Gone but not Forgotten

Hidden approximately fifty yards deep into the dense woods, guarded by a deadly sea of jaggers, shoulder height and too thick to see through sat my objective. Before second thoughts set in about these silent predators I took one last look around and a deep breath before disappearing into the woods. Almost imediately I was consumed within the clutches of their needle like grasp as they pierced the skin on my hands and bare neck. I pulled my hoodie up and withdrew my hands into the long sleeves of my shirt before pressing on. Leaving the ground at every opportunity, I climbed the massive tree trunks that had long since fallen, grateful for even a few feet of reprieve from the pain as I slowly made my way up the hill. Finally I found myself standing at the base of the last wooden savior between me and the clearing. I looked down into oblivion, not looking forward to another round of needles but with the clearing in sight and a glimpse of the rusty chain link fence just beyond excitement enticed me to jump and I braced myself as my feet left the tree. The jaggers seemed to come to life as if they stood as the dying sentinals left to protect the decay just out of my reach. They clawed at my clothes, slashed my face and pulled  my hair as I winced with each step. With one foot finally out of the mine field I twisted from the clutches and teetered on one foot as I shook myself free from the last of the vines.

As I followed the fence with my eyes I quickly came upon a sizable hole and slipped onto the property. The woods opened up and I took an overgrown road into the center of what was once an active Air Force Base. When it was constructed in 1952, these grounds served as part of the area’s Air Defense Command where an Air Control and Warning Squadron worked to guide interceptor aircraft toward unidentified intruders picked up on the unit’s radar scopes. The first building I came upon was the Rec Hall and I slipped through the remains of the doors and found myself in the gym. The floor had dissolved into a deep coating of foilage mixed with fallen plaster and beams from the roof that had given way to the bare rafters under decades of hard weather. Bringing my camera up I worked my way into the center of the room and as I concentrated on my findings the silence was broken by the rustling of the trees outside. I forgot my camera as the slight wind turned to a deep gust and I waited to see which direction it was heading. As it swept in from the South, the barracks next door came alive with the sounds of slamming doors and breaking glass. As the gust overtook the Rec hall my attention shifted to the rafters above me as they began to shriek under its gaining force and I watched as what was left of the plaster and wood began to fall around me. I left my crouched position and ran for the safety of the cement block hallway a few feet to my left and waited to see if this would be the defining gust that finally brought the decrepit roof to the ground. The building moaned under the wind’s force but as it died down the frame settled back into its enternal rest as it won this round against its inevitable fate. It was time to move on.

I made my way outside and came upon the entrance to the first set of living quarters. The crumbling brick offered my imagination a vision of inward danger so approaching the door, I opened it with caution. Its rusty hinges grinded loudly as I pulled and I fought against its weight, twisting through the small opening it grudgingly offered. I carefully returned the door to its frame and turned to see the irraticated remains of the hallway before me. The upstairs portion had failed long ago and its contents had imploded onto the ground floor. At the end of the hall I could see the light of the far off exit and I looked around for a clear path through. Walking into the first dorm room it was evident that vandals had taken to the place long before the roof caved. The walls had been torn free of their plaster, allowing me the advantage to see down the length of the building. I headed East, laughing to myself at my ability to walk through walls as I made my way through the destruction. Without much to see I picked up my step and entered the outside world again with a sigh of relief. Curiosity brought me to the landing of the next building and my assumptions were correct that it was left in much the same state. I turned my attention toward the Special Ops Building I knew was on the other side of the base.

