Casa Grande Domes
Casa Grande Domes

Arizona might just barely edge past the 100-year mark, but its vast, dry landscape still houses 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

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 1980s. 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

Trotting Park 1

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.

Trotting Park

The colossal building has sat vacant and in decaying disuse ever since, with a few exceptions. There was a motorcycle show in 1988, a swap meet in 1991, and most notably, the 1998 film “No Code of Conduct” starring Charlie Sheen. In the latter, the windows of the trotting park were blown out for an explosion scene near the end of the movie.

Some people also believe that it is haunted.

Visit phoenixtrottingpark.com to learn more about a citizens group dedicated to preserving the history of the park.

Ghost Towns

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.

Santa Claus

Santa Clause Arizona
April 2008 rear view of the Santa Claus, Arizona, Land Sales Office looking northeast. To the right is the “Old 1225”, a derailed, pink children’s train tagged with graffiti. U.S. Route 93, Ithaca Peak (left), and Turquoise Mountain (right) can be seen in the background. | Photo by Todd Huffman. Flickr

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.

Two Guns

Two Guns

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 a gutted gas station, an empty pool and a weather-beaten building, the word “KAMP” painted across the A-frame roof – are most likely to draw attention from the nearby freeway. 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.

Abandoned Aircraft

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 also is home to an abundance of abandoned airplanes that have been silently dwelling in the desert for years.

Gila River Memorial Airport

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This dilapidated former airport, which consists of a half-dozen large airplanes in various stages of decay, still lies 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 Boneyard

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 more than 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 storage conditions or are in the process of being recycled or regenerated. Also, there are public tours. However, the tours are only accessible on weekdays through the Pima Air & Space Museum. Tour guests 16 and older require photo ID, and there are strict security procedures.

Painted Planes at the Pima Air & Space Museum

Painted Planes at Pima Air and Space Museum

If you can’t catch a tour of The Boneyard, abandoned airplane aficionados can check out “The Boneyard Project: Return Trip,” which features seven planes painted by international street artists. Curated by gallery owner Eric Firestone, the project repurposes unused military planes into works of art.

Deserted Domes

Casa Grande Domes

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 proposed 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.

– Madison Rutherford, College Times / Edited for Phoenix.org

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