The computer system used to register visitors to Vandenberg Air Force Base wasn’t cooperating when I stopped by to get my ID approved yesterday. That meant I had plenty of time to chat with the two military police officers on duty. I learned two surprising things from them.
1) The base, particularly the beach area, has unexploded ammunition strewn around that make wandering off the roads a really bad idea. Before it was part of the Air Force, the Army used to use land that’s now part of the base for target practice. Decades later, unexploded mines, grenades, rockets, mortars, and bombs still have a habit of turning up. In 2010, for instance, the Bear Creek fire exposed a 200-pound explosive that specialists had to detonate (above).
2) Sharks are a problem as well. In the last few years, there have been two lethal shark attacks at Surf Beach near the base, the officers told me. I thought this might be a tall-tale they tell tourists, but the story checks out. In October 2012, a Great White mauled and bit a 39-year-old surfer in the upper torso. And in 2008, another Great White attacked a 19-year-old on a boogie-board, severing his leg. I went digging on the Air Force’s website, and they even have a picture of a mangled board from yet another incident in 2008 (below).
Normally, I’d jump at the opportunity to run on a beach and take a short dip in a place that’s as beautiful as this. But in this case, I’ll be sticking to rocket-watching for fun, thank you very much.