NIKE MISSILE BASE HM-40: LAUNCHER AREA

The time I tried to find an abandoned missile site but wandered into crocodile hell instead

Card Sound Road | Photo © 2017 Sugarbomb

With a vague idea of where I was going and armed only with my Nikon and claws, I set off alone for Key Largo at high noon. Seeing as this place looked pretty wilderness-y, I assumed it would be a Pineapple Paradise kind of deal where I could only find it by Google Earth coordinates and careful guesswork but damn if it didn't appear when I typed "Nike Missile Base Key Largo" into the Maps search.

I haven't been to the Keys in over 18 years and I barely saw it then so I appreciated being able to take in the scenery in silence as I drove. The Card Sound Bridge was pretty intimidating and I smiled to myself imagining how hard my mom would NOPE if she saw it approaching on the roadway ahead, cutting a thin, two-lane asphalt slice directly upwards through clear, cloudless blue skies.

I slowed down a bit once my app indicated I was approaching my destination. When I started the directions I'd noted that the little marker for my destination appeared to be a bit off the roadway in the middle of the wilderness. I'd resigned myself to having to park nearby where the marker was - but not too close seeing as I don't want to be TOO conspicuous - and walk into that patch of green where the marker sat. It took me a few passes to find the right spot but eventually I pulled off to the

side and parked across the street and slightly south of where my destination was. I looked up and saw a sign proudly announcing "Crocodile Lake" between my car and the break in vegetation that would be my entrance point. Awesome.

I did a bit of on the spot recon - as much as my cell service would allow me to since it was barely hanging on to a signal. The time it took for Google Earth to load up on the tenuous connection gave me a chance to reflect on the podcasts Sheri and I had been listening to lately that detailed strange disappearances in National Parks - of which I was currently in. Google Earth didn't tell me much more than I already knew. I was looking for any kind of view of buildings in relation to where I currently was, specifically the radar towers that I knew should be visible above the trees, to gauge which direction I should head off into. All I saw on the satellite picture was a barely-there path amid the endless forest in the general shape of a conversation bubble that had obviously been a road at one time. Any buildings that could be or should be along that road were hidden beneath a sea of green.

This was about as prepared as I was going to be and if I was going to get lost in the fucking forest I might as well do it while I still have at least three and a half hours of quality daylight left. With this mindset I changed from my flip flops into my flats - people who are ill-prepared for the wilderness rarely get taken - and jogged across the street, camera thrown over my shoulder and trying to look as inconspicuous as possible. I power-walked along for a ways until I felt my presence was mostly concealed from any passing cars by the mass of trees encroaching on the once-road.

Once upon a time this was a road | Photo © 2017 Sugarbomb

As I drew further away from the road, the ambient noise of civilization quickly faded and I was struck once again by how deafening the silence is in the middle of the wilderness by yourself. Luckily the former road I was on was wide enough that I was mostly able to avoid the surrounding trees and I didn't immediately encounter any of the aforementioned crocodiles or other wildlife that would like to eat me. In fact, there were no animals around at all, with the exception of the occasional bug that buzzed harmlessly by. I was very, very alone.

This was a bit of a relief, after all no company is better than large, hungry reptiles. Mostly, though, the heavy silence and isolation were just unnerving. It didn't help that an eerie feeling hung heavy over the area as well. I came to an area where the road forked and after consulting Google Earth - which was thankfully still hanging on to my connection - I saw this was where it circled around. Both roads would eventually take me to the same place so I elected to take the direction that was not mostly blocked by a huge, old orange dumpster.

Lonely Wilderness Road | Photo © 2017 Sugarbomb

Unfortunately, that direction was a much tighter path that required me to get way more intimate with nature than I had desired or intended, especially in shoes that barely covered the tops of my feet. Most of the path required me to bend down and duck beneath low-hanging branches and spider webs I only just managed to see in time.

"Kaine's gonna be so mad when he finds out I did this alone,' I thought to myself as I did it anyway. I am stubborn and refuse to have been not-so-gently caressed by so very many branches and god knows what else for nothing and that stubbornness was the only thing preventing me from turning back now.

Once the path opened up again, the eerie feeling increased as well. The trees here were still thick, but now I had enough space to continue on without being concerned I was going to be dive-bombed by a thousand banana spiders for walking face first into their web.

I watch the killer channel enough to know that this is the exact situation people are in right before they get murdered in some weird way and go missing forever so I called Sheri just so my cell phone would ping off the nearest tower and the police would have somewhere to start looking for me when I mysteriously disappear.

I told Sheri as much on the phone and she immediately requested that I video chat her so she too can experience wilderness hell. Talking with Sheri distracted me from the feeling that I was immediately about to be taken by the swamp wendigo and robbed of my shoes, even though she was awestruck by the fact that I was DEFINITELY about to become one of those podcast disappearance stories.

