Twin Cities urban exploration


It's 2014: Where are they now?

Although we still explore, the archaic ol' Action Squad website is pretty much done as a project: Max Action is incredibly busy with new adventures. Quite unexpectedly, this involved quitting my job and moving out of Minneapolis - to live in an old off-grid trailer and run a small organic farm with my new wife.

It's been an exciting transformation made possible by the bizarre chain of events that I documented in the "Teapots Happen" story here - (and the follow-up investigations here) - which taught me to stop worrying and follow flow and intuition.

Feel free to follow the further adventures of Max Action (aka Gabe Sehr) over at - and perhaps buy a share in our CSA!

In other news, Action Squad's former cartographer "Slim Jim" has graduated from merely exploring and mapping tunnels to designing and digging his own; want to help dig, or contribute to help finance his dream project (or just watch from a comfy Facebook distance)?

All this can be arranged thanks to the Sandland Facebook page; plus here's a peek at the amazing (GET IT) project they're creating, not far from Que Sehra Farm:

Click to enlarge...


The site is getting a mild facelift, and the addition of some blog software to make it easier to do short casual updates ...

As a side effect of the changes, it seems I have hundreds of dead links now that used to work: pages named with .html but linked to with .htm and vice-versa, capital letters in image file names but not in the code pulling the images up ... UGH.

If you find a dead link or broken image, please email me with the URL so I can fix it, thanks!

... more soon!



Still alive and still exploring ... but still not feeling like updating the site! Hopefully the freezing winter weather will change that soon enough...



If you've read the SMX Seattle Underground blog, you should remember the "Twist Family Mafia " gang of street kids that I fell in with, in my quest to get under Seattle's skirts.

A year later I returned to Seattle for the SMX conference, and went looking for them.

Westlake Park was still the same - where Japanese business men dodge skateboarders, Macy's shoppers and homeless kids on the pavement are invisible to one another, and the wagging advances of homeless hippie kids' leashless pitbulls lead lawyer-lookin ladies to snatch their lap dogs up into isolated safety.


a homeless dog sleeps in Westlake Park Seattle

I wasn't sitting there long before I saw Dez the Juggalo. I said his name and he recognized me - "You're the housie!" He turned to the crowd of Westlake park kids and shouted "hey, I broke into the Seattle Underground with this guy!"


a homeless dog sleeps in Westlake Park Seattle

not-homeless westlake park kids

SPD rousts eveyone from the park

older westlake parkers


It turned out that Oliver was out of town further south, Ashtray was in jail for stabbing a guy while defending his girlfriend. (I could imagine it - he was simmering over with rage when I'd met him in 2007; trouble waiting to happen.) Dez was still smoking meth, living in an abandoned house, and just coming "out of hiding" - but apparently doing ok.


Today I dug around online looking for news of the Oliver Twist family, and was happy to discover the blog of Katia Roberts, about her "relationship with many of the homeless street youth in Seattle." She has amazing photos of several of the Twist Family members I met there, including family head Oliver Twist:

Oliver Twist, Seattle street shaman - photo by Katia Roberts
photo by Katia Roberts

From her site I learned that Ashtray is still in jail, his girlfriend is still waiting for him, and Oliver is still the charismatic leader of his street family. There was no mention of Dez.

Even without knowing some her subjects, I'd think it was a good site, and I recommend you check it and her other websites out. Buy a print perhaps.

Although many of those who view her photos seem to react in horror at the "plight of the homeless children", it is undeniable that there is much meaning, beauty, love and joy in their "squalid" lives ... and likely much more than was available in the families and lives they left behind. Instead of going for an easy, depressing take on these grimy youth, Katia focuses not just on the cracks, but on the light that shines through them.

Squatting need not be a lifestyle anyone should aspire to - scabies & zero security are understandably dealbreakers for many - but neither is it a life to simply look down upon, or feel pity for.


Youth Gone Wild in Seattle street shaman  - photo by Katia Roberts
photo by Katia Roberts


To varying degrees, these kids have chosen this lifestyle - and many would vigorously resist the comparatively secure, sterile and squared lifestyle of the "housies" who walk past them all day long, gazes carefully averted. Some of the kids may be tourists, or short-termers, with safety nets to fall into if ever needed, but that too ... is just fine. I only wish more people would spend some time within such a perspective before returning to the more mainstream society.


