Lost Places and Missing Memories: Discovering Abandoned Places
Over the past few years, the common lament I've heard from many people has been, "how do you find abandoned sites?" People have asked for point-outs, websites and so forth. As I thought about it, I started considering not just the where’s, but the how’s and the why’s. There is a trick to searching for these places, and most of it involves how you approach the search and the planning for an exploration. It also involves the reasons in which you choose to explore these places. Is it because of the history, the thrill, the "what’s that" factor or the chance to capture that moment in time?
Finding and researching potential sites are frequently misunderstood for the same thing. Although they compliment each other, they are not the same. Finding the cool new location to photograph and explore comes in various levels of simplicity and involvement. Sometimes you will pass by them everyday and never notice them in plain sight. Sometimes, a friend or associate might mention a place they recall seeing. More often than not, they will be somewhere off the beaten path and may require a bit of creativity, caution and innocent curiosity to verify that they are indeed abandoned.
Seeing an abandoned place and maybe looking around it is the easy part. Once you run through the sites you know and you want find more, or you decide that you want to know more about a place you’ve visited, the real fun begins. Researching abandoned places and the history involved in them is a game of detective work. Many times, the pieces of the puzzle aren’t all there and I have to use best guess information to fill in the blanks erased by time. Every place has a story, a reason for being, or a history. Sometimes that history leads to more sites and more opportunities to explore. It also can increase the level of safety when poking around a site.
How do you find them when you don’t have easy info?
Research, Research, Research..
I’ll try to find historical maps and references to locate towns, routes, and individual sites not found on current maps. This also includes topographic and small scale aviation charts. For example, roads that show up on modern maps and lead to dead ends, or side roads bypassed by interstates/freeways, tend to lead to something (they weren’t bypassed without reason).
I use many websites to research potential locations and their pasts. Most locales and regions have historical societies, interest groups and clubs. Check their websites or call them. The local libraries tend to keep historical maps of the areas. These can be compared to existing maps to make plans. Aerial maps, satellite surveys and topographic maps are incredible when trying to pin down a location, a route or sometimes the activity level at a given site. Nothing is more frustrating than driving an hour to a location only to discover that your site isn’t there anymore or it is actively in use.
Search engines can be your best friend and your absolute worst nightmare. Google, Wikipedia, Yahoo Search, Lycos and others are text based. They look based on what you put in or how you vary it. I’m surprised at how many people complain that they get 1.5 million possible answers on a Google Search and then fail to narrow their search parameters or use "quotes" around parts of search subject. Specialty websites on specific interest areas can be very useful. There’s a score or more of websites on Route 66, abandoned military locations, ghost towns, lost amusement parks and old theaters. Use these as a starting point to find more detailed info. Speaking of ghosts and such, even ghost and haunting sites can offer good info, though it must be taken with a grain of salt (due to second hand descriptions, misidentified locations and questionable authenticity). In the internet age, anyone can post info about anything and be a self proclaimed expert. Always try to find a second or third source unless you know the original source of info is the gospel truth.
Part 2 to follow tomorrow