Back in the mid 90’s the city of Denver built a new airport called DIA way out of town on the high plains. Stapleton airport was closed and mostly demolished.
Today a planned community is springing up. Everything but the parking garage and the control tower have been demolished and now shopping malls, houses and condos are sprouting up all over the old airport grounds.
A giant muddy construction area now sits where the terminal buildings and the terminal aprons used to sit, and smack in the middle of it is the 12 story control tower.
I had pretty much forgotten about Stapleton and the possibilities for exploration it might provide until I saw some ariel photographs of the that lonely control tower sitting in a giant mud puddle on the uer.ca website. A former Denver resident had come across them and posted it inquiring if the structure was still there.
I brought the site to the group’s attention – Sub-Commander Geiger got all giddy and we setup a time to head over for a recon/scouting mission.
We parked in one of the new shopping centers parking lots and jumped into his little car. With a couple of small flashlights and my night vision monocular. We parked close to the tower on one of the new residential streets and walked the fence line.
Almost immediately we found an unlocked gate in the construction fence. As we slipped in we noticed a car pull up to one of the nearby construction trailers outside the fence and stop. Rent-a-cop! We ducked back out of the fence, hid behind a pile of joists that blocked us from the road.
We waited several minutes for the guard to move along…then waited a few more. We decided we weren’t currently doing anything wrong so we started walking up the new sidewalk, just a couple guys taking a walk on a brisk January evening.
We walked past the guard sitting in his car – he waved and said “Hello! I’m doing security for this construction site!”
We waved and smiled and said “Oh, we’re just out for a walk…”, and kept going. It was apparent he was guarding the house/condo construction on the other side of the fence from where we were headed. We looped around the block and went back to the open gate we had found. Being in his line of site we decided to head a bit further down the fence and sure enough a couple hundred yards further down we found another gate – closed but unlocked – we slipped through and headed across the muddy field.
The pictures must be a little bit older – there is now a giant muddy pit between the road and the tower – we picked our way around it – there’s a large pump running in the pit that makes a delightful rumbling sound.
The building itself is a 3 story rectangle with the 12 story tower on one end. Another fence surrounds the building itself. Again luck was shining on us.
We circled the building – on one end there is a single flood light over a glass door – with a big padlock on it. The metal doors are all welded shut. The other doors are boarded shut and none of the vents would even wiggle. A look through the windows gave us hope; we just needed a couple of tools and a few more hands.
A hasty retreat was beaten. A number of access opportunities faced us, we had some thinking and consultation to do.
Two nights later at VI a much larger party formed up over chimichangas and cigarettes. Commander Quad, Provisional Agent Statik and Agent Dyno joined Sub-Commander Geiger and I for this expedition.
Vehicle arrangements were made and we headed out around 1915 – on site by 1930. We consolidated into two cars – sC Geiger in his car with PA Statik. Quad, Dyno and I rode in the Subciety Command Vehicle. We parked a couple of blocks apart from each other and made separate approaches. There was a lot more traffic on the road that night so even though we were closer to our rendezvous point than the other car they beat us through the fence.
While waiting for road traffic to clear we observed a pickup whipping through the site – right down the road past the tower building. It sped past it and headed to one of the gates several hundred yards away from us. It appeared it was a construction vehicle and he was locking one of the main gates we had avoided getting even remotely close to.
We popped through the fence and eventually the group was re-consolidated and we headed out around the perimeter of the pit. In just a couple of days the workers in the site had moved an awful lot of dirt – new piles were everywhere and it was as muddy as ever.
We slipped through the inner perimeter fence and grouped up in an out of the way niche. Our access point faced the old Stapleton parking garage and there were a few tense moments when the rent-a-cop drove around on the side of the garage that faces the tower.
Once inside the first really interesting item we discovered was a manhole cover. We popped it up and found it led to a small concrete vault – maybe 6x8 and 10’ deep – no ladder, nothing – just an empty concrete hole. We slipped it back in place and continued looking around the main floor.
We found a little room with no windows that had just a ton of signs from the old airport – a big brass commemorative plaque, the old runway signs – lots of neat things to see.
We also found an interesting set of stairs going down – hopes of a tunnel system brought us down those only to find a locked door and a dead end. There was one corner of the building we couldn’t find a way into. Firewalls to the second floor – no way to go in through the ceiling.
