Before I continue on this, I want to make two notes about the previous entry moderator commentary. First the comment of "any goob with a camera" is not meant to be derogatory (individually or as a group). It’s merely saying anyone with a cell phone camera or better can grab very basic pictures of any site. No problem - I challenge you to do more. It doesn’t take much to add to even those with a little background, description of your visit or commentary of what the pictures are. Adding a little color commentary doesn’t hurt. Even more, it offers your view of how, who, what, where, why you found it to begin with. People lived, worked and potentially died in these places.. Do them the honor of telling a little of the story you’ve found.
Second, this and the previous entry have gone into the memories section for the community as "educational material and points of record." It’s being done so that newcomers to this activity can be directed to it and read suggestions on what to do and not to do. For the past 3 years, I’ve seen at least 50 requests per year asking for info on finding sites, or on what is acceptable to get into sites. These entries were meant to offer some gentle guidance.
Equally important, it clearly states that the moderators have warned the readers of the risks of injury or criminal mischief. In posting it, it protects us and the community from lawsuits and criminal mayhem should anyone do something inherently silly and (next of kin) imply or suggest that we encouraged the dumb, dangerous or dubious behavior that landed you (injured, arrested or dead) in the situation to begin with :D.
Everything comes with risks.. also known as the careful and the dead..
Accessing and exploring abandoned places doesn’t come without some very basic and inherent risks. Broken glass, rusty nails and falling debris are the most common and least threatening risks. Even the most innocent of sites can offer life threatening risks. Knowing these pitfalls or similar hazards exist allows for better situational awareness and protects the explorer(s) from serious injury, arrest or both.
For example, mining related ghost towns in the American West frequently were surrounded by and/or included vertical shaft mines within the town borders. Shafts could drop 30 to 70+ feet (10 to 24+ meters) before offering a ledge or bottom. Lacking modern safety regulations, when mining ended (usually) these shafts would merely be covered with timber and left for nature to fill in. In the past four years, two deaths and several other significant injuries have been associated with shafts like these in relatively outlying areas of the Antelope Valley (north of Los Angeles) where I live.
Likewise, buildings in modern urban areas can be risky due to water seepage weakening the structure, potential for (hostile) squatters and increasingly, criminal activities. There's no better way to receieve a Darwin Award then to be on the fifth floor of a structure and have the floor give way and discover just how fall you can fall and maintain consciousness before or after you've hit bottom. The authorities aren't the only problem. If the potential of trespassing on a location isn’t criminal enough; gang and drug activities in some urban locations make exploring them more dangerous and require a very thorough recon on the site for potential use by others. The higher the induced risk, the more I have to recommend exploring partners or teams. There’s both safety in numbers and hopefully someone who can pull you out of a dangerous spot.
How much is too much?
I know that over the past few years, I’ve harped on three (3) basic points of exploring. Publishing locations, gaining entry and solo exploration have been areas that I’ve genuinely been adamant about in different respects. Why..? Ethics! We all hopefully adhere to the basic code of “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.” For those of us who actively seek these places, photograph them and share the results, there has to be a certain measure of ethics in our activities or it hurts any others who follow in our path.
I don’t advocate publishing a site’s given location, even if it’s accessible on other search or interest sites. Why? Unless the site is administered and under guard, when you post the information abandoned place at “x” location, you have just published an open invitation to every local tagger or vandal with a computer to go there and make their mark on a pristine canvas. Make them work for it folks. Sadly there are people in this world who are more interested in destroying these interesting places then in the thrill of seeing something from another era.
To trespass or not to trespass, that is the question. We’ve all come to sites with a “No Trespass” sign on the fence or side of the building, which we’ve ignored and bypassed for a hole in a fence, an open gate or a door long gone. I fully understand some people explore abandoned places for the thrill of getting into someplace without getting caught. Ask yourself why? I will never advocate entry nor would I attempt to enter a site, if the fence was kept up, the building padlocked and the windows intact. If someone has been maintaining a place, entering would be no different than someone breaking into your home or apt. If the site is decayed, if the property not maintained, if there’s obvious open points of access (even with signage), most authorities are hard pressed to press charges in most localities in the United States. In the several run in’s I’ve had with authorities, I was polite in explaining that there was no (visible) signage and that I was merely photographing the site for art or historical documentation. In each case, I’ve walked away without any trouble. Break into a site and get caught with the tools of the task, and you only have yourself to blame for the trouble that will follow.
Solo exploration is the most exciting and without doubt the most dangerous way to experience a location. That being said, I’ve done it multiple times and come away with some of the most incredible stories and images of my photo career. I’ve also been stuck in the sand in the middle of the desert in mid-August, nearly had a building collapse on me, and have had to keep my tetanus shot very up to date. In every case, I’ve left maps, itineraries, instructions and time tables of where and when I’m be places. I’ve always had a cell phone, water, lights, and tools to get myself out of trouble. Why is it ok for some and not for others? I’m 42, stand 6’2” (1.86m), weigh around 230 lbs (104 kg) am in pretty decent shape and tend to make people have second thoughts about starting trouble. I will never, ever suggest to a late teen-early twenty something (female) to go soloing into an abandoned site – period. It’s not sexist, it’s stupid. You never know what or who you’ll find or who’ll find you. Until you become very experienced, male or female, in studying and exploring sites, know what to listen for, and know to heed the warning signs, you can become a permanent resident of some places either due to accident or incident.