There wasn't much for her to see on the video chat as far as scenery, not only because the connection was weak and occasionally breaking up, but mainly because there wasn't much to see at all. I mentally orientated myself and was pretty sure I was walking around the far side of the rounded part of the path. I still hadn't found any buildings. I could see a fence running along what I assumed was once the perimeter of the area about ten feet from the path I was on and just barely visible through the brush.

Remains of some kind of structure overtaken by nature | Photo © 2017 Sugarbomb

As I continued on, I saw bits of wreckage here and there; the remains of what had once been buildings most likely, demolished and now nearly entirely swallowed by nature. Beyond the thick trees, on the side opposite where the fence ran toward the center of the long, rounded road I thought I saw what might be a bunker of some sort. It was a built up area that almost looked like it had been built into a hill. There was some concrete protruding from the foliage, which was the only thing that tipped me off that it was - or had been - a building in the first place. It looked like the doorway to one of the control stations in Lost, which is the main reason I assumed there was a door there. Because of the overgrowth I couldn't tell for sure - and there was also a high probability that it was actually just a storm drain or something equally useless, which is why I was unwilling to brave the heavily wooded area to find out for sure.

Still on the phone with Sheri, complaining about how damn lost I was, I rounded the corner and though there was still nothing to be found but indistinguishable rubble I was relieved that there was also no hungry crocs or cryptids. The road widened here again and the forest was back in its lane - by which I mean not in my fucking face.

I rounded another corner, now theoretically heading back in the direction from which I'd come, and was disappointed that I hadn't found anything worth exploring. I saw a wider open area along this way and my hopes had revived for a moment that there might be something to actually photograph, but when I finally passed the trees that had been blocking the view I saw nothing but the foundation of a building that had obviously once stood here.

All that remains of the buildings that were located here | Photo © 2017 Sugarbomb

I didn't understand, had the location been demolished? Something had most definitely once been here, even if it was all rubble and remnants now. Was there nothing remaining of Nike Missile Site HM-40 but stray blocks and a lonely foundation rapidly being consumed once more by nature? 

A short way past the foundation was the orange dumpster, indicating that I'd at least reached the same area I'd started from and wasn't quite as lost as I'd thought. I decided to quit while I was ahead - by which I mean not a delicious crocodile brunch - and head out the way I'd come. I didn't get anything to photograph but I also didn't get eaten so it wasn't as bad as it could have been.

Screenshot from Google Earth

Once I was safely back in the air conditioned comfort of my car I tried to regroup. I opened Google Earth once again to see where I'd fucked up on this. Was the location demolished and gone? Or was I just in the wrong place? In one final weird-as-hell moment when I opened Google Earth and told it to find my location, it put me across the street, still in the woods that I had just left. I tried again, assuming the app was just glitching (despite the fact that it had been working flawlessly all day, even out in the woods, and I now had enough bars back to sustain the app). Once again, it showed my location as in the woods.

I took a screenshot and sent it to Sheri, telling her what was happening and her immediate response was a resounding GET THE FUCK OUT OF THERE!

Ignoring the weird wendigo-ness going down on my app, I panned around the surrounding area trying to see if maybe Maps had just led me to the wrong location, even though something obviously had been there. I turned on the Maps again and searched "Nike Missile Base Kay Largo" and this time, since I was actually paying full attention to what I was doing, I noticed that the app gave me TWO results; one of which was the forest location I'd just left and the other about a mile north of my current location titled "Control Site".

Later I'd find that I was actually at the right location, just at the wrong part of it. Nike missile bases consisted of two facilities; the Launch Area where the

missiles were stored, assembled and - obviously - launched, and the Integrated Fire Control (IFC) site, which was always located about a mile away from the Launch Area, which consisted of the barracks, radar tower, administration facilities, etc. Basically the IFC site was the brains and the Launch site was the muscle.

The area I had just left was the original Launch Area of the HM-40 site and had been demolished long ago and given to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, who turned it into a protected habitat and nesting ground for the endangered American crocodile. The IFC site was what I had been looking for.

This is why it pays to do more than ten minutes of half-assed research, kids. Normally I'm much more careful and coordinated than this but when I'm going out adventuring by myself I have way more of a go-with-the-flow attitude. When I have others with me, our locations are more carefully thought out, but when I'm by myself I allow myself to take more chances and see where the day takes me. Sometimes it works out and I find some really cool places. Other times I end up getting almost-lost in a crocodile infested forest because my dumb ass skipped off half-cocked into the wrong damn location.

Comic © Kate Beaton

© 2018 by NIESA LENOX. Layout created with Wix.com