Heading back to the front of the building we found a door labeled simply “UP” and decided that was the ticket. “Up” we went.
Peeking in on the second and third floor – big and empty we decided to go for the gold and went on up. On the trip up the 12 flights of stairs we encountered at least 2 dead birds – big pigeons – they must have found a way in but no way out.
The tower has a cool narrow window that runs from top to bottom up all 12 flights – looks cool, but it was a pretty dark night which made it tricky – we didn’t want our lights giving us away.
At the top of the tower we found a utility level – I was too excited to get to the fishbowl and blew past it. Commander Quad couldn’t resist the urge to use the remaining toilet and a couple of others stopped to look at an equipment room.
The concrete stairs ended and a metal staircase ran up to the fishbowl. The view is INCREDIBLE – I would say I could see from Wyoming to New Mexico – hundreds of miles in every direction. About half of the big windows had been replaced with boards, I would assume as they break or are damaged they don’t bother putting glass back in now that it’s no longer in use. The room itself was stripped down to a plywood floor – some old electrical boxes and other junk are lying about, I hardly looked at the room itself – I was too busy looking at the view.
Just at the top of the stairs Commander Quad found a small crawlway that gives access to the catwalk that wraps around the tower just below the windows for the fishbowl. We crawled out. There’s a small ladder that leads to a raised platform at the level of the windows. On that platform is a sloped ladder that goes to the roof.
With tummy tingling I climbed the first short ladder up to the platform. It was a little windier than I like it to be when I’m 4' above a 2' foot wide catwalk 12 stories off the ground. The view was even better from the platform, just amazing, really. Dyno and Statik joined me on the platform and we admired the view and considered the next ladder.
I swung around to the front of the ladder and started climbing – at this point my testicles were trying to crawl into my abdomen. Dyno started up the ladder behind me.
Just as my head cleared the top of tower I saw off to my right a little glass bubble camera with a bright glowing green LED light. “DOWN! DOWN! DOWN! THERE’S A CAMERA UP HERE!” We hustled back down to the platform. We had seen some “webcam” pics from Stapleton on the internet. I’m fairly confident that was what the camera was. None of the pictures on the web looked recent so we figured it had been removed.
So there we stood – 12 stories up – on a tiny little platform, just 10 feet away from the holy grail of this particular expedition.
I looked at Statik – “Ya know, I’m probably never going to come back here. If I don’t get up on that roof and have a look at the view I will regret it the rest of my life. It’s probably just a webcam – it probably doesn’t matter. Fuck it.” I swung around the ladder and headed up again.
As I climbed up over the ledge I waved and smiled for the webcam.
Standing on the top I slowly turned and let the view sink in. The lights, the lights were everywhere, as far as the eyes could see. I was on top of the world. It’s moments like these that it’s all about. I could see what looked like hundreds of miles North, South and East – to the West I could see lights twinkling in the sky of the antennas, houses and towns perched along the front range. Downtown Denver looked like a forest of Christmas trees, it took my breath away.
I heard Dyno or Statik heading up the ladder. I decided to give the camera another wave and looked back to it. This time I took a closer look at the metal box mounted next to it. It also had a little green LED on it. Then I recognized it.
You don’t normally see a full weather enclosure security camera pointing straight down. That’s why I didn’t recognize it. I walked up to it to see where it was pointing.
I peered over the edge to see that the security camera pointed straight down at the crawlway from the stairs to the catwalk. SHIT! I looked to the road to see if the rent a cops were closing in yet, nothing. I hollered that there was another camera – a security camera – pointed at the catwalk entrance. My fear of falling was forgotten for my fear of being arrested and my 265lb ass beat feet back down the ladders and into the crawl space while a lump of ice formed in my stomach.
“We have to go – NOW!” we started down the stairs at high speed.
“It’s just a webcam, we knew it was there.”
“There are TWO cameras – one’s a fixed security camera – not a webcam.”
“It’s probably not active”
“Then why didn’t they pull it with the other cameras - it had a light on it”
We argued about it the whole way down. It’s amazing how much some people know about something they have never seen.
