Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Candy Man Cave & Temple of the Drowned Cat

This was a cold December night. The ground was covered with a fresh layer of snow and the air was crisp and full of adventure. Biff and I had plans to meet some fellow urban explorers in Temple of the Drowned Cat, so off we went. We headed out with very little information about where exactly the entrance was to the "famous" drain, but felt confident as we had explored the area quite extensively the week prior. We were told where to park, which way to head, and to simply follow the footprints. We walked around looking for what was vaguely described to us for an hour or so and turned up with nothing. Cold and frustrated, we decided to trek back to the Jeep and call it a night. On our way back, Biff noticed footprints leading up the bluff and we decided it was worth a look. Little did we know, we had just accidentally stumbled upon the epic Candy Man Caves.

The entrance to the cave is sketchy at best. The climb up the bluff proved to be more difficult than we had imagined. Biff took a little ride down a good part of the hill on his rump, only to come to an abrupt halt with the help of a downed maple tree. After poor Biff gathered his belongings and navigated his way back up the bluff, we braced ourselves at the hole in the ground and agreed that it was go time. The warm underground air blew a steady plume of steam into the frigid night air, so naturally Biff and I followed the rope intertwined with an extension-cord down into the warm earth.

Candy Man Cave is one of those caves that have been filled in with construction material and other debris in hopes of keeping people like Biff and I out. After some time, the concrete and metal underground jungle opens up to wide tunnels filled with graffiti and beer cans.

Candy Man Caves were obviously home to partying local teenagers and graffiti artists for decades. The caves have been sealed and closed for years, but thanks to the work of determined urban explores, the caves are open and accessible to crazy sons of bitches like us again.

Our banter soon ceased when we noticed a single light heading towards us through the darkness. Was this our acquaintances that we were planning on meeting? A law official risking his life simply to apprehend urban explorers and make an example of us? Nope. Just a kid, no more than 19 years old, tripping on some narcotic, lost from his own group of urban biffs, pupils as large as nickles. We wished the lad the best of luck and continued on our journey deeper into the unknown.

Eventually, the caves dead-end and we were forced to turn around and head back towards the exit. But, before we returned to the surface, Biff and I had to check out what is known as the Stairway To Heaven/Hell. The stairway, if you can call it that, is a vertical shaft carved in the sandstone that goes up 75 feet or so and mysteriously ends in a wet crawl-tunnel.

Looking up the "stairway".

Looking down at Biff bravely following me up the stairway to Hell.

Safe and sound back on the surface, we were overjoyed with our discovery of the caves and happily walked through the freezing night air towards the Jeep. Biff and I were chatting about how we were more than okay with not meeting up with our underground posse in the elusive Temple of the Drowned Cat when suddenly we both froze in our tracks. "Why would so many footprints be surrounding a manhole right here?" , Biff asked with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. So, down Biff and I went into what is known as Temple of the Drowned Cat.

As Biff and I traveled along the tunnel, the air became warmer and soon the graffiti became less frequent. Thankfully Biff and I both had on our knee high Biff-boots, so we made good time underneath the streets of St. Paul. After some time we finally reached our destination admired and explored the unique underground architecture.

The large circular grate has holes the size of small pumpkins that trap debris before emptying into the river.

Looking up a utility ladder that ends in a room close to the surface streets.

This night was one for the record books. We discovered far more than we had ever hoped to find. We were both cold, dirty and hungry and ready to chalk the night up as a complete success. Biff and I were proud of ourselves. We set out to find one particular site and inadvertently found a cave that we had been looking for, as well as a forbidden and unique drain system.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Dana' s Drain

For lack of a better name, Dana's Drain will do. I was told by Dana himself about a drain/tunnel on the east bank that might have some potential. So, Biff and I naturally jumped at the opportunity and a late night recon mission was born.
Fighting the cold December night, Biff and I bravely hopped on the our Biff bikes and headed toward the UofM East bank in hopes of warming up underground. Although the streets were covered with ice, ol Biff and I made good time through downtown ( I however crashed on black ice and nearly plowed into the trunk of a idling cop-car).
To date, Dana's Drain does not have one singe tag/spot of graffiti, is moderately flooded towards the end of the tunnel, and houses a population of bats that almost made Biff call his father for a ride home.
The entrance to the tunnel is easy enough. It starts out dry and covered with sand and progressively gets wet and muddy and shitty and awful. Coming to the end of the tunnel you are forced to either turn around and walk through the disaster you came from, or man up and jump through a tiny hole in the ceiling into the unknown.  

So, up we went. This is a view after leaping through the hole in the ceiling.

Following the newly found utility tunnel.

Following the lights led to a dead end. Not quite sure what is going on. There very well could be a dig in the early stages here.

As I said before, Dana's Drain is filled with bats. One particular bat wanted to get real personal and weird with ol Biff. Poor fella was spooked enough from the blind leap of faith through the hole in the ceiling, now Biff had to deal with bats flying at his face. Needless to say, he was on high alert after his bat encounter.

After we settled down a bit and had a well needed smoke and a beer, we collected ourselves and followed the only possible tunnel into the dark. Biff and I both agreed that we would find a different way out and avoid the nightmare of shit we trekked through.

Presto! We happened  across a ladder leading down to what looked like another utility tunnel deeper in the earth.

Not only was this the lowest utility tunnel in the system, the air was warm and the brickwork suggested early 20th century.

We came across electrical access panels and ladders leading to nowhere just before the Utility tunnel abruptly ended and we were forced up a ladder through a manhole and back to the surface.

