Monday, January 23, 2012

Zen Cave

This was yet another cold winter night where Biff and I had very little information about the exact location of a site we were desperately trying to infiltrate. There are some fellow explorers that are more than happy to generously provide basic information about a particular site, and then there are some that prefer to keep things to themselves. Let me say, there is nothing wrong with the latter. Doing recon on a site and discovering things for yourself is half the fun of exploring the forbidden and elusive world under our feet. That said, Biff and I headed out with a faint idea of the point of entry and the possibility of finally reaching the underground maze known as the Labyrinth.

According to Jeff Chapman's (Ninjalicious) book, Access All Areas: A Users Guide to the Art of Urban Exploration , Max Action (of Action Squad) in 2001 "found a vast maze of interconnected utility tunnel systems under [MPLS] St. Paul that he dubs the labyrinth...." (p.235). This underground "Holy Land" was just the thing that Biff and I were trying to discover on our own.  We had heard epic tales about the intricate and vast system of tunnels that seemed impossible to access by novice explorers such as ourselves. So, with ambition in our hearts and a overwhelming desire to reach our goal, Biff and I hopped the fence that separates the naive general public from people like we have become. 

If you haven't had the pleasure of scrapping your knees and elbows for 70 yards through a 27 inch drain, your really not missing much. We entered the drain with hesitation and dread as we pointed our lights down the dirty claustrophobic tunnel of hell.
 (To give you an idea of how small a 27 inch drain is.)

As I said, this was out first attempt at gaining access to the forbidden Labyrinth that we had heard so much about. Biff and I absolutely needed to see what all the fuss was about regarding this maze of epic tunnels and man-made caves under the busy streets of downtown. The problem was, Biff and I are a wee bit bigger than your typical explorer, so the going was rough and our complaints to one another did not go fall on deaf ears. (and we were several hundreds yards downriver from the actual access point). Well, Biff and I gave up after 30 minutes in that awful tiny drain, and headed back to the jeep and decided to try our luck on the opposite side of the river.

 Ol' Biff and I have had plenty of luck finding caves and noteworthy drains in a particular 2 mile stretch along the east side of the river, and this particular night was no different from the rest. A fellow explorer dropped a few hints about several more caves in the area we were presently obsessed with, and decided to once again try our luck blindly stumbling up and down the bluffs in the dead of night with nothing but flashlights and each others company.

Our mood at the time was so foul it fogged the windows of my Jeep. Biff and I jabbered on and on about how we bailed on the initial mission and simply headed to familiar ground, just to feel better about ourselves and our night. So, we parked the Jeep, got our gear and shit, and took the 3/4 mile walk to our underground playground we thought we knew so much about.

As we walked past a familiar landmark, Biff noticed a break in the foliage and promptly took charge of the situation.  As I followed Biff up the frozen valley of doom, I soon spotted what he had his little weasel eyes focused on and prepared myself for another underground adventure.


We had again inadvertently stumbled upon a closed cave we had heard vague stories about while in the process of searching for something completely different. Zen cave is yet another underground system of huge tunnels filled with construction debris, concrete, and other jagged rusting pieces of metal the CiTy thought would make for an appropriate dumping ground.


As you might imagine, the going was not easy. Biff and I had to scamper over all sorts of shit and duck underneath caved-in side tunnels while exploring this cave. There were times when Biff would glance back at me and made sure that I was on the same page as he, just to confirm that we were still trekking forward through the underground jungle-gym of pain.

Apparently, in the late 80's and early 90's, if someone told you to meet at the bottom of the "Stairway to Heaven", one would know exactly where to go.  Well, Biff and I weren't exactly exploring then, and have since discovered that this was the same cave system explorers of the past were referring to. With that in mind, we finally reached our destination of the long forgotten "Stairway to Heaven". 

So, we went up and up, without the faintest idea what might happen. Perhaps we would stumble upon another way out of the caves, or we might be forced back down the loose sandstone ladder made by explorers decades before we were born.

Little did we know, the vertical shaft we were climbing had an unexpected fork in the road, and we were forced to chose the left tunnel or the right.

Naturally Biff and I decided it was in our best interest to explore everything we could, and both vertical shafts pretty much ended with the same dead-end at the very top of the climb. We were  both ecstatic and bouncing off the wall while we sat at the top our sandstone summit. We had set out to find one particular site, and again inadvertently found something that we had hardly known about. Although we failed to find an entrance to the elusive maze known as the Labyrinth, we congratulated each other on an eventful evening and  promised each other we wouldn't give up until we achieved our goal.


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  3. Hi, I went to the zen caves a few months ago, but I forgot the park that was right next to it, could you please remind me of the park? My email is

  4. Hey I'm just looking for some general areas to at least search for caves. If you could shoot me an email @ that would be a big help! anything, park names, maybe a direction from the park would be great, I don't really have the faintest idea where to start

  5. Action squad ppl! gives out WAY more info than i do.