In the new film "Undercity: Las Vegas," urban historian Steve Duncan and director Andrew Wonder head below Sin City to see what lurks beneath the surface of one of America's most bustling cities.
The duo, who previously worked on "Undercity: New York" aimed to show Vegas' changing ecosystems and the vast problems flooding can bring. The film, which was commissioned by Palladium boots (the duo wear waterproof boots throughout the short film), follows in the footsteps of Duncan and Wonder's previous films on Bushwick, New York's Knickerbocker Sewer Extension as well as New York's subway system.
Herewith, a quick Q&A (conducted via email), with Steve Duncan.
HuffPost Travel: What was it like to explore the tunnels?
Steve Duncan: It was mostly fantastic and occasionally terrifying. It was terrifying when we entered a dark tunnel we didn't know, not sure what was around the bend (or WHO!). It's always easy to imagine the worst and most dangerous possibilities when you're in the dark in an unknown place, especially when the sound of water flowing is echoing through like Niagara Falls and you think you hear the sound of voices. But, as always with the underground, the fantastic part came from finding out that this new world was actually a friendly, amazing place, full of genuinely interesting people who were almost all friendly (with a couple exceptions). The cool tunnels under the Strip were what made it fantastic. It's why the underground can be so cool: you head into the dark, not knowing what's ahead of you, and then slowly you get comfortable and a great new world opens up in front of you.
HPT: How long did it take to explore?
SD: With hundreds of miles of tunnels ranging from large to small throughout the entire area, it would take months to explore the full tunnel system. Instead we tried hard to explore all the tunnels that crossed underneath the Strip and downtown. But we did see a lot, and spent every night (and most of the days, too) of a four-day trip underground.
HPT: How do the tunnels smell?
SD: The tunnels in Vegas really don't smell bad at all, because a) they don't have any sewage in them, just waterflow, and B) whatever might build up in the tunnels gets completely scoured out anyway by powerful floods [that usually occur] a couple times per year.
HPT: Are they open to the public or did you get special access to go in?
SD: Cities would never recommend that the general public should go into urban storm drains or tunnels with underground rivers, because there really are serious potential dangers-- most notably, in the case of a flood or even just a short rain, tunnels can fill up incredibly quickly. Andrew and I likewise don't recommend that the general public should go the places we go!
However, when we visited areas that were clearly people's campsites or homes, or especially when we had to go through someone's campsite to get into a section of tunnel, we always made sure to get a particular kind of "special access" before hiking through their camp: we'd knock, or call out, and explain who we were, and basically we just did our best not to invade anyone's living space until and unless they invited us to do so.
HPT: What other cities have you walked “underneath” and any plans to do this in other cities?
SD: I'm obsessed with exploring tunnels in cities and I've now been underground in many cities including NYC, Los Angeles, Chicago, Minneapolis & St. Paul, Toronto, Montreal, London, Paris, Rome, Naples, Stockholm, Moscow, Odessa, Berlin, Vienna, and a few others. My big plan/ambition this past summer was to get a group of people with me to hike under Paris for 3 days and cross the city from one side to the other underground-- and we did it! In terms of the future -- no expeditions planned for very soon, but I'm continuing to study underground rivers especially and currently am trying to map out a couple in NYC.
HPT: What did you pack for this exploration?
SD: As always for the underground, the most important thing we packed was flashlights and headlamps, and the second most important was boots that would keep our feet dry as long as possible and would also stay comfortable even if the water got higher and we had to wade through with wet feet. We took a short section of rope to help get up and down difficult climbs and a tiny mirror to see out of manhole covers from below through the little vent holes.
Check out some exclusive photo stills from Duncan below, and check out Part I of the video above. Warning: Video contains some strong language.
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