Matt O’Brien, a Las Vegas writer, has been exploring this underworld for several years. On one particular evening, he’s outfitted sort of like a commando, with heavy boots, backpack and an industrial-sized flashlight that could double as a weapon.
“I’ve been exploring these storm drains for more than five years,” he says sloshing through muck and gravel that blanket the tunnel floor. “I think I know these storm drains better than anyone who doesn’t actually live in them. And I know the storm drain system probably â€” and this is nothing to brag about â€” better than anyone else.”
No reason to doubt him. In 2007, O’Brien published a book, Beneath the Neon, about the 300 miles of underground tunnels that crisscross beneath the city.
“So, yeah, now we’re moving underneath Caesar’s Palace. Walking underneath kind of the main property there. This is one of the creepier areas of the storm drain system. Very remote, wet â€¦ extremely dark.”
It’s after 9 p.m. on a weekday night. The Vegas Strip is bustling above. The stage shows are under way. In the tunnels, there is stale air and utter darkness.
At one point, the tunnel widens to form a chamber. Above is a metal grate and, somewhere beyond that, the sky. The plump, almost illegible cursive of graffiti lettering covers the walls â€” beautiful colors and designs â€” that can be seen by flashlight.
“This is one of the underground art galleries that I discovered down in the storm drains. Basically, you walk in about a half-mile in pitch dark, and you have artwork going down the walls that goes down for about a half-mile,” O’Brien says.
Ahead, the tunnel devours the flashlight beam. Noises make him stop and shine the light back in the other direction.