This was an epic night. Both Biff and I were completely filthy and just fine with that. Our recon mission had turned into an underground journey through some utility tunnels that haven't been tagged or explored by many people. Thanks to Dana for turning us on to this one. To the biffs; this will forever be Dana's Drain.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

East Bank Tailraces & NSP Power Plant

Biff and I had heard epic stories about the East bank Tailraces. Word had it, the hidden streams led to the abandoned sub-levels of the NSP power plant in St. Anthony Main. Ol' Biff and I had explored the area quite extensively and have been apprehensive about several areas due to the smell of burning crack rock. One night, Biff and I joined a few folks and headed down to narcotic junction armed with blinding lights and determination to enter the elusive buried and forgotten world.

During our adventures, Biff and I often banter on about the fact that a large part of downtown Minneapolis is built on hollow ground. As we walked along under the unsuspecting general public,the eerie darkness consumes your thoughts and shadows appear to move and dart behind objects.

The tailraces are a maze of subterranean rivers, rusting pipes, rotting wood planks, graffiti and various other ancient objects to waltz around. Walking in the semi-dry river of muck and rubbish seems like a safer way to travel along the ruins, however, the decaying catwalks and pipes above our heads were simply too intriguing to pass up.

Rusting pipes and abandoned utility lines littered the tailraces at every turn. We picked a heading and began the first leg toward the the sub-levels of the NSP plant.

Thankfully, the air quality is fine in the tailraces and you can make decent progress along the catwalks and crouch tunnels. Eventually, we ran out of bridges and passageways across the stagnant water and had to get creative and figure out an alternative route.

Luckily, Biff and I are creative and imaginative in a pinch, and with the help of our guide and a wee bit of fancy footwork, (three of us fell into the dank water that night) we finally reached the sub-levels of the NSP power plant.

We've seen some pretty incredible places during our outings, but the shear magnitude of the sub-basements of the plant left both Biff and I speechless. Giant rusting turbines sat frozen in time, long since abandoned and forgotten. Hulking machinery sat among rubble, boxes and discarded construction material that has fallen/been thrown from stories above.

After spending some time in the lowest sub-basement and exploring every inch we could squeeze our bodies through, we decided it was time to head up the rickety stairs to another level.
We reached the top of the stairs to find that the lights are kept on at night inside the active part of the plant. We could see light shining through the doorjams, casting haunting figures in the otherwise pitch black surroundings.

 For the most part, the abandoned sub-levels of the plant are gutted pretty well and left to rust and collect dust. As far as I can tell, little, if any, maintenance is done in the basement levels, leaving the entombed structure undisturbed and full of relics from the past.

 Walking along the gangplanks took careful navigation and patience. One wrong move and you could end up with a leg dangling from a hole several stories up from the bottom sub-level of the power plant.
 After taking a brief break and taking a few photos, we resumed our journey and explored several areas previously thought to be closed as well as crawlspaces that led to partially submerged machine rooms. 

 Checking my watch, I realized that we had been underground for nearly 4 hours and suggested to the group that perhaps it was time we think about heading out. There was a general consensus among everyone we head back down into the depths of the power plant and out to the tailraces.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Milk Truck Cave

As any fellow Urban Biff knows, doing recon is half the fun of urban exploration. Discovering urban ruins, stumbling across waterfalls created by an underground stream, or popping a manhole on a hunch not only pays off, its just plain fun.
Similar to every recon mission, Biff and I did our research firsthand and headed out with a vague idea of the location to the recently opened Milk Truck caves. Stumbling up and down crumbling rock cliffs is not recommended by anyone, but somehow ol' Biff and I end up doing just that.
We came across urban ruins and sat and had a glug
small crawl tunnels in sandstone bluffs, small underground streams and the like. So, we headed off in a different direction and almost immediately stuck gold and headed underground.

The CiTy filled in the caves within the last 10 years with rubble in hopes to deter partying local kids looking for a new place to hang out. The caves are filled with construction material, bricks, cement, metal and anything else to make things difficult for Biffs like us. Regardless, the caves are maneuverable and filled with all sorts of shit, so the best idea is to watch your footing and take it slow.

During the time Biff and I were in the Milk Truck caves there is a dig project underway in hopes of breaking through into yet another forgotten cave. Worn out saws and chisels tossed aside littered the new dig site, along with pizza boxes, beer cans, water bottles, candles and other rubbish. It was more than apparent to Biff and I that we we not the first to discover this dig site.
There was a pulley system with an attached sled, buckets, shovels, eye protection, worn out gloves, measuring tapes, etc. Needless to say, the site had been there for several months, and in that time there had been quite a bit of progress into the dig. Now, I nor Biff know exactly what cave system is attempting to be reached, but whoever started this dig knew what they were doing.

Being the fun-heated fellows that Biff and i are, we decided to contribute to the dig before we left and chip away and  hauled out a bucket each.

  Biff and his little Biff Shovel. Took him 25 minutes to fill up a bucket.

True to the name, there are several Milk trucks from the 1950's buried within the caves.

You can crawl inside the milk truck and take a seat on a recently refurbished bench and take a load off and soak in the history. ( This is a view of the inside of the Milk truck). 

Tell ya' what, the milk truck caves are pretty cool. There is a sandstone "stairway" that leads up 30 ft. or so, which leads to a dead end that was rumored to connect to a long lost fraternity house that deserves a climb. There are side passages and dead end crawl tunnels that all make the caves interesting and intriguing.