A S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Mission
Lately, inspired by the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. meme and youtube Chernobyl adventures (e.g. here and here), I’ve become fascinated by the idea of scouting “exclusion zones”: places that are off-limits to the public which may contain spooky ruins, strange artifacts, unusual people (“Stalkers”), wild nature and anomalous phenomena. My recent Salmonberry River mission gave me a taste for this kind of adventure; looking for another one, I remembered “Devil’s Tower”: a ruined cement factory near the town of Concrete, Washington that is known as a gathering place for artists, explorers, vagrants and weirdos. I visited the place about five years ago and there didn’t seem to be much security, but apparently authorities have been cracking down and ticketing trespassers due to injuries and deaths that have occurred there (doing things at your own risk isn’t good enough for governments). Intrigued by the challenge of exploring the Tower with the heightened security, I travelled to the area with fellow Scout Raven to investigate.
Day 1: Forbidden Zone Recon
The first day we drove up from Concrete to do some recon of the zone. The main access road passes through a closed front gate with warning signs and a guard station; it looked far too paranoid to approach. There was also a back entrance that was gated but probably a better option. From forest service maps I found a third possible approach: an abandoned forest road less than a half mile south of the tower. Raven dropped me off there to scout the route, and as I passed the no trespassing sign and concrete road blocks I got an immediate surprise: a mannikin sprawled out on the ground behind the blocks, clothed and clearly meant to look like a corpse. It was either a rather dark joke or a warning; either way, it was an ominous start to my recon of Devil’s Tower!
That wasn’t the only surprise; a quarter mile in, the overgrown road opened up ahead and there was a large parking area, many trucks and a large hangar-type building. It was some kind of construction site, and I couldn’t see the tower which should have been just beyond it. Where was it? I started to worry that the tower was either already demolished or in the process of being demolished, and this whole mission would be a waste of time. As I watched a truck drive up the road away toward the tower area it was clear that the area was very active and I wouldn’t be able to get to the tower by this route, so I headed back to the car.
We drove to the back entrance to the access road, which was also gated off and signed, and there were a few people at the nearby boat launch. It looked doable, but risky. We decided to return a few hours later with our e-bikes, which we rode up from the town of Concrete so we wouldn’t have to park a possibly suspicious car anywhere near the forbidden zone. We waited until the two or three people at the boat launch weren’t paying attention and quickly pushed our bikes around the gate and pedaled up the dirt road and out of sight. The short ride was very scenic, with spectacular views across Lake Shannon toward mighty Mount Baker to the north. We soon approached some fencing and gates that closed off the construction site to the left, and to the right…there it was! The front wall of the old factory, with a huge painting of a skull and graffiti scrawled all over it. Devil’s Tower still stood!
We studied the wild art and graffiti in the crumbling remains of the out building, and I placed an idol of the demon Pazuzu in the rubble as an offering, noting the synchronicity that someone had painted “I (heart) Pazuzu” in two places on the walls. Still thinking this was all that was left of the tower, I got a pleasant surprise when I walked over to a ledge and noticed that the whole factory complex was still there, hidden below in the trees and covered in crazy graffiti. I got another surprise when I noticed that sitting down in the ruins was a young redheaded “stalker”, who looked up and calmly greeted me. I talked to him for a few minutes, and he told me that he lived there for now, wanted to be a prizefighter, didn’t have too much trouble with security, along with some odd personal details. The dude seemed a little off, possibly from drugs or schizophrenia, and had an air of physical menace about him.
Things got weirder when he suddenly appeared up on the bank near me, motioning for me to come over to the edge to look at an “apple tree” and to show me some kind of “portal” he’d made in the bushes. I changed the subject and told him that I needed to go talk to my buddy, who had disappeared by now, probably spooked by the guy. I left and found Raven riding his ebike up the road on the other side of the fence, and I quickly joined him. We both agreed that we should come back the next day to explore the tower, hoping that the stalker would be gone. We rode out the front entrance this time, past the guard shack and the gate and didn’t see anyone, then down to Concrete. Here’s a video I made of our first day recon mission:
Day 2: Into the “Dojo of Pain”
The next day we returned to the back entrance to the zone on foot, but there were people near the gate so to be more discreet we bushwhacked to the access road. The construction zone was closed and the tower area was clear of people, so we were able to explore it thoroughly. It was an incredible place, covered in the most bizarre and colorful graffiti, like the scene of a post-apocalyptic rave or cult temple. The main building had several floors, with large holes that could be death traps, and an amazing elevated tunnel that led to an overgrown and graffitied tower. This was the highlight of the mission for me: walking on top of the tower, with spectacular views over the lake and mountains, eldritch symbols and artwork painted on it, with a walkway high up in the trees, made me feel like the sorcerer Saruman atop his tower in Isengard in Lord of the Rings. The tunnel itself was like an anarchist art gallery, with spray-painted murals along the walls and holes in the floor that could drop the unwary far down to the forest floor below.
I walked back down the tunnel and made a dangerous crossing over to main building; I trusted two thin pipes stuck in the ground to keep me from tumbling down the steep slope to the lake. Then I entered the main building at the basement and went back up to the main chamber. As I was admiring the scene, I heard a noise, and as I turned around, there on a platform was my red-headed stalker friend from the day before! I pulled off my mask and said hello; he suspiciously greeted me and asked me what I was doing (my tactical clothing made him think I was a cop). After a tense conversation we both calmed down, then he said rather dramatically: “welcome to the dojo of pain”. I liked his name for the place; it really did look like some kind of dangerous dojo, or as I called it, a “temple of chaos”. We talked for a few minutes then I took off, having seen the whole site and not wanting to push my luck by sticking around.
This was one of my favorite missions to date. I’m glad I got to see the tower again, because I have a feeling that the place is going to be demolished before too long. The place has a combination of chaotic energy, natural beauty and impressive ruins that you don’t find very often. The encounter with the stalker was a little disturbing, but appropriate for this weird “forbidden zone”. Here’s a video I made of day two of my mission to Devil’s Tower: