Phoenix Trotting Park – Goodyear, AZ
Stationary living is different than wandering around aimlessly, especially in the desert. The dry heat baking my skin, sand sticking to the corners of my eyes, and monotonous scenery are just a few reasons I dislike Arizona. But, recently, I took a step back to appreciate everything and accept this change as a new journey down a different road with newly shared experiences and explorations. Much of the last two years of my life I spent in and out of homelessness to experience true freedom as a wandering, free-spirited soul, soaking up the most beautiful views previously envied through photographs. Photographs of places I only dreamed of going, but never actually expected to end up. Now I find myself here to follow love and put my passion for travel on hold, but not in the way you would think. Although I find myself apartment dwelling, I still find time to hit the road.
My recent travels took me to the abandoned Phoenix Trotting Park a few miles from my residence in Goodyear, AZ. This relic shut its doors back in the 1960’s after only a few years on the tracks. Rumor says mob bosses once ran it, but who knows? The park is regularly patrolled and people in the adjacent mobile home community report trespassers. Luckily I did not go there by vehicle, but by bicycle. After a 5-mile trek I turned onto a dirt road parallel to I-10. Peering out over my shoulder through the abandoned desert fields covered in tumbleweeds, trash and debris I saw the hi-tech structure behind two barbed wire fences. I casually slipped in through the fence and hid my bicycle in some brush next to a concrete pad. (A Goodyear homebum regularly patrols the area sporting a wooden walking stick, beer belly, shorts and no t-shirt. Don’t worry he won’t call the police on you, but don’t let him scare you off.)
I stalked the perimeter of the fencing looking for a way into the abandoned building. After circling some of the chain link fence I found a way in through a small hole. Someone ripped a corner in the chain link fence just enough to squeeze through it for entry. The next fence sported razor wire on top of a thick black bar fence protecting the perimeter of the building. I felt hopeless without a rug, but I walked along the fence tapping the bars with my arm as my eyes wandered up the decaying walls of the structure. Suddenly, I noticed a bar missing in the fence. It looked like someone used an acetylene torch to remove one of the thick bars giving me just enough room to slide my small, skinny torso through the fence.
The town of Goodyear put a lot of effort into securing the abandoned Phoenix Trotting Park from trespassers and urban explorers, but they failed. Every security measure installed had been breached by prior trespassers before me. This made it easy for me to slip between the cracks. Upon entering the structure I walked up the first flight of stairs in my field of vision stumbling upon another barrier. I pried myself between the missing bar in the fence and climbed up onto the ledge where I entered the stadium. Concrete stairs covered in 40 years of bird poop stood before me with a windowless pane of the Estrella Mountains painted through its face. For its time the structure looked architecturally advanced and futuristic reminding me of the Jetsons. I marched up the steps raising my legs to thigh height due to the space between each step. As I entered the stairwell more graffiti appeared scribbled on the walls. Death pointed down below in big Red letters along with the occasional cock and profane phrase sprouting up in every room. I laughed as I tiptoed through the gutted rooms peering through rusted, creaky doors leading to nowhere. As I walked through the gutted metal framing on the top floor I began to stumble upon the usual graffiti seen at every abandoned building. What is that you ask? Pentagrams and the Anarchy symbol popped up on the far side of the building, but some stunning street art lined the walls of the stairwell. (I won’t spoil it with words. See it for yourself someday!)