Wow. Time to smile at coincidence again ... it's 6:50 as I write this, trying to wrap up the update and get it live, and I just got a new email message - the Action Squad Guestbook letting me know there is a new post:


This entry has been added to your approval list for your review.
Please login into your guestbook console to review it.

Name: dez the dredlocked juggalo
Location: Seattle, WA

hey man its me dez   twist told me you put our adventure on your website...

i moved off the streets as alot of the squatters did most of us moved over to my brothers huge house and live there now   i see oliver once in a while too

ashtray is in jail for a long sucks

but ya man have a good life come back to seattle some time there is alot more to see


There sure is. And I sure will.


Action Squad Updatery..

Your #1 source for Action Squad website update alerts, random Max Action ramblings, and long, rewarding periods of contemplative silence.


To sign up:

... and hit that there button at right.


Last night I got to playing with video editing, and wound up throwing together a video for the Allouez Ore Docks (which we snuck out onto in 2007 and again in 2008):

Coming Soon(ish): The trip log, photos, and history of the Allouez Ore Docks, complete with our encounter with BNSF Security ...


The problematic situation: a walk-in freezer that would freeze you solid if you were to be locked inside.

The solution? Well, I'll gve you a clue - it is not a door lock mechanism that releases the door from within. That would be too easy, right?


Freezer Door Exterior

Outside to right of door


Inside of door

Next to door, inside

left of door inside

Either way: the answer is: set up an emergency signal, hang a "last resort" axe inside the door, and designate the spot where a trapped person should chop their way out through the wall.



Happy New Year!

If you've been a reader for a long time you may remember the poll we did asking what Missions were your favorites. The winner of that poll was overwhelmingly the Ford Motors Mines story, in which Action Squad braved the odds and Ford Security to get into the miles of abandoned mining tunnels beneath the plant. Well, I liked that one too.

When I got a hankering to see if we could get back into those tunnels again and decided to take a stroll around the plant, I had no idea what a can of worms I was opening up ...

But it was good news for those who yearn for a real, meaty, old-school Action Squad tale, because Ford was exactly what it took to motivate me to spend the hours and hours required to do a proper update.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the tale of Action Squad's

Return to Ford Motors.


If you're one of the folks who, over the years, found your way to the 'hidden' section of this website dealing with The Labyrinth beneath Saint Paul, you may remember that we found our way into the void left behind from a long-demolished building's subbasement (via drain tunnels, active power tunnels, abandoned streetcar power tunnels, and then up and through abandoned sewer tunnels).

At the top of the 60 foot shaft therein (which dropped down into some forgotten storage caves from the 1800s), there was a pile of rubble.

It was in this pile that I found someone's lost Great Invention. And after many long years, the time has come to share it with the world.

(Turn your sound on.)

Using this amazing artifact, you can write while listening to the most annoying, earsplitting sound around! (As long as you're within 5 inches of the outlet, that is.)

Is the pen truly mightier than the sword? Was the Cobb building reduced to a pile of rubble in a failed effort to destroy this unique prototype?

You be the judge!

Anyway, speaking of The Labyrinth, I reckon it's high time we went public with our pages dealing with it. Its far and away the coolest tunnel system we've ever explored, it was widely publicized during the lead-up to the RNC, other sites are talking about it ... and the pages are just too purty to hide away any longer.

St Paul Tunnel Labyrinth Exploration



The "NSP Tunnels" (aka Pillsbury Tailraces aka East Bank Tailraces) are one of my favorite tunnel systems, and the system that really sparked Action Squad, turning me on to the existence of Goonies-caliber tunnels right in my neighborhood. But back when I built the page, my cameras usually sucked, I got cheap Walgreen processing, my scanner was ancient, I tried to take as few pictures as possible, and, worst of all, I considerately optimized the photos so the many people on dial-up modems could load them quickly ... so the scanty pics I have up, kinda suck.

Anyway we took a nostalgic visit to them today, so I'll probably add a small gallery of pics from the trip to the existing page just to augment the old content. For now here's a little 3-pic series that I would never have been able to share 8 years ago...

Mill City Iron Oxide




A new favorite 'No Trespassing' sign, from an abandoned copper mining building in Michigan last weekend:

Action Existential Squad

Sadly, the sign lied, and we got no answers to the Big Questions. (We did, however, find a Plymouth Roadrunner and a blue semi.)

It's funny how "Keep Out" signs have an effect on the motivations of the inquisitive that is so perfectly opposed to the intentions of those putting up the signs ... seems like the people they work on are hte people who wouldn't be thinking of going inside in the first place.



