Florida’s Wilderness of Abandoned Places

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I happened upon the site Abandoned Florida a few months ago and was absolutely captivated by the images and stories of deserted homes, hospitals and historic places that have been left behind, forgotten or seemingly cast away for newer, shinier versions. In previous posts, I wrote about the importance of appreciating and enjoying the wilderness and nature in our own backyards. As I read through Abandoned Florida’s eerie “rolodex” of man-made ruins, I found myself wondering if these places are not also considered part of Florida’s wilderness. Although they are not wild in the same way that we perceive the Everglades to be, there is no doubt something untamed and enchanting about them, despite the fact that they are man-made structures. In a quest to explore this issue further, I spoke with Bullet – a Miami-based urban explorer and the creative mind behind Abandoned Florida – to get the scoop on Florida’s wild urban landscape.

Urban Exploration (UE):
Before we delve into some of the bizarre abandoned places that characterize Florida, it’s probably important to discuss the concept of Urban Exploration (UE).  UE is the act of exploring man-made ruins and buildings. After speaking with Bullet, I’ve come to think of it as a 21st century version of a wilderness expedition. In the absence of wild natural places to discover (what’s left in nature anyway that hasn’t been ‘explored’?), UE practitioners venture out into the uncivilized, overgrown, untamed areas of cities and suburbs in the hopes of finding something interesting to investigate, and in some cases (I presume) to get away from the repetition of daily life – these are sentiments that, to me, seem quite similar to those which prompt many of us to explore the outdoors and take comfort in nature.

So how does one get into UE? Well, if you’re Bullet, UE is in some ways a by-product of good ‘ole fashion teenage boredom, though he was also drawn to it after being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 2009. During this time he realized that life is too short and there are more interesting things he could be doing with his time, rather than just staying at home, playing video games and watching T.V. After seeing a documentary about UE, Bullet headed out to an abandoned prison near Big Cypress, camera in hand, and has been exploring deserted places ever since.

Florida’s urban wild:
I asked Bullet which places stood out to him as being “wild”, perhaps because of their location, or because nature has crept in through cracks and crevices, or for any other reason he noticed. Among the descriptions of strange places that Bullet has visited, here are few that I found to be particularly interesting.

First, let’s talk about the Everglades Aerojet, an abandoned rocket in the middle of the Everglades… how did this even happen? Well, as Bullet noted during our conversation, there is a lot of Cold War history in Florida – old missile bases, bomb shelters and apparently a rocket in one of Florida’s major water resources. Giving rising concerns over weapons and missiles, especially after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the Everglades merely provided a discrete, secluded location to store and test rockets without much risk of being noticed.  Check out Bullet’s write up for more info.

Dome House. Image taken from Abandoned FL website, photo credit: Marci Seamples, 2013
Dome House. Image taken from Abandoned FL website, photo credit: Marci Seamples, 2013

Regarding Florida’s abandoned places, Bullets says “we have an abundance of small, interesting things”. One example of this is the Dome House on Marco Island.  As Bullet writes, the dome house is “…an igloo-like concrete complex made up of white dome chambers, now decaying and slipping slowly into the ocean. Many know about its whereabouts but its origins were up to debate; from alien to secret cults. In truth, it was built by a retired oil producer and inventor.”

The Dome house was built with the hopes of withstanding hurricanes and Florida’s intense storms, yet it is being slowly engulfed within the ocean now due to coastal erosion and rising sea levels.

Another nod to Florida’s Cold War history can be found in Mount Dora. According to Bullet, at a time when fear of a nuclear attack was at an all-time high, a wealthy doctor living in Mount Dora agreed to build a bomb shelter underneath the city and 25 families pitched in to build an elaborate underground system. I did a little digging myself to find some additional information about what’s been dubbed the “Catacombs” of Mount Dora and came across an Orlando Sentinel article from 2005 describing the bunker, built in 1961:

A 5,000-square-foot underground fortress complete with a kitchen, a recreation room, a medical facility, a sewage system and an air-conditioning and filtering system.  It was designed to allow as many as 100 people to dwell underground for more than half a year. Twenty-five families had private rooms in the complex, each large enough to shelter four people. Each family paid about $2,000 — a sizable sum at the time — for the chance to survive.

For more information, check out the original article – the author toured the catacombs and provides some fascinating details about its current condition.

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So what’s the most common type of abandoned place that Bullet finds in FL?  Hospitals. Many of them still containing machinery and equipment inside, like the one pictured right (photo sent to me by Bullet). As Bullet noted, hospitals seem to go bankrupt and just get deserted, or the owners decide to build a new hospital and leave the old one to rot.

And the coolest place Bullet has come across recently? A home built in the early 1900s, seemingly owned by a hoarder as evidenced by stacks of magazines, appliances, clothes, etc. from almost every decade since the 1940s.  Bullet said the place looked untouched – frozen in time – and that he and his friends spent hours going through the various trinkets and treasures tucked away within the confines of the home. Once again, I can’t help but draw a similarity to historic wilderness explorations or various quests to find new land, new territory, and new adventures. In the very least, UE practitioners like Bullet and his friends seem to possess a keen spirit of discovery and adventure, despite living in a largely manicured, man-made environment, and to me that’s a great thing.

Still unconvinced that there is a wildness about abandoned urban places? These awesome photos Bullet took during some of his many UE adventures may help change your mind…

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Bullet didn’t send me the location information for where these photos were taken, and I didn’t ask. Although I have some sense of where they are from reading his blog, I like the idea of not knowing the exact location and thinking of them as hidden wild places among a landscape of mostly cookie-cutter homes, shopping centers, and malls. And hey, maybe these photos will inspire another generation of urban explorers, or encourage others to appreciate the beauty of these places and invest in efforts to help restore them. Though here’s a disclaimer: I am by no means suggesting that anyone trespass on private property or put themselves in danger trying to explore abandoned urban places.  But if you’re interested in UE, perhaps start by following Bullet’s advice: Find an old historic town that you can take a walk through, or if you come across an interesting building you want to explore, check to see if it’s is for sale, and if there is a real estate agent associated with the property, give them a call. Bullet says most people are friendly and happy to indulge your curiosity.

Bullet also encourages everyone to leave their comfort zones every once in a while – turn off your GPS, put down your phones, drive somewhere new, or go outside and just get lost for a while.

Most of all – and this is my advice now – don’t let living in a city squash your sense of adventure and wonder.

Go explore!


Many thanks to Bullet for providing time for an interview and for sending me these epic pictures. And do be sure to check out Bullet’s website, Abandoned Florida, because it’s awesome. 

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