My eyes shifted to my left where they glued on to the decaying escalator. The handrails drooped off each side exposing the rusted, dilapidated gears. Missing steps, step rollers, non-existent balustrades and motors left the escalator in squalor, but I still ventured up balancing my toes on the remaining metal steps until crawling through the top shaft. I poked my head through a curtain of debris leading me back to the top of the concrete stadium. As I wandered around I found yet another stairwell leading to the roof. I grabbed onto the sharp metal handrail and climbed the stairs, my legs tingling, palms sweating and heart racing from the darkness protruding through every room above me. I walked around in complete darkness without a flashlight. Light shined its rays in through random cracks in the wall and after little effort I found my way to the rooftops overlooking Goodyear and I-10. I walked through the drainage ditch to the other side stepping over the protruding concrete blocks that spanned the roof. They were spaced every few feet and looked like notches of a gear. The sunset from above looked gorgeous. The oranges, reds and yellows swirling along the horizon made me doze off into a trance. My eyes following the colors of beauty as they dropped away slowly fading to black. I rushed to check out the final room, the sky box overlooking the trotting park. Next the door, spray painted in red, “Red Light I’ll Get U” faded away on the metal paneling. Other graffiti tags covered the paneling, but this one stood out as I snuck in to the rickety sky box. My eyes set on big blue letters, “DO NOT ENTER” on the door ahead of me as I peered around the bend. Every room looked completely gutted and unstable. I continued onward down the steps looking out at the mountains in the distance noticing the sky slowly fade to black as I peeped out of the sky box. I heard about a basement in the Trotting Park, but due to lack of daylight, no headlamp and being alone I darted for the ground level. After a few minutes of running through dark stairwells I finally made it to the first floor and squeezed through the fencing, my chariot awaiting me. I pedaled fast to make it home before the cold desert night opened its doors on my naked skin.
Much of the weeks between exploring the abandoned Arizona trotting park felt uneventful and depressing as I searched for work. I spent much of my time sleeping on chaotic schedules, watching Netflix and feeling like a complete bum in my dirty clothes. The indoors raped my soul and affected my mood negatively as I patiently waited to hear back from jobs. I thought my search for work would be much easier because as a traveler I picked up many skills on and off the road to make me handy for any kind of work. After multiple jobs falling through with incompetent people whose words meant zilch I found myself suffocating, not due to lack of work, but lack of wanderlust and boredom. As a last resort Kelly contacted an old friend and I found myself a job as a banquet server at Palm Valley Golf Club catering weddings and business events.
Casa Grande – The Domes, Casa Grande, AZ
After getting a job in Goodyear much of my time was tied up with working odd shifts and weekends, but Kelly and I still found time to explore abandoned Arizona and the wonderful relics it left behind. Before a shift one day we took a mini road trip down to Casa Grande to scope out the abandoned Casa Grande Domes. The trip down there felt uneventful. I fancied her request to stop and explore a cemetery off the highway. After walking over hundreds of gravestones, seeing unknown headstones of deceased children, one of them with an old, decrepit doll in front of it I started to get goosebumps and begged her to leave. She chuckled and my “badassery” went down a few points, but we continued on to the longitude and latitude coordinates of the Domes. We turned off the highway onto a little road lined with two vacant mobile homes and the Domes off in the distance. (I assumed we needed to hike off the roadway a few miles to get to them, but I was wrong.) I pulled off into a bank and we jet across the road, jumping over the drooping rope with the “NO TRESPASSING” sign on it. The first dome looked like a UFO ship straight out of Men in Black. I peeped in to an empty shell with light shining in through two holes in the dome-shaped ceiling. It felt like an alien force summoned me above to another galaxy as if I just walked onto their ship. We explored the other vacant domes and every one completely gutted with only the shell remaining. Graffiti lined the encrusted walls. Every dome thereafter stood structurally unstable with huge pieces of concrete smashed across the floor. Light peeped in through the big holes and crevices where the ceiling once laid and the UV rays deteriorated the shells leaving splotches of crusty, yellow insulation foam flaking from every dome. The spookiness amplified upon talking inside the bubble-like structures. In certain areas I spoke and the acoustics made it sound like I was right behind Kelly whispering in her ear when really I stood on the other side of the room. Birds made nests in the abandoned structures and most of the floor covered in poop and trash. Aside from the structures itself there was not much to see that we could not have seen from across the street in our vehicle, but nonetheless, we explored more abandoned Arizona ruins between our hectic shifts.