OK, it's been over a year since I updated the site, and we've been getting too many messages from people wanting to know if it's all over, if I died, if we've quit exploring.

We're still kicking ass, have no fear - but I do apologize for neglecting the site and ya'll for so long. Action Squad is definitely not done exploring, and the website ain't dead either.

I have several adventures I really should write up and make into updates, but there are two in particular that I'll be making an effort to get up, now that the weather is turning cold and discouraging us from longboarding and waterfall chasing and the like. (But I won't make any promises, because then I get oppositional to the boundaries, even though they'd be self-imposed ...)

In the meantime to tide ya'll over, here's a few photos I like from our last couple of years' worth of adventures ...

... we've been doing a lot more exploring without a camera lately (which is great for being 'present in the Now' and what not ... but grrrr I do regret not getting any pics in the Pillsbury A Mill now), and I cant deal with scanning in film prints at the moment - but it's a decent collection of pics anyway.

A lot has changed online since the site went up 8 years ago - I should really look into some new technologies that'll make things easier to do than my hack oldschool methods - maybe some automatic photo gallery tools, or a blog, etc - would also be cool to make it so people could add comments to photos or mission pages. If anyone has time and ideas and resources toward bringing into the modern web era, I'm ears. So let me know.


I think it's safe to say that from this point out, any update I'm motivated to do will probably be an odd one.

This update is no exception:

- 1 part Action Squad trip log for the usual site visitors,
- 1 part 'what I did on my vacation' letter for friends and family,
- 1 part synchronicity tale, and
- 1 part SEO conference blog.

You see , my job has definite upsides - a big one is being able to travel regularly (if not frequently), when my company sends me to conferences. I always make sure to get out and experience the cities I visit , and not just hide out in some hotel room between events (remind me to post some of my icetastic SES Chicago pics from Lake Michigan's urban shores sometime), while attending various SES amd conferences.

This year, I got to go to Seattle for the first time, to attend the new SMX (Search Marketing eXpo) conference ...



First of all, here's a couple of pictures from the night a couple of months ago when Max Action finally returned to the U of MN Steam Tunnels - the magnificent East Bank system, where Action Squad was born. We knew from other local explorers that nowdays the tunnels are equipped with motion-activated night-vision cameras - the U of MN Police Department's website sometimes posts pictures of explorers caught in the act, asking for more information.

So we decided to protect our anonymonity, and disguise our identities appropriately ... then made sure to get caught on camera in several places throughout the system. I hope the video was amusing to the UMPD ...

----- ----- -----

But we also have a real update for you at long last, as well.

Earlier this year, I explored the crawlspace beneath my house for the first time - and it wound up blowing my mind.

That exploration is the topic of today's update - My Crawlspace.





So, it's been 10 years since this merry band of adventurers first started getting into forbidden and forgotten places as a hobby-in-itself, calling ourselves "Adventure Squad." (Our name just kinda mutated over the years between then and the first posting of this website in 2000.)

Binny, late Action Squad member - and albino squirrel

I found this map the other day, while cleaning out some old folders.

It's a nearly 10-year old U of MN map / steam tunnel trip outline - put together with materials available behind the front desk of the Weisman Museum while killing time at my job and trying to conceptualize just where we'd been in relation to the campus above.

Seeing the thing for the first time in years, memories of this night, seemingly long lost, came rushing back vividly.

It was the first time we rode the electric carts all over beneath the campus, it was the time we stumbled across a woman working late in a campus building we'd snuck into through the steam tunnels, and it was the night that the naked rooftop picture of me in the Gallery was taken.

Good times.

While I was taking a picture of the map for the site, I also snapped a shot of one of my favorite "art-ifacts" - crap made from found objects from forgotten places. (If you think that pun's bad, consider the equally-appropriate "skullpture.")

This one is built around the raccoon skull I found underground one night, while trying to dig into the lost Fountain Cave (plus some old typewriter parts, an old sunglasses case, a disassembled pair of mini binoculars, and a red LED light to make the eyes light up).

found object skullpture

I like it.

Anyway, in addition to a one, ummm ... strange update that's been "almost done" for weeks already, but should actually get finished soon, I think I'll also try to do a lot of small housekeeping and mini-updates like this one over the following months - finally finish that cursed, half-done, 'Village of the Damned' update, upload scans of the notebook we found in the Redwing caves, maybe start a gallery of orphaned miscellaneous exploring photos. Or not.

