A Voice Moving Over The Waters

[Image: The Jim Creek Naval Radio Station from Popular Mechanics].

For a variety of reasons, I’ve been looking at a variety of large terrestrial antenna sites built for communicating with submarines. This is the field of Very Low Frequency (VLF) and Extremely Low Frequency radio transmission (the latter wonderfully abbreviated as ELF).

This is a topic already explored here several years ago, of course, with the Project Sanguine antenna field in Wisconsin, for example, and the Cutler array up on a peninsula in Maine. But a few other examples came up that I thought I’d post.

One is the example you see above: the Jim Creek Naval Radio Station in the woods of Washington State, as featured here in an old issue of Popular Mechanics. The Jim Creek facility is basically an entire valley in the Pacific Northwest, denuded of its trees and then strung with the harp-like cables of a mega-antenna. This antenna then broadcasts “the voice that crosses the Pacific,” as Popular Mechanics describes it, including U.S. military ships and submarines.

[Image: The antenna field at Jim Creek, via Wikipedia].

Briefly, although it’s technically irrelevant, it is nonetheless interesting in this context to read about the so-called “Hessdalen lights,” a phenomenon that appears to be caused by natural electrical currents moving through a remote Norwegian valley.

The scientific explanation for these “lights” is incredible.

Back in 2011, New Scientist reported, a scientific team “analyzed rock samples from Hessdalen and found that it is a valley of two halves: the rocks on one side of the Hesja river are rich in zinc and iron, those on the other are rich in copper. Then, during the 2012 mission someone mentioned an abandoned sulphur mine in the valley. ‘For me it was news,’ says [head scientist Jader Monari from the Institute of Radio Astronomy]. ‘We found zinc and iron on one side and copper on the other. If there is sulphur in the water in the middle, it makes a perfect battery.’”

By a weird fluke of geochemistry, the entire valley is a natural electrical cell! Now imagine a valley somewhere—in Washington State, say—acting as a giant natural radio transmitter: a geological radio station broadcasting signals out to sea.

In any case, here is the Jim Creek facility on Google Maps.

Two other quick things to mention: as a commenter pointed out here a few years ago, there is a spectacular naval-communications facility located on a peninsula in Western Australia called the Harold E. Holt Naval Communication Station.

[Image: Harold E. Holt Naval Communication Station, via Google Maps].

As described by the Australian government, the facility “consists of one central tower surrounded by two concentric circles each of six smaller towers ranging from 304 to 387 meters in height and is 2.54 km in diameter. It communicates over immense distances with submerged submarines in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.”

According to this commenter, the station “has an eerie suggestion of sacred geometry[:] pentagons and symmetrical shapes, all concentric. It is said that under the array, light bulbs held in the hand will glow.” This is not impossible; recall the work of artist Richard Box.

Indeed, seen on Google Maps, the facility is breathtaking. Be sure to zoom out to get a sense of how isolated this place is. Here is a view of the antennas from the nearby beach.

Finally, there is something called ZEVS. ZEVS is a secretive, Soviet-era electromagnetic facility and submarine-communication antenna array that allegedly exists somewhere beneath the forests of the Kola Peninsula.

There’s not a ton of information about it online, but I’m also just lazily Googling things at the moment and have undoubtedly missed something; if you have more details, by all means please feel free to share.

NATO’s Underground Roman Super-Quarry

[Image: An entrance to the quarry in Kanne; photo by Nick Catford via Subterranean Britannica].

There is an underground Roman-era quarry in The Netherlands that, when you exit, you will find that you have crossed an invisible international border somewhere down there in the darkness, and that you are now stepping out into Belgium; or perhaps it’s the other way around, that there is an underground Roman-era quarry in Belgium that, when you exit, you will find that you have crossed an invisible international border somewhere down there in the darkness, and that you are now stepping out into The Netherlands.

However, this is not just a disused quarry—not just an archaeological site on the fringes of the Roman empire that was once mined for blocks of limestone. Its afterlife is by far the most interesting part of the story.