Vulture City – Wickenberg, AZ
We also found time to journey down to the ghost town of Vulture City. Expecting to pay a fee and enter a tour of the ghost town we brought our little doggy, Nellie, a chihuahua-beagle breed. She weighs about as much as four water bottles and her fur is a mix of gray and silver with speckles of brown near her neck and white along her snout. Upon stopping at the gate we realized they were only open on Saturdays and this was Sunday so we decided to venture on down the road to find a way into the site. We pulled off onto a sandy road in our little two-wheel drive Corolla. Slipping, sliding and almost bottoming out near drainage ditches along the sandy roads I put her in reverse and parked off to the side in a patch of desert. I gathered my backpack and Kelly leashed the doggy who stood there wagging her tail and panting happily with a look of excitement on her face. We plodded along up the sandy road avoiding prickers with every step and losing sight of the ghost town. We expected it to bend around or break off to a different part of the ghost town, but after a mile of walking it just ended up in someone’s driveway so we turned around. Disappointed I wanted to leave. All of the barbed wire fence along the side of the road was private property that said it was under “24-hour surveillance.” That was the only way into the ghost town. We needed to make a decision and after little thought, Kelly found a piece of fence missing and proceeded to crawl underneath of it. I passed the dog off to her and wiggled under the fence avoiding cactus prickers. I took the lead and meandered through the desert brush until we remained hidden from the roadway and gently placed the doggy in my backpack. We walked around in the general direction of Vulture City Ghost Town, but my eyes caught an abandoned mine shaft in the distance and we started to drift towards that instead. After breaking and pulling cactus out of our feet we finally reached a dirt roadway, but decided to check out the shaft first. Inside the shaft laid an abandoned tunnel of darkness definitely worth exploring, but we did not bring headlamps so we put this in the vault for future adventures.
Parched, we grabbed water from our bags and took a few swigs before heading out down the dirt roadway. We walked along the road for a bit until we stumbled upon a property line fence with a “NO TRESPASSING” sign and a convenient spot for all of us to sneak in through the corner. I noticed brand new vehicles atop a hill in the ghost town so we veered off the roadway and into the desert to avoid being seen by any security. The first building we stumbled upon looked like security cameras hung from the outside, but someone disguised PVC piping to scare away trespassers. As I crept closer I noticed the fake, impostors and continued exploring the abandoned ghost town. Old gears and broken, heavy-duty cables scattered out across the floor along with a few wooden ladders. I tucked my arms in and walked through the next room feeling out the floor below me for sturdiness as I walked out across broken tiles. The pungent aroma of petroleum made me pucker my nose as I inched closer to the only locked room in the building. I climbed up on a rusted 50-gallon drum to peer in through the old-jail style window to cast my eyes on a room full of used oil and 50-gallon drums. I noticed a camera that may or may not have been working and continued on to the next building with little hesitation. In the next room lay a bunch of old abandoned tools sprawled out across the floor with a colossal gear smack dab in the center of the building. My olfactory receptors continued to smell a hint of petroleum as we wandered around the room checking the old electrical panels above the gear system.
The desert sun began to fall asleep leaving us room to explore one more building so we decided to check out one adjacent to the Vulture City mine shaft. We shortly found ourselves in a precarious situation as we neared the vicinity of the abandoned town’s security. The mine shaft was sealed off and the ghost town below looked half abandoned and under construction with a quarry adjacent to it. Suddenly, my eyes shifted towards the hill where the security vehicles parked and I noticed a man speeding down on a four-wheeler towards us. We scampered for cover our feet losing traction with each step down the gravely hill. Kelly fell behind as she carried our little doggy and I thought for sure we would get hit with a citation for trespassing, but somehow we managed to remain incognito in the desert brush. We stopped to regain our breath and followed the same path back to the car as the final rays of the days beat down on our dry skin making us quench the last of our water supply. The tuckered little doggy passed out in Kelly’s lap and snored the whole way home in the car.
Lost Dutchman’s Park
I worked another frantic week on my feet busing tables, serving food and rearranging tables, chairs and silverware for the next day’s wedding. However, the upside to my job came with this week of freedom of not working until Friday. I used this time to plan an adventure and by plan, I mean, pack up my bicycle, a pannier and my backpack and hit the road for Lost Dutchman State Park to hike Flatiron. I awoke at 11 AM on Tuesday morning to start my journey to Apache Junction. A mere 57 miles meant the longest one-day ride for me in two years when I left on my bicycle tour from DE to CO. I did not know what to expect, but hit the road with anxiety and excitement for what lied ahead. Within the first 20 miles I made several switchbacks across the road as the sidewalk kept magically ending making me realize Arizona was not a cycle-friendly state. The scenery stayed dull and boring as I pedaled through downtown Tempe riding through the ghetto neighborhoods with skyscrapers hidden in the background. Construction boomed everywhere in the city with housing development and businesses popping up everywhere imaginable. I passed the train yard and an abandoned flour mill, but rushing daylight I lacked the time to stop so kept trucking along to reach my destination before sun-down. I crossed over the High Line Canal several times and after a few hours of cycling I decided to refuel at Wendy’s.
