An hour north of Phoenix I stopped to check out an abandoned cabin in Bloody Basin. With a name like that, how could I resist? I exited the freeway and came to a rough dirt road with a sign that read "Primitive Road. Use at your own risk." With only two hours of daylight remaining, I didn't think a 20-mile drive down a treacherous unpaved road would be the best use of my time. I reluctantly decided to skip the cabin and continue on to Black Canyon Greyhound Park.
I didn't know exactly where the abandoned park was, but I had some idea. I drove through a small neighborhood, past a yard where a few people stood talking. Feeling their eyes on me as I drove by, I started to feel self-conscious and nervous. Black Canyon City, despite the name, is a fairly small town, which means unfamiliar vehicles tend to stand out.
When I got to the end of the road and saw no sign of the dog track, I realized I'd have to turn around and get back on the main road. As I neared the people I had passed earlier, a guy walked onto the road and held out a hand, so I stopped.
"Need help finding something?" I knew from his tone that he suspected I was up to no good. His wife walked over too, and she looked a little more friendly. I told them I'd heard there was there was a neat old dog racing track around there and I wanted to take some pictures, but wasn't sure where it was. He hesitated and then said, "We've had a lot of problems with vandalism." I gave a friendly chuckle and said "I can assure you that is not my intention." That made his wife smile, diffusing the tension a little. The man seemed to loosen up and gave me some pretty basic directions.
I arrived at the abandoned racetrack grateful for the unexpected help, but still a little nervous that I might run into another of the town's residents who wouldn't be as kind.
The main building did not look all that large or remarkable from the outside, but when I stepped through the doors it felt like an incredible new world opened up before me.
As I walked through the grandstand I imagined what it was like in its prime: a crowd of hundreds of people eating, drinking, placing bets, the air charged with an almost tangible energy as thousands of dollars hung in the balance with each race.
David K Funk and his two sons, David J and Albert ran a dog and horse racing enterprise, with tracks in Arizona, Florida, Colorado, Oregon, and Mexico. They opened Black Canyon Dog Track in 1967.
It was a popular destination for residents of Phoenix, who could drive there in under an hour on the newly built I-17 freeway.
After the track closed in 1982, it occasionally served as a location for swap meets before it was entirely abandoned in the late '80s.
The place was amazing. I’d never explored anything like it.
It was so thoroughly vandalized, I wondered why the guy had been reluctant to give me directions at first. There wasn't much damage left for me to do that hadn’t already been done.
As I walked through the office area, I was shocked to find a few artifacts that had been sitting there for over thirty years:
A shareholder meeting announcement from 1975. I was amazed it had survived the decades of vandalism, still intact and legible.
This one really disturbed me. A printout with names and addresses. I snapped a quick photo of one page, but there were reams of these records just sitting there for anyone to see. I imagine these people wouldn't be too happy to know that their personal information is lying around in an abandoned building, irresponsibly left by people who should have disposed of it properly.
The racetrack was completely overgrown. I love how nature gradually takes back what humans leave unattended.
There were a few other buildings beside the grandstand. Some were in pretty bad shape.
It amazed me that there had once been thousands of chairs, and virtually all of them had been smashed to pieces.
I found some of the graffiti particularly thought provoking.
There was a neat little workshop and some other buildings that looked like they served maintenance-related purposes.
Along one side of the properly stood a row of small white structures. I'm not sure what they were used for. Maybe lodging for those who brought their dogs there to race?
I finally mustered the courage to climb the surprisingly sturdy metal staircase onto the roof of the grandstand.
The roof looked pretty weathered.
I stayed on the boardwalk, so as not to risk falling through a weak spot in the roof.
There were several small viewing rooms probably used by VIPs and announcers.
Before the sun went down I made one last stop at a little abandoned service station called Jack Ass Acres. There wasn't much to it, but it was definitely worth stopping to see.
I continued south to Phoenix, where I had dinner and a drink and then parked for the night in a residential neighborhood.
The next morning I was sitting in the drivers seat, looking on Yelp for a good place to get breakfast, when I noticed a cop car. At first he drove by at normal speed and went on his way. A minute or two later, he passed by a little slower, and then parked fifty or so feet behind me, and I assume he ran my plates. Then he pulled up next to me and asked what I was doing there and if I knew anyone in the area. I answered honestly that I did not know anyone. "So you just decided to park here?” he said in an accusatory tone.
"Yes," I said.
He seemed dubious, and said there had been a lot of burglaries in the area.
"I can assure you that is not my intention," I said, just as I had told the couple in Black Canyon City.
The cop was not as understanding. "That’s what everyone says."
I wasn't sure why he was being so confrontational, but I remained polite and respectful. He finally drove away, only to park about 300 feet or so ahead of me, where he remained, obviously doing his best to unnerve me.
I felt sufficiently uncomfortable and left pretty quickly. I figure my California plates are partly to blame. Arizona isn't exactly known for being hospitable to outsiders, as I was quickly learning. Good thing I don’t look Mexican, or else I’d have had a real problem, since I didn't have my citizenship papers on me.
I had several days worth of facial hair, which might have made me look a bit rough, so I shaved it off before breakfast. Then I made a mental note to park in a shittier neighborhood next time, where cops would be less likely to patrol. So far on my road trip, I'd gotten harassed by a cop and a park ranger on separate occasions just for sitting in my car, but the crackheads I'd run into didn't give me any trouble at all. An unfortunate irony.
Despite the morning's rough start, it ended up being an incredible day. I got to explore the phenomenal ruins of an abandoned horse racing compound, which I'll tell you about next week!