluent, product of decaying organic matter in sewers, swamps, unventilated caves, tunnels and other places with "dead air" and matter left to decompose through the action of anaerobic bacteria.

Hydrogen Sulfide is colorless so you'll never see it; it has a sense-deadening neurological effect making detection by smell difficult at high concentrations; it is heavier than air and highly explosive; it is "broadly toxic" in that it attacks the body in several ways at once, chiefly by attacking the nervous system.

High concentrations can kill in one breath, and lower concentrations cause eye damage and injury to other organs.  Rapid death is brought on by the disruption of cellular respiration whereby the body asphyxiates at the cellular level.  This is the same mechanism by which cyanide kills!!

Here, all forward movement by watercraft became impossible and we were forced by necessity to abandon the kayak and quickly, but carefully pick our way over the mess and out of danger.

I started to develop a bit of a headache and both of us were coughing a little as we essentially became mired in the floating junk blocking the tunnel.  Working hard to move us forward, I'm sure Walter was taking on even more of the questionable atmosphere as he struggled to keep us moving forward..  

"This is probably hydrogen sulfide gas." I rattled nervously.  I'd read about it before in accounts of urban exploration of sewers and other underground areas.  I knew it was extremely dangerous. 

"We better get the hell out of here!"  Walter agreed, he was also getting a headache and feeling dizzy as well.  As he mentioned this, I also noticed I felt a bit dizzy.

Looking ahead, the end of the tunnel was not yet visible while the bog of foam glass continued out of sight both in front and behind.  I tried to recall how long this section of tunnel should be-- were we halfway through?  A third?  I wasn't sure.  Was the air even any better ahead, or were we driving headlong into our doom?

I wanted to help push us through the danger, but without an oar, I could only push against the insulation ineffectually.  I stowed my camera and prepared to abandon ship and run-- but which way to go?

By this time, Walter was pushing off from the walls of the tunnel with his oar to better move us along as we held our breath and held out for a sign of an end to the tunnel of doom in which we had found ourselves. 

With a few more good shoves, we had moved ahead enough to see that the water was becoming more shallow and the end of the tunnel was not too far ahead.

The entire floor of the tunnel was almost all junk now and several steel oil drums joined the blockade of detritus in our path.  Luckily, the water was nearly absent at this point and Walter and I agreed it was high time to abandon ship and set out on foot.

As we neared the first tunnel junction, the incline of the tunnel increased and the water receded along with the questionable air quality and piles of pipe insulation.

Fleeing the stench and the threat of imminent doom, we headed along the narrow supports to the tunnel junction ahead, dragging the kayak behind us as we continued ahead on foot.  Luckily the air improved as we trudged ahead onto solid footing; neither of us had really expected the air to become so treacherous!

The first tunnel junction near the propellant terminal.  Here the tunnels were less flooded allowing us to move ahead easily and leave the tunnel of doom behind.

At the first tunnel junction the air improved markedly and we both felt relieved that it appeared that the danger had passed.  I had not expected such a threat from a site that was somewhat ventilated by open shafts, but  stagnant areas can always exist off the main path and anyone venturing below ground should always take care in places like these.  You never know without monitoring what the air quality might be.  Walter and I were lucky, we could just as easily been discovered hours later as two corpses in a tunnel.

Tunnel leading to propellant terminal #1

As the water became insufficient to accommodate the draft of our vessel, we left it behind and quickly moved on.  Eager to put some distance between us and the possible poison gas, we headed directly to the propellant terminal which was first thing we came to along the tunnel.  

The propellant terminal would prove to be a bit disappointing however...

Propellant terminal #1 was flooded to a depth of about 8 feet.  This meant that the silo was flooded with roughly 100 feet of water.  This photo is looking toward the interconnecting LOX tunnel that leads to the LOX fill and vent shaft and launcher silo.

A more thoroughly stripped-out propellant terminal I've never seen.  The entire structure was nearly devoid of any features.  Worse still, the flooding left almost nothing above the water line and so anything that might still be there was hidden below the surface.

Given the state of things in the propellant terminal, we didn't waste much time there.  We took a few minutes to look around and headed back to our beached watercraft and forded it to the next flooded section of tunnel.

Steel supports and framing just beneath the water in the tunnel junction near the silo and equipment terminal at launcher #1.  The tunnel back to propellant terminal #1 is up ahead a ways.

This would bring us just outside the missile silo and equipment terminal, where, luckily the water wasn't too deep to allow us to enter either area.  Saving the missile silo for last, we approached the equipment terminal.

Looking down the tunnel back toward propellant terminal #1.

On approach to the terminal we could see that it too was flooded of course and the bottom 3 levels were completely lost to the water.  Additionally, we could see that level IV was basically stripped to the bare walls and so we opted to skip it as the hour was growing late and we'd had a long day indeed.

Neither of us had the foresight to bring any means of keeping time and so we could only estimate relative to our last reference on the surface what time it might be.  Was it 2pm? 3pm?  4?  We had no idea really.

Another view down the tunnels toward propellant terminal #1.

I snapped a few shots of the entrance to the equipment terminal and we headed for the main attraction: missile silo #1.

The tunnel junction near the silo and equipment terminal at launcher #1.  Equipment terminal #1 is straight ahead.


One last look toward the entrance to equipment terminal #1 before we plot a course for silo #1.


Silo #1 dead ahead.  Even flooded as it was, the rust was not as bad as one might expect.  Perhaps airflow through the tunnels has helped keep the oxidative forces of nature slightly at bay.

It looked like clear sailing once again as the entrance to the silo was flooded to where we could just drift right through the door.  As usual, most of the interesting stuff had been removed from the connecting tunnel, but we did see something new near the doorway.

Starting our approach to silo #1

To the left of the doorway there was a tall, narrow control box of some sort.  Neat!

A indicator and control box outside the silo doors with 2 lights and 4 buttons.  It appeared nearly ready to drop off the wall and into the water.

We moved in to take a closer look and found the box had 2 lights and 4 buttons on it.  The lights were labeled: FAIL WET, and FAIL DRY.  Below them the buttons read: OPEN, CLOSE, FAIL WET, FAIL DRY.  Hmmm...

Best guess was that this was a local control panel for the fire water system in the silo that controlled the fog nozzles and deluge system.

A closer look at the control box outside silo #1

It was neat to see one of these, never saw one turn up at any other site.  Needless to say we pressed every button, but no luck, they just wouldn't do anything.  We pressed the "OPEN" button and headed into silo #1.

Tune in soon for the next installment:

Part Thirteen -  In Silo Veritas


Intro/Rant 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14