For nearly a century, beginning in the 1800s, these underground hollows were used by Jesuit monks as a secluded place for prayer, study, and meditation, and even for the carving of elaborate and impressive forms into the soft rock walls; then the Nazis took over, transforming this weird underworld into a subterranean factory for World War II airplane parts; then, finally, pushing the stakes yet higher, the whole complex of former Roman limestone mines, straddling an international border underground between two modern European nations, was turned into a doomsday bunker for NATO, a dark and mold-prone labyrinth within which military commanders constructed a Joint Operations Center for responding to the end of the world (whenever the time finally came).

[Images: Monks underground; via De Limburgse Mergelgrotten].

“There was even a 3-hole golf course complete with artificial turf,” Subterranean Britannica reports in a recent issue of their excellent magazine, Subterranea.

“The complex was on average 50 meters below ground covering an area of approximately 6750 acres with eight miles of corridors, 400 branches and 399 individual offices,” SubBrit explains. There were escape tunnels, as well, “one going out to the banks of the Albert Canal in Belgium, and one which came out in a farmer’s potato store in the village of Kanne.” It had its own water supply and even a dedicated wine cellar for NATO officers, who might need a glass of Europe’s finest chardonnay to help feel calm enough to launch those missiles.

Just look at this thing’s mind-boggling floor plan.

The “streets” were named, but not always easy to follow; however, this didn’t stop officers stationed there from occasionally going out to explore the older tunnels at night. A former employee named Bob Hankinson describes how he used to navigate:

Most corners were roughly 90 degrees, but only roughly. Going through the caves was an exercise in left and right turns every 50 feet or so. Navigation was helped by street names. Unlike in the USA, where streets are numbered on a sort of grid pattern, these were zigzag streets. My office on Main Street and J Street, so if I got lost I would just keep walking until I came to either Main or J, and join it. If I went the wrong way, eventually the street would peter out either at the perimeter or a T-junction, and you would just turn round and go back the other way.

As another former employee—a man named Alan Francis—explains, “If I did have spare time, I would wander through the dark tunnels where there were very few lights on at night, thinking how strange it was to be working in a Roman stone quarry.”

Writing in Subterranea, SubBrit explains that “nothing ever came out.” This was “a strict rule: apart from people, anything that went in never came out. All waste material ranging from redundant furniture to foot waste was dumped in one of the sixteen underground landfill sites” designated within this sprawling whorl of rooms and passages. Shredded documents were even mixed with water and applied directly to the walls as a kind of fibrous paste, used for insulation.

Such was the secrecy surrounding this place that it was officially classified as “a ‘forbidden place’ under the Protection of State Secrets Act which forbade people to even talk about it.”

One reason why the underground galleries are so vast, meanwhile, is apparently because of the character of the limestone they were carved through; in fact, “the limestone was so soft that the workers used a chainsaw to cut it.”

The notion that I could just cut myself a whole new room with a chainsaw—just revving this thing up and carving an entire new hallway or corridor, pushing relentlessly forward into what looks like solid earth, possibly even sawing my way into the roots of another country—is so awesome an architectural condition that I would move there tomorrow if I could.

Just imagine building this titanic doorway into the earth with a small group of friends, a case of beer, and a few chainsaws. It’s like Cappadocia by way of the Cold War. By way of Husqvarna.

[Image: An entrance into the NATO complex; via this thread].

Sadly, the whole place is contaminated with asbestos and has been badly saturated with diesel fuel. At least one environmental analysis of the underground maze found that “diesel fuel from the [copious emergency fuel] tanks had leaked into the porous limestone over a long period and had penetrated to a depth of about forty feet into the rock.”

You can imagine the weird bonfires that could have resulted should someone have been stupid enough to light a match, but “this area had to be removed and disposed of,” we read—presumably by chainsaw.

