An Audio Tour of the Mole-Men Tunnels -- er, the Storm Drains in Las Vegas


NPR's Adam Burke has produced an amazing audio tour of the subterranean storm drains in Vegas, which some people (hmmm, Hodgmanic mole men?) call home.
It would be easy to go a whole weekend on the Las Vegas Strip without spotting a sign of a crisis. Never mind that more than 14,000 people are living on the streets – and that Nevada ranks second in the nation in homeless population per capita.

Seeing evidence of this is a matter of knowing – or perhaps choosing – where to look.

One might begin with the slot machines on a busy casino floor – tourists, blackjack tables, cocktail waitresses in impossibly tiny outfits. And if one were willing to pay the price of admission, an elevator could transport the seeker to more vice and excess upstairs – rooftop pools and lavish suites. But the homeless still wouldn't be found.

But what if there were an elevator that went downward? Let's say that you could descend below the sunken lounges, past kitchens and utility closets, through layers of concrete. It is here that Las Vegas' truly gritty underbelly can be found; a hidden matrix of tunnels beneath the Strip, another version of the city born out of storm drains.

Sucked Into The Tunnels Beneath Las Vegas (NPR, image: Danny Mollohan)

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  1. Oooh, thanks Xeni!

    I am an urban explorer, so I’ve seen a lot of places like this- but we have a lot of flash storms in Texas, so very few people camp out in our storm systems, and those very temporarily. Fort Worth, with all its abandoned buildings, is a much better alternative.

    There’s nothing quite as sobering as coming across a neatly folded blanket and stack of canned goods covered in brush to hopefully ward off thieves.

    And nothing quite as scary as climbing the stairs at an abandoned penitentiary and someone stepping out of the shadows with a long pipe raised.

  2. A few years back, I was visiting family in Vegas when a rainstorm hit. I actually had to walk to the grocery for diapers while it was still raining– trying to cross streets was more like fording a river– and I even saw a couple floating cars! I suppose Vegas has so little need of storm drains that any rain quickly becomes a real disaster.

    All I could think about while reading this was about what happened to those poor folks who were in the tunnels at the time…

  3. Anyone interested in the dark underbelly of Las Vegas must — must! — read:

    The Money and the Power: The Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America

    It’s not just the city of hidden homelessness. There’s also the rampant drug abuse, teenage pregancies, school dropout rate — the litany of social ills goes on and on. Plus, the city built by gangsters now launders so much drug money that … well, read for yourself, and weep for America.

    – Karl Jones

  4. It is hard to imagine how a storm drain could be a shelter in the rain. Temporary and insufficient, to say the least.

    One film that opened my eyes to this issue was the documentary Dark Days. It explores a similar (and literal) subculture in NYC. It is the most bleak, brutal and honest look at homelessness I’ve ever seen.

    Fortunately, the last five minutes of the film are jubilantly redemptive and likely to inspire feelings of expansiveness. (at least if you make it through the whole first part of the movie which is likely to leave dragging your head and heart off the floor.)

    So this is the very last part where many of the homeless people get placed in apartments through some special arrangement. Its a great example of a great solution. Housing for the homeless…

    1. @Nevadan, well, yes! Did you not follow the link? The piece is all about O’Brien. The photos are from that photographer.

  5. “Meh. CSI did it.”

    That’s because they took it from real life. O’Brien wrote about it befor CSI did it.

  6. Nothing’s real until it appears on TV.

    And I mean real TV with sex and violence, not any of those documentary channels.

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