Minneapolis / Saint Paul / Twin Cities urban exploration WEST BANK MILL TAILRACE TUNNELS
TRIP 1: Sometime in 1999 or 2000
Members: Max Action, Wop, Rattfink, and Sherpa

OK, over the passage of two years, memory gets a bit hazy. Let's see what I can recall. A chick that lived in Wop's apartment building tipped us off to the existence of a large metal hatch in the ground near the Stone Arch Bridge on the West Bank.

Four of us set off one night soon after, and found the hatch, which was unlocked. Beneath, a rusty spiral staircase twisted downward into the gloom. We followed it downward, climbed carefully over a jumble of mud-slick boards and debris, and beheld a large, muddy, misty tunnel.

Exploring down a bit, we found that other tunnels connected to the first. All were several inches deep in squelching, slippery, shoe-stealing mud. Being masters of creativity, we dubbed the system the Mud Tunnels.

Later, we would discover that the "Mud Tunnels" were actually abandoned mill tailrace tunnels, and that the initial tunnel we'd found was formerly known as the Cataract Mill Tailrace. We'd also find out that the mud consisted largely of, ahem, "sewer sediment." But that was later. At the time, to the best of our knowledge, we were in weird, mucky, ancient-looking tunnels of unknown origin and purpose.

The mist was almost as thick as the mud, and it limited our vision to a few feet ahead. It also made photography essentially impossible. The mud was either sticky as hell or slippery as shit, which made movement tricky.

It was also freshly imprinted everywhere by the dragging tails and pointy feet of rats. Lots of rats, by the look of it. A frickin' army of rats. Rat Battalion 7. We only did see one rat that night, though, and he scampered off in short order once our lights hit him. Maybe he was a scout, and he'd gone back to get reinforcements. Visions from the movie "Willard" came to mind.

After a couple turns, we came to a flooded section of tunnel. Four feet or so above the waterline was a narrow ledge. I climbed up and started out to see if I could discern what lay beyond the water. My companions were not inclined to join me. The water was about 8 feet deep, and the ledge was slick with the omnipresent mud. I went slowly, cautiously, hands pressed to the filthy wall. My loyal friends shouted words of encouragement as I edged out over the water. Specifically, they encouraged me to lose my balance and take a sudden plunge.

As I groped my way along, my hand touched something on the wall. It was a fragment of a styrofoam packing peanut, stuck lightly to the mud-caked wall. My light touch sent it spiraling down into the water below.

A gear started spinning deep in my head. It engaged with another gear, which started two others turning.

I looked more closely at the wall. Other light debris was stuck to the wall here and there. Almost directly above my head, a perfectly green leaf was plastered into the mud, just below the ceiling of the tunnel. The gears spun more quickly, and an old-fashioned alarm bell sounded in my mind.

The debris made it clear that this tunnel had flooded. More importantly, it had flooded to the top, and recently. This explained the mud, the lack of prints other than fresh rat prints, the humid mist, everything. It could easily flood again. And for all I knew, it might happen quickly; perhaps flow from the Mississippi just outside was diverted into these tunnels for some obscure reason. Shit.

I shuffled back along the wall, yelling ahead to my friends to get ready to pack it up and move on out. By the time I finished explaining what I'd seen and its possible significance, I was back on the not-so-solid ground, and we slucked and mucked our way back to the staircase as quickly as the treacherous mud would allow.

A wall of water never came, and we escaped unharmed. It would be almost a year before Action Squad returned. By then, the Mud Tunnels were a very different place.