Nonetheless, today you can actually take a tour of this place—this now-derelict doomsday logistics hub that straddles international borders underground—courtesy of the Limburg Landscape Foundation.

If you can take the tour, let me know how it goes; I’d love to visit this place in person someday and would be thrilled to see any photographs.

(If you like the sound of underground NATO quarries and want to see more, don’t miss these vaguely related photo sets: NATO Quarry, N.A.T.O. Quarry, N.A.T.O. Quarry, France, Urban Explorers Discover Corroding Military Vehicles in Abandoned Subterranean Bunker, and Nato Quarry, Paris Suburbs May 2011).

A Pyramid in the Middle of Nowhere Built to Track the End of the World

[Image: Photo by Benjamin Halpern, courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress].

The Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex in Cavalier County, North Dakota, is the focus of an amazing set of images hosted by the U.S. Library of Congress, showing this squat and evocative megastructure in various states of construction and completion.

It’s a huge pyramid in the middle of nowhere tracking the end of the world on radar, an abstract geometric shape beneath the sky without a human being in sight, or it could even be the opening scene of an apocalyptic science fiction film—but it’s just the U.S. military going about its business, building vast and other-worldly architectural structures that the civilian world only rarely sees.

[Images: Photos by Benjamin Halpern, courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress].

As Pruned described these structures back in 2008, it was a “mastaba-shaped radar facility reminiscent of the work of architect Étienne-Louis Boullée.”

As such, Pruned suggests, it offers convincing architectural evidence that we should consider “the “U.S. anti-ballistic landscape as a subset of Land Art”—as lonely pieces of abandoned infrastructure isolated amidst sublime and almost unreachably remote locations.

[Images: Photos by Benjamin Halpern, courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress].

The photos seen here, taken for the U.S. government by photographer Benjamin Halpern, show the central pyramid—pyramid, monument, modular obelisk: whatever you want to call it—that served as the site’s missile-tracking station. Its omnidirectional all-seeing white circles stared endlessly at invisible airborne objects moving beyond the horizon.

The Library of Congress gives the pyramid’s location somewhat absurdly as “Northeast of Tactical Road; southeast of Tactical Road South.” In other words, it’s ensconced somewhere in a maze of self-reference and tautology, perhaps deliberately obscuring exactly how you’re meant to arrive at this place.

[Image: Photo by Benjamin Halpern, courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress].

Yet the pyramid has become something of a roadtripper’s delight in the last decade or two. When I initially published a slightly different version of this post on Gizmodo, commenters from around the world jumped in with their own photos and memories of driving hours out of their way to find these military ruins looming spookily on the horizon.

Most if not all of them then discovered that it was as easy as simply saying hello to the guard, walking unencumbered through the front gate, and then hanging out for hours, running up the side of the pyramid, taking pictures against the North Dakota sky, and enjoying this American Giza as a peculiarly avant-garde site for an afternoon picnic.

You can even see the structures, arranged like some ritual sequence of spatial objects—a chapel of radar aligned with war—on Google Street View.

[Image: The pyramid, seen somewhat jarringly in full color, via Google Street View].

One thing I like so much about these shots is how they resemble early expeditionary photos of the hulking Mayan ruins found at Chichén Itzá.

Check out these comparative shots, for example, where the latter image was taken by photographer Henry Sweet during a 19th-century archaeological journey led by Alfred P. Maudslay. The photo was featured as part of an exhibition at the University of North Carolina back in 2007.

[Images: (top) Photo by Benjamin Halpern, courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress; (bottom) photo by Henry Sweet, courtesy of the UNC-Chapel Hill].

Of course, there is nothing really to compare outside of their same overall geometry—yet it’s striking to consider the functional, if obviously metaphoric, similarities here as well. 

One structure was built as part of a kind of analogue system for tracking divine events and celestial calendars, as dark constellations of gods spun across the sky; the other was a temple to mathematics built for guiding and pinging missiles as they streaked horizon to horizon, a site of early warning against the apocalypse, as a new zodiac of nuclear warheads would burst open to shine their world-blinding light on the obliterated landscapes below. 