Hey, there's an abandoned building in Saint Paul with a weird indoor piece of the outdoors set up in one corner - anybody know whodunit, or why? Oh, and I finally found a pirate ship of my own, just like Goonies - although this one was in an abandoned building, and not underground. Should have got a pic of that too ... eh, maybe next time. I'll throw up a pic of the indoor woods, too.


Rest in Peace, Binny.

Binny, late Action Squad member - and albino squirrel

Binny lived across the alley by my house, and always came bounding when we called her. She would eat from my hand, and hang out, munching away contentedly with her eyes closed. More than a squirrel, different than a pet, Binny was an animal friend.

On Friday a car speeding through the alley clipped Binny's head, killing her instantly.

She was buried with ceremony and tears under the front elm (the tree in the pic at left), with a big chunk of white stone to mark her final rest.

Binny the Albino Squirrel, Action Squad salutes you.


And Max Action misses you.      ('til next time ...)


click for the Abbott Hospital Mission

Hi! Well, it took a lot of caffiene, will power, and peanut butter, but after many many hours, I've finally completed a major update - the Amos Abbott Hospital.

This one's been sitting on the burner since September, when I pulled a 12-hour-straight site update marathon, and totally burned myself out in doing so, rendering myself unable to get back to the site work until this weekend.

Anyway, I'll probably be tweaking the new update for the next week or so, so it might get better. Or worse.


Des Moines, Iowa: Castle Ravenshit - a large abandoned structure, which once served some religious purpose. Stripped out pretty well, but not cleaned up - if a building is an organism, then the Castle is the equivalent of a skull. Still really cool - but chewed down to little more than the boney basics. Walls, floors, empty doorway sockets. Well, except for the exterior - that was sealed up well. And plastered with threatening signs in the windows.

We waded through birdshit and crow feathers to find an entrance. We swept the entire building, floor by floor, starting, of course, with the basement. We had no flashlights other than tiny keychain lights, which always makes things more interesting. The long hallways and slanting, dirty light from the windows brought back warm memories of exploring Hellhouse. In a smalll attic space, someone had emptied out a purse, leaving behind checkbook, receipts, and feminine debris. I doubt it was the purse's owner.

Soon we'd seen eveything but one place, which was locked. So we completed the Zelda-style quest we were presented with - a closed and latched attic door with no knob - quest back down into the weird basement room where I'd half-noticed the Key (a doorknob and axle deal laying in the dust), and back up to the top floor to gain entry to the Forbidden.

Neither Asylunt nor I had a camera, so there are no pictures of Castle Ravenshit. But we did capture some beautiful specimens of amateur 'No Trespassing' signage, for your viewing pleasure.

Click to see full-size:

This gem was posted in all the ground floor windows, as well as throughout the building.

From inside the main door.
Trydon Gas - huh.
What's that supposed to be?

The three-part super sign.
Don't miss the tiny "this is notice."
Or the non-standard spelling.

First person to send us proof of their own Castle Ravenshit sign wins!

More soon ...


Is this thing on?

OK, so my standard lapse between updates has gone a tad bit longer than usual. Sue me. We are all still alive and are not, and have not been, in jail.

I'm not doing a full update now, but I will be at some point - hopefully reasonably soon. Several of them, in fact ... Action Squad has not been as dormant as our lack of web activity would suggest. A lot of the adventures we've been busy with lately aren't the kinds that fit within the self-imposed boundaries of this website - but others will make for great updates. (If I can just make myself want to sit at the computer for hours updating ... )

I'd recommend signing up for the email list (above) if you want to know when we finally post some new missions, but are sick of surfing in and seeing nothing new.

Anyway, here's a little Action Squad "postcard" from an awesome vacant industrial complex that we got into last weekend - for everyone who cared enough to worry about whether we were still around and still exploring:

Max Action and SaddleSore in the underground ruins of an industrial kiln - 9/26/04

One of the many things that I've always secretly hoped the Action Squad site beams into the subconsciousness of thousands of people is that beauty, mystery, history and adventure can be found in the most unlikely of places - including sewers, storm drains, basements, rooftops, burned-out ruins, and similar disreputable locations. But it's not only in such illegal, out-of-the way, dark, or "hardcore" locales - it's everywhere. Anywhere. It's more about the way that you see the world around you than it is about where you happen to be.

