Here at the SGE, we love exploring, and are always excited to meet other Societies, groups or individuals who share our passion for discovering the worlds’ wonders. One of our new favourites is the Bureau of Exploration, a semi-secret society we came across on Instagram @bureau_exploration that are “dedicated to the discovery and cataloguing of strange locations.” In short, just our sort of people. In this edition of the Fellow Explorer’s Club, we caught up with one of their members to find out what goes on at the Bureau of Exploration!
Society for Gentlemen Explorers (SGE): How did the Bureau of Exploration start?
Alex (BoE): The Bureau was founded around the turn of the century as part of the US Bureau of Reclamation, created to survey unusual places for land development purposes. Over many decades, the Bureau was forgotten in endless labyrinths of government paperwork, until finally only people in the agency itself were still aware of its existence. Much like the abandoned locations it explores, the Bureau has been forgotten by the rest of the world, and has been able to operate as it sees fit as a secret society. It has used this obscurity to go about the task of discovering and cataloguing strange and otherworldly places, revealing surreality in reality for the public benefit. Today its main office is hidden in the maze-like tunnels beneath the university campus in Boulder, Colorado, from which it sends out operatives across the world to find unusual locations.
SGE: How did you get started exploring and becoming involved with the Bureau?
Alex (BoE): Personally, I started urban exploring and BofE-style things when I was in high school. I started checking out drainage tunnels and old buildings and loved it, and started exploring often and posting pictures online. I prefer to not be fully named and stay as a secret organisation. I’m one of a group who contribute content to BofE.
SGE: What are your main interests in terms of exploring?
Alex (BoE): My biggest exploring interest is abandoned places. An abandoned place is a snapshot of a different time and world, and exists outside of everyday reality. I really like places with a “Twilight Zone” sort of feeling, locations which may be physically right next to where we live or work in normal life, but feel like they’re in a parallel universe. History and spookiness are also extra points! There’s something really special about a place which reveals a story about the lives of those who were there before, or places which may be haunted.
SGE: One of our favourite abandoned places is the Buzludzha Monument in Bulgaria. Opened in 1981 as the House of the Bulgarian Communist Party, the part-Brutalist, part-UFO shaped concrete structure is one of the world’s most awe inspiring abandoned places, so we were delighted to see you’ve been.
Alex (BoE): My favourite place I’ve ever been to is definitely the Buzludzha Monument in Bulgaria. Being such a spectacular building and having heard so much about it, it felt like a sort of pilgrimage to go there. It’s in a pretty far-flung part of Bulgaria, so it’s a grand adventure getting there in the first place, and once you’re there it’s an insanely fun building to explore.
Deep underground floors, beautiful decaying rooftops, gorgeous murals and graffiti, a crazy fever-dream of metal and concrete. It’s such an enormous, brutalist-style building, so obviously from a different time and society, that you feel really overwhelmed by just how monumental and alien it is. I’ve never been anywhere else like it! My friend/fellow Bureau operative and I were also very lucky to get inside since the police are always trying to seal new entrances made by urban explorers, so it was extra-special that there was an entrance open that gave us a chance to explore the interior.
SGE: In the course of your travels and expeditions, have you ever found yourself in any scrapes, or encountered any odd balls?
Alex (BoE): I have a few stories of scrapes and strange adventures! I once climbed a construction crane with a fellow Bureau operative at night. Either we were spotted or tripped some kind of alarm, because coming down the crane we saw a few police cars parked at the perimeter of the site and officers moving our way with flashlights. Fortunately we had enough time to get down and leave the property before they got to us, but it was a very close call. I’ve also gone exploring in the Rocky Mountains to visit mines and ghost towns, and those always seem to end up with a lot of great (if sometimes slightly traumatic) adventures: getting the car stuck in a snowdrift and having to dig it out, finding ourselves lost in the forest without a map or connection, or getting caught by storms in the mountains.
As for oddballs, some friends and I once went down a drainage tunnel around 2-3 AM, and we kept hearing a short, low moan echoing through the tunnel as we went deeper in. The first couple times we were able to convince ourselves it was just the wind, but the third time we knew it absolutely was another person (or several) and that they were very close. We turned around and booked it out of the tunnel, and as we began to run we heard a cry behind us, “No wait, come back!”. The voice sounded legitimately sad, as if somebody was lost in the tunnel or had been waiting for our company. Definitely one of the creepier explorations.
SGE: What’s your dream exploring expedition? Is there somewhere you’ve always wanted to go to?
Alex (BoE): The holy grail site I’m looking for is an entire abandoned city. I’ve heard that in Siberia there are cities which once had tens of thousands of inhabitants, but were entirely depopulated after the collapse of the USSR. From pictures it looks like many have abandoned research institutes, observatories, mines, and other fascinating things left out there hundreds of kilometres from occupied areas. Someday I’d like to launch an expedition to one of those cities with the Bureau.
SGE: What does the future have in store for the Bureau of Exploration?
In terms of future plans, the Bureau of Exploration is turning its attention from Eastern Europe back to its home state of Colorado over the next couple months. In the coming years, I’m hoping that I’ll find myself living in Europe, and do exploring for the Bureau there!