Trajectories, paths, horizons: both pyramids, in a sense, were architectural monuments for navigation of different kinds. Both timeless, strange, and seemingly inhuman: spatial artifacts of lost civilizations.

[Image: Photo by Benjamin Halpern, courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress].

In any case, the original photos on the Library of Congress website are heavily specked with dust and some lens artifacts, but I’ve cleaned up my favorites and posted some of them here. 

[Images: Photos by Benjamin Halpern, courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress].

This is how modern-day pyramids are made: huge budgets and ziggurats of rebar, as tiny figures wearing hardhats scramble around amidst gargantuan geometric forms, checking diagrams against reality and trying not to think of the nuclear war this structure was being built to track.

[Images: Photos by Benjamin Halpern, courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress].

(An earlier version of this post previously appeared on Gizmodo).

Project Sanguine and the Dead Hand

[Image: One of the stations of Project ELF, via Wikipedia].

Further exploring the radio-related theme of the last few posts, Rob Holmes—author and co-founder of mammoth—has pointed our attention to something called Project Sanguine, a U.S. Navy program from the 1980s that “would have involved 41 percent of Wisconsin,” turning that state into a giant “antenna farm” capable of communicating with what Wikipedia calls “deeply-submerged submarines.”

Each individual antenna would have been “buried five feet deep” in the fertile soil of the Cheese State, the New York Times explains, creating a networked system with nearly 6,000 miles’ worth of cables and receiving stations.

The Navy was hoping, we read, for a system “that could transmit tactical orders one-way to U.S. nuclear submarines anywhere in the world, and survive a direct nuclear attack.” This would “normally… require an antenna many hundreds of miles in length,” according to the NYT, but Naval strategists soon “realized that a comparable effect could be achieved by using a large volume of the earth’s interior”—that is, “looping currents deep in the Earth”—”as part of the antenna.” The hard and ancient rock of the Laurentian Shield was apparently perfect for this.

[Image: From Roy Johnson, “Project Sanguine,” originally published in The Wisconsin Engineer (November 1969)].

In other words, the bedrock of the Earth itself—not a mere island in the Antarctic—could be turned into a colossal radio station.

A similar system, installed for preliminary tests in North Carolina and Virginia, “apparently flickered lightbulbs in the area and caused spurious ringing of telephones,” like some regional poltergeist or a technical outtake from Cabin in the Woods.

At least two things worth pointing out here are that a “scaled-down version” of Project Sanguine was, in fact, actually constructed, becoming operational in the northern forests of Michigan and Wisconsin from 1989-2004; called Project ELF (for Extremely Low Frequency), it arrived just in time for the Soviet Union to collapse…

[Image: Inside Project Sanguine; photo from Roy Johnson, The Wisconsin Engineer (November 1969)].

…which brings us to the second point worth mentioning: a strangely haunting program known as “The Dead Hand,” a doomsday device constructed by the Soviet Union.

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book of that title, historian David Hoffman writes about a (still active) weapon of retaliation. The “Dead Hand” was built such that, if nuclear field commanders ever lost touch with military leaders back in Moscow during a time of war, a constellation of cruise missiles would automatically launch. This would happen not in spite of a lack of living military leaders, but precisely because everyone had been killed. That is, a machine would take over—thus the name “dead hand.”

Each cruise missile, however, flying over the lands of the USSR, would emit launch commands to all of the missile silos it passed over. Missile after missile would soon soar—thousands of them—arcing toward the United States, which would soon be obliterated, along with the rest of the world, in a nuclear holocaust controlled and commanded by nothing but preprogrammed machines.

In any case, Project Sanguine was its own version of an end-times radio, an “immense subterranean grid” transmitting to distant submarines by way of the Earth itself, humans using an entire planet as an apocalyptic radio device.