HALLSTATT

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The Bureau of Exploration is an inextricable knot of interlocking and overlapping departments, sub-committees, and task forces that is so extraordinarily complex that it is unfathomable to even our most senior staff members. This confusion keeps increasing as the Bureau metastasizes constantly, with ever-more new departments being formed, expanded, or rediscovered in old paperwork.

It is in this spirit of exponential growth that I am pleased to announce the creation of the Bureau Overseas Exploration Division: European Branch, which shall lead all expeditions in Europe. Furthermore, in this report I am happy to introduce a sub-group within this new Division: the Alpine Exploration League! Its first journey: to Hallstatt, Austria!

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Being in the region for two days, my fellow operatives and I were lucky enough to behold the surreally beautiful Hallstätter See and the surrounding mountains in two very different kinds of weather. When we arrived, the sun was beaming- a gorgeous day perfect for hiking and exploration!

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We made our way through forests toward sharply-rising cliffsides. As we grew closer the cliff walls became vast and ominous, with caves hidden in the rock and waterfalls cascading down from above.

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We awoke the next day to find the mountains wreathed in clouds, creating an entirely different atmosphere. I loved the sunny beauty of the first day, but I think I liked the eerie feel of the second even more.

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Later in the day we finished off our survey of the region at the Gosausee, another lake surrounded by even steeper mountains. High above us the fog churned, spires of rock fading in and out of view.

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The final image was taken and edited by fellow operative Kimberly Luo- many thanks!

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THE PANORAMIC MIRROR

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Clerks at the Bureau of Exploration had long heard tales of a great wonder awaiting them across the Rocky Mountains. Travelers spoke of a vast plane which when filled with snowmelt created a horizon-spanning mirror to the sky.

Reports indicated that this mirror could only reliably be seen in the winter when snow is expected- a precarious time for travel. There were risks, yet the Bureau knew there was simply no other option: we would have to undertake a treacherous winter voyage!

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And a treacherous winter voyage it was. To reach our destination we needed to cross the mountains, and we soon found that the mountains were in the midst of blizzards.

Yet after trundling slowly through snowstorms, navigating highway closures in the hinterlands, and me getting the car stuck in the snow for several hours (note: windshield scrapers double as shovels and fir tree branches create excellent traction for wheels), we emerged from the snow at our destination: the Bonneville Salt Flats.

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Suddenly it seemed as if we were on another world.

Donning our rain boots, we waded out onto the immense surface before us.

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At one point, we split up to wander the surface on our own. Spying a mountain in the distance, I decided to walk in that direction for a long time, soon losing sight of my companions.

It felt something like walking atop an infinite plane from a mathematics class. There’s nothing for the mind to cling to other than distant mountains and their reflections, so far away they might as well be mirages. If one yells into the sky, there is no chance another human can hear it- total isolation. Distances are impossible to tell and even the passage of time is difficult to grasp.

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There were odd things on the way to the mountain: fields of bullets scattered in the mud, as well as many areas with bubbles rising out of tiny holes (a possible indication of life in even so harsh an environment?). The distance to the foot of the mountain was greater than expected- by the time I got there, dusk was well on its way and the storms had caught up with us. I followed my footsteps back to our car, feeling something like an astronaut fleeing to a spaceship to get off some distant world.

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It is a place of vast perspectives and surreal frames of reference. A strange and wondrous place to be!

SAN JUAN EXPEDITION 4: EUREKA

Greetings from the Bureau of Exploration. This is the fourth section of a field report by the Mining Infrastructure and Geological Survey Corps on places of interest in the San Juan Mountains.

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My fellow operative and I parked our car in a large open space, an area where records state a mining town once stood. The town is no more, but rising over the valley are stacked concrete foundations, the skeleton of what the town was built around: the Eureka Mill.

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The way the structure climbs up the mountain makes me think of an immense staircase. Scaling the first few ‘steps’ of the staircase, we were surrounded by the shattered concrete floors and scattered wooden remains of the mill. One can see what it once looked like from pictures such as this.

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We scrambled up the side for the first seven steps. By the eighth, we found a convenient window blasted through the concrete to hop through into the structure proper.

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The rubble-strewn floor had the remains of railway tracks that once ran on the roof. To our right was an overlook of the valley, and to our left we saw strange cylindrical tanks towering overhead. We continued our ascent.

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I think that these tanks once held ore before it was processed further down the mountain. They seemed out of place in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, being made of great concrete slabs and steadfast rebar rather than decaying wood. To me, Eureka felt less like a mill and more like a sci-fi bunker or strange industrial plant.

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The last two steps, eleven and twelve, had more columns. Cascading down the rubble were metal wires that looked like big heaps of snakes, wrapping themselves around the surrounding rock and pillars.

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We stood at the top of the ruins for a while under the noonday sun, overlooking the valley and the structure below us.