Even though Arizona is barely 100 years old, its vast, dry landscape is home to a number of long-forgotten places and objects. Once bright and burgeoning, these sites now lay deserted and collecting dust. Though the barren deserts, mountains and valleys of Arizona are freckled with nearly as many forgotten sites as it is with saguaros, here are just a handful of highlights that serve as vestiges of Arizona’s neglected past.
DECAYING DOG TRACKS
While both of the abandoned dog tracks described below have been well trodden in the past by urban explorers/trespassers, they are located on private land and visitors are not allowed.
Black Canyon City Dog Track
Located about 40 miles north of Phoenix, just off I-17 near Black Canyon City, the Black Canyon City Dog Track has been ravaged by vandals and the elements since being abandoned at the end of the ’80s. Built in 1967 by the Funk family, the dog track ran greyhound races until closing in 1982. Swap meets subsequently took over the space throughout the decade, but by the mid-’90s, the track was completely desolate and at the mercy of squatters, who busted most of the stadium chairs, shattered all the glass, stripped the plumbing, and spray-painted the walls. The pigeons have pretty much taken over now.
Phoenix Trotting Park
Construction of Phoenix Trotting Park began in 1964 on what was then a barren stretch of desert along what is now the bustling I-10 near Goodyear. The park closed in 1966, after hosting just a handful of races, due to low attendance and its remote location. The colossal building has sat vacant and in decaying disuse ever since, with a few exceptions like a motorcycle show in 1988, a swap meet in 1991, and most notably, the 1998 film No Code of Conduct starring Charlie Sheen, in which the windows of the trotting park were blown out for an explosion scene near the end of the movie. Visit phoenixtrottingpark.com to learn more about a citizens group dedicated to preserving the history of the park.
From forgotten mining towns to relics from Route 66, the state of Arizona has no shortage of ghost towns at varying levels of decay. Once booming and blossoming with promise and kitschy mystique, these spots now serve as sad, hollow skeletons from a simpler time.
Built in 1937 as a garish tourist gimmick, the town of Santa Claus was a popular Route 66 destination for a few solid decades until business declined in the ‘70s. The Christmas-themed village in Mohave County achieved full-on ghost town status in the mid-‘90s. The town was built by eccentric realtor Nina Talbot, who had high hopes for a year-round holiday haven. The quirky town’s only restaurant, The Santa Claus Inn, was a big hit in its heyday, as was the town’s post office, which saw an influx of letters to Santa. Talbot’s vision of a village where children could sit on Santa’s lap 365 days a year now lays in disrepair, with sporadic red and green remnants as the only reminder of a once lively roadside resort. A weathered wishing well, vandalized, boarded-up buildings and a bubblegum pink train (derailed and decomposing) now stand as the town’s only source of Christmas spirit.
About 30 miles east of Flagstaff in Winslow, what’s left of this former souvenir shop/gas station/campground has been taken over by nature and graffiti artists. A few dilapidated structures scattered across the area, including the gutted gas station, an empty pool and a weather-beaten building with the word “KAMP” painted across the A-frame roof. Two Guns was operational between the ‘60s and ‘80s, but now the roadside ruins are only good for a quick photo op off the I-40.
With Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base near Tucson, it’s obvious that Arizona has a longstanding history in military aviation. However, the Grand Canyon State is also home to an abundance of abandoned airplanes that have been silently dwelling in the desert for years.
Gila River Memorial Airport
This dilapidated former airport, which consists of a half-dozen large airplanes in various stages of decay, lies still in the middle of the desert in Chandler. Built in 1942, the airport once played host to aerial operations during World War II. Today, it has become a popular destination for daring taggers, photographers, videographers and adventurous Instagrammers. However, the moldering aircraft rest on the Gila River Indian Community, and a permit is required to visit or photograph the planes. Don’t even think about trying to scope out this spot unless you’re prepared to sweet talk your way out of a trespassing ticket.
The 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) , commonly referred to as “The Boneyard,” is the final resting place of more than 4,000 military airplanes and helicopters spanning over 2,000 acres on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson. It is the largest “airplane graveyard” in the world. Unlike Gila River, the planes are kept in pristine condition and are open to the public, but they are only accessible on weekdays through guided tours presented by the Pima Air & Space Museum.
Painted Planes at the Pima Air & Space Museum
If you are an aficionado of abandoned airplanes, but can’t catch a tour of The Boneyard, you can check out “The Boneyard Project: Return Trip,” which features seven planes painted by international street artists outside the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson. Curated by gallery owner Eric Firestone, the project repurposes unused military planes into works of art.
Casa Grande Domes
This cluster of curious, deteriorating circular structures in Casa Grande has been vacant since the ‘80s. The domes are empty carcasses of a computer hardware headquarters that never transpired. However, these mysterious modern ruins look more like abandoned alien spacecraft than the vestige of a vintage tech venture. The large, UFO-shaped objects have captured the attention of supernatural enthusiasts, graffiti artists, urban explorers, conspiracy theorists and local teens looking for a secluded place to get sloshed. The bizarre buildings have even appeared on the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures. Last December, the county condemned the domes after the largest one collapsed. Though the structures are slated to be torn down, they will remain one of Arizona’s biggest mysteries, and certainly one of the creepiest.