Sunday, February 1, 2015

Photo Essay: Surviving the Apocalypse at Oat Mountain's Nike Missile Site

As independent as I am, there are still some places I don't want to go to by myself.

Maybe it's because there's safety in numbers. Maybe it's because people keep telling me, "Don't go there alone." Maybe it's because I become emboldened and brazen when I have a partner in crime.

I get nervous by myself. And for nearly a year, I've been dealing with bouts of anxiety that are completely new to me. I've aborted some missions. I've bailed on some adventures. I've procrastinated on others.

But the longer I wait to visit places of interest, the more likely that they'll be gone – or dramatically diminished – by the time I get to them.

Case in point: Nike Missile Site LA-88 on Oat Mountain in Chatsworth.



What used to be a private road leading up to one of the 16 Nike missile sites during the Cold War – known then as the "Ring of Steel" – is now the only access road to the Michael D. Antonovich Regional Park at Joughin Ranch.



Though now home to a regional park and a few trailheads, even the entrance is rather foreboding...



...as are all of the signs telling you to stay out. But, because I'd found a buddy to accompany me, we ignored them.



Not sure at what point we'd be trespassing, we walked through a gate, up the steep, twisting Browns Canyon Motorway...



...past warning signs that rust has rendered unreadable...



...until we reached a post-apocalyptic wonderland...



...which was ravaged by fire in 1981 and 2008...



...leaving tons of twisted metal.



Only the foundations of the administrative buildings and barracks remain.



The rest of the buildings are hollowed out...



...some bereft of natural light.



This place was once closely guarded...



...but the graffiti is indication of past, even recent, visitors.



It is desolate up there, on that mountain...



...which once provided 360ยบ surveillance capacity, looking out over the entire San Fernando Valley.



The bus is now just a rusty skeleton of its former self...



...everything stripped...



...burned...



...and broken.



There are a few structures left up there, but they are mostly empty shells.



Contributing further to its destruction, the LAPD used this site for years as a training ground for the bomb squad and SWAT team.



There are bullet holes everywhere.



Paint has peeled...



...anything valuable has been scavenged...



...and panes have broken.



It feels like an archaeological site...



...like something out in the middle of the desert from centuries ago...



...though the base was only deactivated as recently as 1974...



...a year before I was born.



The vegetation has resurged since the fire...



...the rain-soaked rolling hills now a lush green...



...as bright as the spray paint used by the graffiti artists who have frequented here.



The site was once patrolled for years by a live-in caretaker...



...who was driven out of his residency by the 2008 fire.



Since then, taggers and vandals have made this site their home...



...raising safety concerns in the community, and among law enforcement officers...



...especially when a box of live ammo was discovered onsite.



Who knows what happened to this car...



...which hasn't burned or been fully stripped...yet.



It doesn't look like there's much left of the launch site...



...but underneath those silo doors...



...are three underground storage magazines, at least two of which are open...



...and can be climbed down into.



A tremendous amount of digging went into creating these hatches...



...from which a group of four missiles would be launched.



LA-88 was the first Nike site in the LA area to launch the "Hercules" missile, equipped with an atomic warhead.



It is dark and, despite its vast expanse, claustrophobic down there.



Above ground, one of the remaining structures is where the missiles were assembled and fueled...



...but fortunately, the U.S. never had to fire a Nike missile (nuclear or not) against an enemy...



...so when this site was closed, no longer under threat of nuclear attack, the warheads were disassembled.

Despite how far gone the Oat Mountain base is, it's actually the largest Nike missile site I've encountered so far in the LA area, with the most visible remnants. Many of the other sites have been completely demolished, leaving no trace. The preserved ones may have only a key feature left – say, an observation tower – and nothing else.

And while it seems a shame to not allow curious hikers to explore the ruins, human contact has largely contributed to its decay and decline.

For lots of old photos, click here.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Trespassing Through Southland's Military History
Photo Essay: In Search of LA's Military History, Part 1
Photo Essay: In Search of LA's Military History, Part 2