Much of the lackluster desert scenery spanned for miles, but certain sections left me in awe and as I found myself inching closer to Lost Dutchman’s the scenery began to shift to a beautiful spectrum of mountains and orchards. I crossed an orange orchard that grew for miles right next to the roadway. I stopped and when no one drove by I plucked one for a night-time snack. The rest of the ride brought me back to memories of the TransAmerica Trail as I neared the 60 mile mark. I remembered the burn and aching pain in my knees as I pushed harder pedaling down the shoulder-less roads nearing closer to Lost Dutchman’s State Park. My head pounded from dehydration as I pedaled in a zombie-like trance avoiding pot holes and patches of gravel. The Superstition Mountains loomed above me casting their huge shadows across the desert as I made it to Apache Junction. Sweat dripped down my face and my lips began to crust over from an unquenchable thirst as I stopped right before the Mining Ghost Town tourist attraction. I pulled off onto the shoulder and pushed my bicycle up a gravel hill hiding behind desert brush. I sat down to regain my composure next to an old illegal dump site piling full of mattress pads and other debris. I crawled around close to the ground as I remained hidden just feet from the nearest road until the night sky rolled in bringing in the brisk weather. I pitched my sleeping bag and bivy sack on a flat piece of ground covered in pointy gravel behind a huge tumbleweed. Time stopped as I cuddled deeper into my shelter and gazed up at the sky accumulating a myriad of stars every hour. Despite calling it a night at 6 PM I did not fall asleep until midnight. I spent several hours stargazing, pondering and enjoying the cold desert breeze tickling my nose through my bivy mosquito netting until fading away in the night in the fetal position. I awoke several times from packs of Coyotes howling at the moon causing a domino effect of neighboring dogs to bark ferociously. Tiny critters scampered and crawled around my camp site as I dozed in and out of sleep finally awakening at 9 AM as the sun strolled in peaking in through the mountains.
I replenished my water and ate a quick snack before heading into the park, where they charged me a $3.00 admission fee for bicycles (crazy right?), as I grabbed a map for the Flatiron hike. I followed the road to the end where Siphon Draw Trail starts as I searched for a spot to hide my bicycle. A nice bush off the trail made for a perfect location to stash my bicycle and some gear. I grabbed my 20-pound pack and hit the dirt trail trekking through the cold desert in sweatpants and a Gortex jacket waiting for the sun to warm up my bones. The first few miles felt uneventful as the trail gradually gained elevation and the dirt road transformed from a steep dirt incline to hopping on boulders that meandered up to a dry water basin. I stopped a few times to catch my breathe and take off layers as sweat drenched my back. A few groups passed me in the process only carrying hydration packs and I decided to follow them since the trail lacked markings as the climb became steeper. Lifting my legs and crawling up boulders my legs began to crumble like jello, but I pushed it to the top where a mini plateau offered a choice of three directions, left, right or straight. I turned my head on a swivel looking for spray painted white arrows or people without any luck. Turning right I walked by two fire-pits as the trail picked back up through the mountains. Off in the near distance I saw two people climbing to a peak, one in a black shirt and the other in fluorescent yellow. I stopped looking for markings and followed their lead hoping to reach it to the top of Flatiron by 10:30 AM.
The trail disappeared again as I found myself tiptoeing through desert avoiding dead cactus, prickers, and animal droppings, but it eventually picked back up. As I neared closer I saw the individuals squint looking out in every direction like they made a wrong turn on the trail. I approached and acquainted myself. We all agreed that we made a wrong turn since we stood on a series of boulders towering over the city below instead of a flat plateau, but regardless we enjoyed the view. Ryan, a young man with longer sleek black hair and a scruffy, patchy, beard laid out across a boulder to meditate and soak in the view. Kayla, a petite, white-haired girl who reminded me of Anna from the movie Frozen ventured off to the other overlook of the canyon. We chatted for a bit about our lives and after a short acquaintance she offered me a ride back to Goodyear, AZ if I could fit my bicycle in the trunk of her Corolla. After twenty minutes of sitting in the sun and a half gallon of water we gathered the crew for our trek down to the trail-head, disappointed we took a wrong turn and never reached the summit. The hike down tore up my feet and joints as I slipped and slid on lone rocks and cactus prickers. After a mile we reached the point where we made a wrong turn and saw a group of people relaxing on a boulder, dripping in sweat, they inquired where we moseyed off to as they wiped their faces with their shirts. We all chuckled and said we made our own trail. Apparently the trail dipped down and went straight up a steep climb to the Flatiron.
