How Urban Explorers Record History South Florida Forgot
Built in 1964 as part of the Cold War response to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Nike Missile Silo was abandoned in 1979, but the former complex remains eerily intact within the southern portion of Everglades National Park. It is a reminder of a time when South Florida was a focal point of international politics, and it's also one the region's more famous abandoned sites.
But the former military base is also a draw for brave and curious explorers whose interest in traversing it’s decaying urban beauty runs deeper than a passing fancy.
Urban exploration is a little known subculture composed of trailblazing men and women that overturn the crumbling rocks of our collective near past. It is a guerrilla pastime; one where brave adventurers investigate and photograph abandoned man-made structures, usually without permission. Though the Missile Silo in the Everglades is available for ranger-guided tours, many of the locations that urban explorers scour are not open to the public. It is a dangerous counter cultural hobby, with the real threat of arrest for trespassing or injury from dilapidated hazards constantly looming.
The video above, No Trespassing: The Art of Urban Exploration, is a short documentary made by Miami producer Denise De La Vega, who focuses on the practice in Florida. During filming, De La Vega explains they “went to a hotel in West Miami, a mansion in North Miami, the Amertec Building in Hialeah, the Nike Missile Testing site in the Everglades (also known as the Asylum), and Splendid China, an abandoned Chinese theme park in Kissimee.” It is a fascinating look into a shadowy and unknown world that concentrates specifically on uncovering and documenting mysterious South Florida places that have fallen into ill repair.
The mini documentary features another Miami native, Tanya Diaz, a photographer and professor of photography at Miami-Dade. Diaz has been practicing urban exploration for nine years and tells WLRN that she is one of, “the oldest explorers here in South Florida and probably really the only dedicated female.”
Diaz, who operates the website Abandoned Muse, enjoys urban exploration because she has a fondness for history, and is “curious about the things that happened before,” going on to state that she likes, “to see what people have left behind and piece together the puzzle of them leaving.”
Part of the code of ethics for serious urban explorers is to never steal or vandalize. So the sites remain intact after each visit and the explorers are only there to document the building in its current state.
It's almost comforting to know that amidst the flashy neon and high design, some Miami residents prefer diamonds in the rough. South Florida, as we know, has many a boom-and-bust in its real estate history. In our collective 100-year plus tradition, we have seen a great deal of places go into disuse. It is one of the more prevalent results of a constant remaking of the landscape, yet urban exploration seems strangely fitting here amidst the ever-changing backdrop of South Florida’s architectural history. Through documentation, urban explorers are doing the community a service of recording our past.
On South Beach, where abandoned deco condo buildings litter the landscape, it's hard not to cringe at the disrepair into which these once proud buildings have fallen. South Florida has often been accused of ignoring its history, and urban explorers are reclaiming it, albeit via a practice that is sometimes illegal, and seen by many as dangerous and wrong.
Urban exploration allows certain unknown stories to be told, as De La Vega explains that, “South Florida is full of so much history and diversity. People of all walks of life have made this their home. Every place has a story, and urban explorers are storytellers.”