Once we hit the 3rd floor we decided to get out of the stair well and peek out the windows to see if SWAT had arrived and setup a perimeter yet. Nothing. Everything looked quiet. We found a stairwell at the other end of the building we didn’t see from the first floor – we followed it down to see where it went – assuming it hit the corner we couldn’t figure out how to get into. It ended at ground level at a metal door – welded shut – no access to the rest of the floor – back up to 2 – then back down to 1. A quick headcount showed we’d lost Quad and Statik. Geiger and Dyno peeked out the windows looking for signs we’d been spotted – I poked my head back in the stairwell and called up – they had been waiting for us on 3 and I could hear them coming down.
I insisted we stay long enough to make sure we re-sealed our entry point so we started planning on how we would proceed – We would duck out, close up and meet back on the non-visible side of the building.
I stayed back to count heads as the team slipped out of the building. Dyno, Geiger, Statik….”DOWN! DOWN! DOWN!” Geiger had spotted the security truck inside the fence again blazing down the road toward the building.
Quad and I pulled our cover back into place – if they saw it open we were busted – it was on the other side of the building from the only real entry door, we hoped to slip out while they were messing with the inner perimeter gate. The 3 agents outside hit the dirt and thought very small thoughts. Quad peeked out a sliver we had through our access point while I crept back to the window facing the gate they would use if they were coming in.
He didn’t even slow down – he passed within 10 feet of the guys outside. I crept back to the sliver and Quad and I watched as he again drove over to a gate several hundred yards away – once he was far enough off we gave them the almost-all-clear signal – all 3 jumped up and took off around the corner to get out of site. Quad and I moved the cover back and slid outside. I yanked out my radio- Geiger had the other one. “Get back here – he didn’t see us, we have to seal this up.” Nothing…I went around the corner “Come on! Let’s get this closed then get out!” Dyno was peeing in the darkness, who could blame him?
We went back to our access point and sealed it. The guard was still parked over at the other gate several hundred yards away. We slipped through the fence and started across the muddy field again. It was a fairly dark night, we were all dressed in dark clothes. Quad and I just walked along the road around the pit back to a trailer parked on the far side of the pit. Geiger and Statik were practicing their ninja skills staying low and running from mound of dirt to mound of dirt, Dyno was following them then joined us on the road.
We re-grouped behind the trailer, the rent-a-cop was still at the gate but out of site behind a mound of dirt several hundred yards away. As I walked up to the trailer I spotted a police car – real cops – not rent-a-cops driving down the street outside the main site fence. I walked to the other end of the trailer and was watching for his tail lights.
At this point someone noticed the rent-a-cop was now coming directly towards us. Still no tail lights on the main street – but there was a lot of stuff between me and him – maybe he passed already, maybe he stopped. We were about 100 feet from the gate we had come in through. The rent-a-cop was coming straight for the trailer.
We mad a quick plan – walk in a straight line away from the trailer so the rent-a-cop couldn’t see us until we were as close to the gate as possible then just hoof it on out of there hoping we would spot the cop before he spotted us if he was still over there. Good plan, too bad nobody but Quad and I followed it. Geiger headed out first, there were some concrete sewer pipes and mounds of dirt, he moved low and started going from cover to cover – moving into the line of site of the approaching rent-a-cop – Statik and Dyno followed him.
Quad and I tried to explain that skulking around looked more suspicious than anything and really wasn’t helping as they had moved into the line of site of the rent-a-cop. We walked confidently away from the trailer – when I was about 15’ from the gate I hung a right – slipped on through, *SPLASH* stepped into a mud puddle at least a foot deep, soaking my boot. No cop – I was outside the perimeter – just a guy out for a walk on a brisk January evening with a really muddy boot. “SPLASH” – Quad found the puddle. “SPLASH SPLASH” Dyno really found the puddle – and we were out. We crossed the street and started walking leisurely – not even a look back at the guard’s truck. Still no sign of the cop – we dispersed and headed to the cars.
We again regrouped where we’d left a car – Agent Geiger suggested we start some kind of training program – I jested “Okay…everybody….RUN!” but he’s apparently not to thrilled with my confident strolling method of stealth. Oh well, whatever works I say – I hope he had fun ducking and covering, it certainly was amusing to watch (though I’m sure he’ll be giving me a rash of shit about this soon enough).
This turned out to be one of my all time favorite expeditions. There was cool stuff to see – no one got hurt or arrested and there was just enough danger to really spice it up a bit. I had the privilege of welcoming Provisional Agent Statik into Subciety as Agent Flee.