Kayla needed to get back home to attend an ultrasound class for school and since they were my ride I decided to follow them down the mountain. The thought of cycling 60 miles back in the same direction on shoulder-less roads and crossing the street every few blocks when the sidewalk ended seemed less than thrilling to me. I disassembled my bicycle taking off the front basket, front tire and rear pannier as I positioned it in her trunk to fit properly. We put down both back seats and finally she fit inside just enough to close the trunk. Kayla grabbed a few pillows from her recent camping trip and placed them over my bike as I sprawled out in the back finding a comfy position to lay in for the ride back.
We hit the highway and instead of a 5 to 6 hour bike ride home we ended the trip with an hour ride to Goodyear and Taco Bell. I made some friends in the process and my two-day trip to the Superstition Mountains incorporated cycling, hiking and hitchhiking. In the future I have a few more people to hike with and explore the other relics of Abandoned Arizona! Stay tuned for my future adventures in the Grand Canyon in January when I work there as a dishwasher and hike the trails in my free-time.
Twin Arrows Trading Post
Faded paint chipped off every corner and wall of the structures. Each room covered in vibrant, artistic graffiti and random tags defaced what once remained a historical roadside landmark on Route 66 off I-40. As we roamed through each adjacent, dilapidated room we felt a piece of history come over us. The 25-foot tall twin arrows perched outside the trading post stood tall attracting us to the abandoned structure. The roof of the structure fell through to the foundation of most rooms piling up soggy, moldy debris alongside all of the trash discarded by other trespassers. One room turned into a beautiful, under-the-sea mural of a giant Octopus alongside an unknown sea creature splashing in the waves. The artist blended yellows and greens with a hint of orange to emphasize the head and tentacles outlining the creature’s veins with a thin line of purple. This room stood out from the others because the ceiling remained intact and minimal litter scattered across the flooring. Other rooms remained in shambles with garbage piling up in the corners of each room and random tags sprayed across the walls. One that stood out said, “Nothing Else Mattress” spray-painted in black cursive above an old, worn mattress. The metal springs exposed and rusted from the misty air. Empty floorboards, broken drywall, wood and trash made the trading post look like squatter central. Stenciled gray faces spray painted much of the outer building walls. Old gasoline pumps stood out front of the structure completely gutted. I looked deeper into the history of the Twin Arrows Trading Post to see what once lied on these crumbling ruins.
At one point in time, Bob Moore’s “Route 66: Spirit of the Mother Road,” called it the Canyon Padre Trading Post. Along with other nearby towns and businesses along Route 66 many of them failed in the 1970s. The Twin Arrows Trading post changed many hands until their inevitable doom in 1995. The structure still stands decaying more and more each year as the roof continues to cave in, the wet slop continues to pile up across the damp floors and the Twin Arrows slowly come to their death as the desert sun rots away at their wooden cores.
We stood their in amazement as this structure crumbled before our eyes and wondered why no one tried to keep its history.
Walking along the side of the highway, hopping the Jersey barriers to get to our car we drove on past more desolate towns, completely barren and left in rubble.
Arcosanti an Arizona Oddity?