Walking the abandoned roads of the base, I passed the Mess Hall, Maintainance Shop, Water Treatment Facility and Mechanic’s Garage all in the same miserable state of decay. I knew the Special Ops Building would be the same but I couldn’t stay away. During its time of operation it was here where the most important activity had taken place, where research was gathered and plans had been thought out and brought to pass. As if to protect the secrecy within, this building offered no windows which brought an overpowering darkeness once I was beyond the solid metal doors. Turning on my lights I looked to see what was shuffling under my feet and I froze in disbelief. Paperwork scattered the floor, both handwritten and carefully prepared typed reports. I knelt down in my light’s narrow beam and sifted through files and reports detailing plans of action for every possible catastrophe imaginable. Neon colors caught my eye and I pulled a pile of thick almost fabric-like paper from the bottom of the pile. In my hands I held an elaborate map of the surrounding area offering every Fallout Shelter available to man, woman and child, tucked away under banks and schools, businesses and churches. How could all of this just be left behind? Holding these papers in my hands felt strange, as if I were snooping around in the General’s office and he would be returning any moment to catch me. I let them fall from my grasp and they drifted in a downward spiral where they came to rest among the others. As I watched the dust disipate a low creaking sound made its way through the silence. I covered my light and stood frozen, waiting for what seemed an eternity to confirm it was just another wind spell.

I’d  had enough of the wind and the noises this place had to offer for one day. It was time to head back. Choosing between my entry point and the obyss in which the noise originated from, I opted for the way I had come and made my way out into the light of the day once again. The overcast skies set a solemn mood to the location as I looked back over my shoulder one last time and made my way back into the woods. I knew the jaggers were waiting for me but even that thought couldn’t take away from the thrill of the day’s explore and the shots I now held behind my lens. There are some locations which you just have to return to and this one is at the top of my list.

© Olivia Wolfe~2012

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The Land of the Lost

The adventure does not start and end within the walls of an abandonement, but rather spans the time between the moment you turn the key in the ignition and when you finally return home. The experience lies in getting to your location, or in this case, getting lost. It is my choice to always take the road less traveled, as there is more to see here than on some highway which only offers the same view  of the mundane. With the GPS in hand we set out on our trip and spent the morning following the winding roads through the Pennsylvania mountains.  Autumn had brought our surroundings to life with vibrant colors and a crisp feeling to the air as my bare toes rested outside the window on the side mirror, the sun warmed my face and  the wind played with the hair on the nape of my neck. I was so enticed by the view that when I checked the GPS for our next scheduled turn I found that the landscape had interfered with the signals and we were without our guide.  Relying fully on today’s technology left us without a map so the game of wandering through the mountains began, choosing our fate at each dusty stop sign with the decision to go Left or Right.

My attention left the sights outside my window as I laid back in my seat repostioning the phone in hopes to get a signal. No such luck so I tried one last effort and held it outward into the wind. The sun reflected off the screen and I tried desperately to see without leaving my comfortable spot. As we rounded a bend in the road the screen darkened with cloud cover and I smiled in victory at the chance to check our whereabouts. But it was not clouds I saw in the reflection and I sat up and tipped my sunglasses for a better view. Instead, it showed a glimpse of a massive formation and I looked up as I felt the car roll to a slow and steady stop. We had come to rest at the foot of this stone beauty and I sat up and pulled my feet inside the car as I stared up in awe. My thought process quickly switched gears from fascination to the insatiable need to capture this exquisite sight so I pulled on my boots, grabbed my camera and clambered out of the car, walking into the monstrous shadow cast off by the structure.

What I had happened upon was a historic viaduct which saw completion in 1848 for the Erie Railroad. Although its elevation only reached 100 feet it felt as though it stretched upward forever as I stood in the shade at the base of its majestic design. I learned later that I was witnessing just a miniscule stretch in the 1,040 foot length of what is the oldest stone railway bridge in Pennsylvania today. Through the course of the next century since it came to grace the skyline it has drawn the curiosity of countless artists and photographers through paintings and stories created over time until I, too, was drawn in by its beauty. As it came into view within my camera’s lens I was captivated by its silent splendor standing high above the changing leaves of the valley and I know as the sun finds it way back and the sky opens up with all the warmth of summer I plan to get lost again in these mountains in my quest to capture another stretch of history. It was this finding that developed the name behind my photographs as getting lost is never a drudgery for an explorer when you choose to venture Off the Beaten Path.

© Olivia Wolfe~2012