White Mesa Explosives Research Institute

Saturday, July 17 2010, 4:02 AM

After all the tourism hardcore exploration in Thüringen, I have the honor to present something a little different. But first things first. When some folks from the UK posted about some abandoned explosives research facility they visited, I was in awe. I figured a real explorer would immediately book a flight to England and visit the place. Since I am not a real explorer, I searched something similar for myself instead.
It wasn't easy, especially because the Internet wasn't nearly as helpful as expected. But I found one. The next challenge was getting there. It wasn't really nearby and I don't have access to a car. Even worse, the little information that was available about it wasn't enough to convince a real explorer to go with me. So on a nice and hot summer day, I went on a trip - alone.
After an eternity aboard a bus that was more like a sauna on wheels and stopped in every village first in front of the church and then next to the soccer field, I found myself wandering through the already burning morning sun on foot. Out of the village, past the fields that surrounded the village and through the forest until I saw a tower behind a fence. Tally Ho!

Deep in the forest
Deep in the forest

The climate was much more gentle in the forest than it had been in the sun. The only annoying thing here was a swarm of large, loud and very aggressive flies who could bite quite painfully, even through my shirt. With the help of Wikipedia, I later identified them as Horse Flies. Anyway, objective number two was finding an entrance. I walked around the entire perimeter looking for an obvious chance of entry. But the place looked relatively untouched and well maintained. Outside the fence, a wide strip had been cleared of trees and inside the fence, I could see the path where the guards used to patrol. I counted four empty kennels. Clearly, they didn't like uninvited guests here.
Bold black letters on big white signs informed onlookers in dominant yet unemotional language that this place belonged to the military and that trespassers would be shot. Now, I'm not a religious person either but were we as humans able to follow rules like that, we'd probably still be hanging out in the garden of eden eating anything but apples. I guess not all of us could live like that. Some of us will always fall for the snake. I am one of them. So I went in.

Hanging Down
Hanging Down

The inside could be divided into two parts: interesting and boring. The boring part contained offices, labs and garages. The garages were empty and the other buildings were locked and clean swept. Separated by a little sound absorbing group of trees lay the interesting part - where the explosives were tested by, well, letting them explode. Not in the middle of a big pit or something like a quarry though, no, here they lovingly constructed lots and lots of bunkers and shelters in all forms, sizes and shapes to house their experiments.
The tower I had seen from the outside was naturally my first stop. Guessing by the little stuff I saw around there, they could drop things down from it and maybe also let things fly up inside of it. Away from its base lead two concrete trenches which looked like they doubled as ramps for forklifts and as blast deflectors.

Explosive Barrels

Going on exploration trips alone is always a much more intense experience than it is to go in a group. Adrenaline levels are higher, the heart beats faster and in places where "just taking pictures" is one of the least intelligent things to be doing, I'm virtually ready to run at all times.
I had entered a separately fenced off section with storage bunkers arranged in a special formation so that even if one or two of them blew up, the blast would be stopped by overgrown earth walls. As I silently walked from door to door, looking for an unlocked one, I suddenly heard somebody jump into hiding. I froze on spot to look around and could indeed see some shaking bushes. Back on the street around the bunkers, I followed the movements from a safe distance. I cut the next corner so he'd have to walk directly into my line of sight. About a second passed and there he was - a fawn, less than 30 meters away from me. As soon as he spotted me, he tried to escape - but with fences on two and me on a third side, all he could do was turn around and run back into the bushes he had just emerged from.
How that little fellow had managed to overcome two high fences with barbed wire on top remained a mystery to me, and I couldn't imagine him ever getting out of here again. He was probably thinking the same about me. At least his little enclosure was full of fresh grass and bushes and to be honest it appeared more appropriate to his species then what one gets to see in most zoos.