Was Arcosanti an Arizona oddity or a sustainable idea way before its time? Paolo Soleri did not think so. Despite being a completely theoretical idea, Soleri funded his life’s work through designing and producing ceramic and bronze windbells through methods he developed from silt-casting. With over 40 years of production he used this financial cushion to test out his theories on a more sustainable society. Where did he do this? The middle of nowhere off of highway I-17 in the city known as Arcosanti. A village away from the norms of society cast in the beautiful sandy desert surrounded by prickly cactus pear, dirt roads and an infinite amount of stars in the night sky, a perfect utopia. The idea of Arcosanti entailed maximizing space with limited land through roadway elimination. Basically, Soleri wanted to combine ecology with architecture in what he coined the term, “arcology.” He envisioned a future society where architecture implemented into the ecosystem with limited harm to the environment. This theoretical community, designed for 5,000 people on roughly 15 acres of land, started in 1970 and still continues construction today. Soleri built the structures in Arcosanti with similar techniques he used to make the windbells. Despite eliminating roadways and automobiles Soleri theorized for a series of escalators, elevators, moving pedestrian sidewalks and other green forms of travel for the community with roadways into and out of the city. Soleri passed away in 2013, but his passion and sustainable vision on a new path for society lives on in the souls of both old-timers and young, upcoming architects and engineers today. 5-week and 10-week workshops are held in the community at a fair price and if deemed worthy you can stick around to help the community construct more of Soleri’s plan and see it come to fruition. If you want to learn more about this oddity I highly recommend taking the tour. They ask for a small donation of $10 per person, but it’s worth every penny.
Black Canyon Greyhound Park, Black Canyon CIty, AZ
Driving back on highway I-17 from Arcosanti we stumbled upon a huge abandoned site. It looked like the old Black Canyon Greyhound Park I heard blurbs about on other abandoned blogs, but there was no way of knowing without exploring the ruins it left behind. We pulled off at exit 242 so Kelly could grab a pack of smokes, but I felt an uncontrollable urge to explore the Park’s history and confirm its location, so we stopped to check it out. I tightened the straps to my backpack and just as I shut the rear passenger door the 5-0 pulled up at the stop sign. His piercing stare engaged me, our vehicle and then the park and my gut immediately turned sour. Kelly grabbed her phone and pretended to snap a selfie of us together with the mountains in the background. The police officer turned and parked his SUV onto the dirt shoulder trying to hide behind cacti and tumbleweeds. I noticed this and the close proximity of the park to the road and canned the idea immediately hoping to come back at some point in the near future.
Originally we planned to drive to Lake Havasu to explore the abandoned schoolhouses and watch a warm winter sunset from across the lake, but we slept in too late and changed our plans last minute. Instead we spent the past weekend wandering around the Black Canyon Greyhound Park exploring its abrupt demise. Right off I-17 by exit 242 the park sits decaying since the 1980’s when it abandoned its operations. The small, crooked, chain link fence dangles there a few feet off of the roadway welcoming any trespassers with a misdemeanor if caught.
We parked the car at Chileen’s Steak House and walked down the road scoping the area for policemen as we roamed in and out of the desert foliage. As we neared the exit I scanned the area for people and quickly made a run for it across the street as Kelly followed behind me. We hopped a small, crooked gate and hugged the foliage due to the park’s close proximity to the roadway. We zigzagged through the patchy grass, stepping on bald spots of dirt as I watched tumble weeds bounce by in the distance. One by one we entered the building through the side entrance, which reminded me of a run-down roof meant to cover gas pumps at a petrol station. Each pillar degraded severely over many years of decay with deteriorated concrete and exposed, rusted re-bar corroding from lack of maintenance and the wrath of mother nature. Graffiti artists tagged the inner walls of the building with bright colors making each tag stand out distinctly from the others as we scanned the walls. My nostrils flared from years of dust and decay, but the charred pieces of wood, scorched walls and caution tape all screamed signs of arson. Thick pieces of industrial glass crackled under my feet as they screeched against the concrete flooring. The building held spectators on the ground floor with plastic stadium-style seating separating each level with a concrete terrace design. I imagined all the seats lined up with spectators yelling, rooting for their greyhound to pull ahead as it neared the finish line galloping around the last bend. The gamblers all clasping their tickets, throwing their hands in the air as they spat out chants praying for victory. I opened my eyes and saw all the broken glass scattered throughout the park. The orange and yellow seats piled up in the far corner of the stadium, dull and faded from the ultraviolet rays of the sun. A set of wooden chairs off to the side all disintegrated from years of desert heat, termites and decay, all that remained, the curved, wooden backings. Everything stood there, old, dull and abandoned, as I circumnavigated the room, except for two huge, vibrant signs hanging from the rafters. The orange and yellow colors blasted the words “Red Seating, Yellow Seating, and Orange Reserve” signifying the different seating packages available in the Black Canyon Greyhound Park’s heyday.