"It was a very real place, definitely not a Disney attraction," Perez says. "Disney left it to go wild, and it certainly did."

Days after his photos were posted, they were spotted by a Disney fan site, which notified the company. In one day, Perez's web traffic shot up to more than 80,000 hits. NBC affiliate WESH in Orlando reported the incident, and Disney reportedly responded by banning Perez from all of its property for life.

Perez and his friends laughed it off — in part because they knew getting banned from a theme park is the least of an urb exer's worries. Besides arrest and incarceration for trespassing, death is a real possibility. Earlier that year, a 23-year-old urban explorer in Denver named Johnny Polzin had died after plunging down an elevator shaft in an abandoned rubber factory.

Perez admits his friends and family worried constantly. Once in 2009, Perez sprained his ankle while rappelling down a shaft in a New York aqueduct during a solo trip. Unable to get out, he had to call friends for help.

Other Miami urb exers have run into "scrappers" — scrap-metal-jacking thieves high on drugs, often armed with knives and other weapons. Robert Canas, 42, a Miami resident who goes by his online name, "RobTech," remembers an incident during a trip to an abandoned church in Coconut Grove where he encountered a lone scrapper looking disheveled, high, and ready to either fight or bolt. Canas was freaked out, but held his ground until the scrapper left.

"If you show these people that you're scared, you sort of get manhandled," Canas says.

Heather McTiernan, Perez's ex-girlfriend and former urb exing partner, says she suspects that without the danger — and without the adrenaline — urb exers wouldn't be as passionate about their hobby. She was once almost arrested with Perez while checking out an old power plant. Thanks to his smooth talking, police eventually let them slide.

"What really, really helped was that Shane is very exuberant," she says.

Dangerous or not, urb exing doesn't look to be going away. Reality shows such as Urban Explorers on Discovery and Fear on MTV feature the hobby. Perez has his own starring scene in the rising subculture. Melody Gilbert's 2007 film, Urban Explorers: Into the Darkness, follows the lives of a handful of urban explorers across the country, including Perez. One scene shows him climbing into the missile silo and posing for the camera.

Perez has since left Miami for New York City, but the local scene has found new adherents. "Bullet," as Bulit calls himself online, is the main writer, researcher, and administrator for AbandonedFL.com, along with his friend E.J. Walsh. In all, at least a dozen locals are regular urb exers and many more are semiregulars. The crew has steadily added to the list of explored sites. Inside the "Big Easy," a massive yacht outfitted as a casino but left derelict in a Tampa dry dock after Hurricane Wilma, the crew found dusty chandeliers made of Mardi Gras beads and dead slot machines; at Jungleland Zoo, a deserted animal park near Kissimmee, they photographed themselves with discarded "Animals May Bite" signs.

Bulit agreed to take a New Times reporter with him on his most recent trespassing exploration into the Aerojet plant. Getting there was tedious — first a long drive through rural South Dade and then a long hike down a paved road. But decades after the plant closed in the late '60s, there's not much in the way of security; fences have long since rusted into the marshy ground.

Inside, the once-cutting-edge buildings are tagged with obscene graffiti; every metal bit has been stripped away by looters. It's a desolate scene. But to guys like Bulit, that's the point.

"That's part of the thrill of it," he says. "It's serious and it's edgy and it's exciting."

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11 comments
floydianslipped
floydianslipped

Swimming to an island that already IS on private property (you are in the City of Buena Vista which is ALL Disney property from the second you drive through the gates) hardly meets your own bullshit "code" of ethics. You're not invited to be there its trespassing pure and simple just because you don't vandalize or steal doesn't make any less of an offense so drop the pretense. Other explorers need to understand that these ARE ARRESTABLE OFFENSES which can get you jail time and or fines depending on the officer and the judge. If trapped or hurt it is the trespassers fault and medical expenses is their problem so think before glorifying this hobby to kids.

Nelson
Nelson

I've been here... much better with a bicycle to pass the two main gates. And there are bugs there that don't care what kind of bug spray you put on, they will still bite you... But the place is amazing. the solid fuel mixing buildings are super cool with their blast walls. It is cool to see this with one's own eyes instead of just through pictures posted on line.I'll never go down the silo though...way too creepy.

Drake Mallard
Drake Mallard

This was our storage closet. My Dad spent years turning it into a bomb shelter.

What a waste.

David Minsky
David Minsky

To be clear, Bulit and his crew do not force their way into buildings. They follow a strict code of ethics that forbids them prying open doors or smashing windows to get in, and rarely carry tools because, if caught, police could mistaken them for burglars. If the door is open or missing, or if a window is broken, they will enter. Under no circumstance will they vandalize property. Their aim is simply to explore and document what they see through photographs.

Stephanlottier
Stephanlottier

my dad worked for raytheon.at thehawk missle site on 87ave by black point.but!lready to strike cuba at a moment's notice!

Lowginjay
Lowginjay

I like the article and am enjoying the pics on their website.

TBinder
TBinder

The writer and the explorer are twits...Shane you look like a sprocket...."But I've seen things with my own eyes that people will never see." - With who's eyes will you see if it wasn't with your own, pendejo...***David, you said he's 23.....then you go on the say "By the time he was in his early 20s, he and a small"....doesn't make sense....

 
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