Storage Bunker
Storage Bunker

Apart from the wildlife, my own mind also started playing tricks on me. I heard the sound of a motor and lots of moving leaves and deduced that a car was driving in my direction. I immediately ran for cover and observed the road. There was no car. And the leaves had stopped moving as well. Amused about myself I went back to where I started running to investigate. It turned out that not only my head was getting a little bit too much sun but also some of the buildings. Electricity was still on, so the air condition decided to kick in and its compressor contains a motor. It doesn't exactly sound like a car motor, but with modern automotive engineering, cars don't have the distinct sounds they used to have. Just moments later, a cool breeze came flying through the trees, and explained the sound of moving leaves. Still amused, I walked on.
The further I went away from the office buildings, the bigger and thus more interesting the bunkers got. It makes sense that they made the really big bangs at "safer" distances. I could hear rattling and scratching noises from behind an open door. I wasn't going to fall for this shit again, so I took a look but saw nothing. Except pipes. Valves. Ducts. High voltage transformators. Control Panels. And a fire extinguisher. And it was pleasantly cold, too. I set up my tripod and spent almost an hour doing cliché shots of basically everything. The noises kept coming up from time to time, there must have been a stray bird in the ducts.

Valves 'n' Stuff
Valves 'n' Stuff

Behind the entrance to the next building I was welcomed by a massive green blast door that was locked through two hydraulic cylinders. From now on, there was only one thing I wanted to know: what was behind this door? This building was basically a big cube. Wandering around it, I passed through observation, control and lab rooms. A stairway lead upstairs where they had a small restroom (no signs of vandalism) and an enormous air condition with all sorts of filters. Back downstairs, I passed a chalkboard with various notes (no tags of explorers, though) and walked over some white powder on an otherwise black floor, leaving my footprints among a load of others. To my left appeared another blast door. But this one was open! Behind it: a cold, dark void. The smell of burnt wood and sulfur was in the air. The beam of my flashlight got reflected by thousands of ash particles in the air before it faded. 120 lumens of electronically regulated light flow just disappeared in the nothingness.
The door looked like it weighed more than an average car or two. I started thinking about what could happen if the big hydraulic cylinder that held it open lost pressure while I was inside. I'd have no chance of ever getting it open again without heavy equipment. And it would be no use to try and call for help - neither the sonic waves from my mouth, nor the electromagnetic waves from my cellphone had the slightest chance against the immense layers of concrete, wood and steel. The chamber was designed to contain some severe explosions after all. The best option was probably to just lay down on the floor and wait until I fell asleep. Would anybody come and search for me? Colleagues? Maybe. Friends? No. Family? What family? Even if somebody started searching, nobody would find me. Of the very few people who knew this place existed, even fewer knew where it was. And nobody knew I was here. I hardly ever tell anybody where I explore and I never leave a note with the coordinates at home. Did I even want to be found?
I was awoken from my depressive daydream by my camera lighting up its screen and thereby informing me that it had finished doing whatever it does after long exposures and was ready for the next shot.

The Chamber
The Chamber

After a short and extremely belated lunch break, I figured that I had seen the most interesting parts of the facility and could do the rest at a faster pace. The remaining bunkers were interesting, but not really different from the ones I had already seen. My mind also began to wander away from compositions and histograms more towards the things I saw. It was enjoyable walking around a place that hadn't been plagued by vandals or graffiti artists. In fact, there was not a single graffiti, all of the windows were still intact and the fire extinguishers hadn't been emptied as entertainment for the simple minded. Any damage could be explained either by the crews who cleaned the place after the scientists moved out or by the fact that they used to play around with explosives here.
The wall decorations also spoke volumes about the intellect of the people who worked here. Instead of boobs, boobs and more boobs, they had photos of landscapes, animals, children in Africa, posters of Jan Ullrich, collectors plates and all sorts of diagrams and experiment results.

Eagle Eye   Ducts and Fire Extinguisher   Wastewater Treatment Plant   Security?

On my way out, I stopped by their own dedicated wastewater treatment facility and a small unremarkable building with cells inside. After sitting out a rather unexpected thunderstorm, I left the same way I came in, properly covered the entrance again and proceeded along the fence to the path that would lead me through the forest and back to the bus stop. The last thing I saw from this place was a person opening the front gate, driving in with a car, closing the front gate again, parking in front of what looked like the guard's house and then disappear inside. The timing couldn't have been better.

Thanks for reading and be sure to check the rest of the 50 pictures:

White Mesa


#1 by Photoco on Jul 17 2010, 04:40
Again, a great exploration, and a very cool find..
nice to see everything is intact, and a thrill to enter a place like this. love it.
#2 by LB on Jul 17 2010, 23:39
Thanks mate, it really was a thrill!

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