So you might consider logging off of the internet and going out to explore the world a bit. Giving into your innate human curiosity can be hugely rewarding - there is so much of interest to be found just beneath the surface of even (or perhaps especially) the most seemingly banal places and things. It makes for a great hobby. All you need are open eyes and an open mind.


We'll be back soon.


No, we were not among those arrested this weekend for walking down a street late at night dressed in black. However, our sympathies and support go out to our fellow urban adventurers, who had to spend three days in jail, yet had not even entered a building or tried to.

Welcome to 1984!


Winter is here again, and with it, apparently, is my will to update the site! A mere eleven months after first mentioning it as an upcoming update, here at last is the abandoned Hillcrest Bowl. Enjoy!


Triple Update!

1) Added new section on the Lucky 13 Drain

2) Replaced "Links" page with "Miscellany" page, which takes care of the links plus random other stuff (this page still very much in progress)

3) And finally ... somewhat reluctantly, but by popular demand, here's the Great UE Sellout / Action Squad Store, just in time for the frenzied consumer holidays! Buy yourself or your loved ones some silly "Urban Exploration is NOT a Crime" crap (some featuring reptoid's son GW Bush), or Action Squad crap. Oh, or you can support the drive to ridiculously inflate "foremost UE celebrity" Max Action's ego with some "I <Heart> Max Action" or "What Would Max Action Do" stuff !!!

We'll only make a profit off the outrageously priced Action Squad donor underwear and the "collector's" lunchbox. If you want a design on a different type of CafePress item than it is currently available on, or to donate an amount other than the options shown, let us know and we'll set one it for you, no problem.



The most pseudo-update ever! Added the above mailing list, which will alert y'all when we update, so you don't have to keep checking every week for three months and start to hate me! Several piles of photos are currently all over my computer desk waiting to be scanned, and we've also been exploring a pretty major new site ... the Village of the Damned. (Not the art-goth punker band. They don't live in a Village.)


There! Ha! Done! Ladies and germs, please welcome our newest addition, the Montana Flour Mill.

Next up: the Lucky 13 drain. (preview pic here)




I am such a bad person. Long time readers should be used to it by now, though ... I'm bad at doing updates. I'm sorry. No, we're not dead, and the site isn't dying. I've just been busy. And web-lazy. But I HAVE been exploring, so there's plenty of new stuff to look forward to.

OK, here's the top of my site updates To-Do list:

- Abandoned Flour Mill : pics all done, need to write minimal text and make page
- Abandoned Hillcrest Bowling Alley: need to scan pics, finish writing trip log, make page
- Lucky 13 Drain: scan pics, make page
- Cheese Caves: write log, scan pics. Shit, FIND pics, first.
- mystery huge abandoned building: not even started
- Fortune Building: not started
- tons more I don't even want to think about, including some minor missions, some short takes, a non-profit "store" with shirts for people who want them, and some really old missions that have been on the back burner for, in some cases, literally years.

The next update will be either the abandoned flour mill or the Lucky 13 Drain. And it will be SOON. I promise. Seriously. I was going to scan in the pics for the Lucky 13 TONIGHT, but am having some hardware issues I need to fix first. For whatever it's worth, know that I have rejiggered my priorities, and updating this site at least once in the next few days is right up near the top.

(Hey, the counter on the main page broke somehow. What the fuck?)


REAL UPDATE COMING SOON! As in, within 2 weeks for sure! We explored an abandoned flour mill in rural MN last weekend which still had original wooden machinery from the 1800's in it. We took a ton of pictures, which are all on Slim Jim's camera. As soon as he sends me them, I'll put them up. Also, an abandoned bowling alley we explored early this winter has been demolished, which means I can stop worrying about looting and such and finally get the mission up! Thanks for your patience, folks!

Max Action says: Urban Exploration is not a crime!

And George W Bush seems to agree! Here's a graphic I threw together yesterday after finding a primo quote from a real Bush speech: (click to see full sized!):


Shit. It's HARD to keep a site updated in the summer months! There's just too many awesome things to be doing, making the hours of scanning, formatting, etc that an update requires seem kind of low-priority. I have an update half-done of the abandoned bowling alley, so that should be up some day. In the meantime, here's a fun little essay on the hobby of exploring the urban environment. I wrote it in an email to a listserv, but then Ninj from suggested I put it up here, and since I have been feeling gnawing guilt due to my lack of attention to the site, I thought that was a great idea ...

A Rambling Essay on the Past, Present, & Future of Urban Exploration