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Black Canyon Greyhound Park

There is something exciting about abandoned places. Everything about them presents a challenge to the modern-day explorer. It's not always clear why an establishment closes its doors; sometimes it's not even clear what type of business it was.

But it can be rewarding to try and unlock the mysteries that old, abandoned places carry with them. Things like old paperwork, old machines and cultural artifacts can be a looking glass to the past. Such is the case with Black Canyon Greyhound Park in Black Canyon City, roughly 30 miles north of Phoenix.

This decaying structure is a former greyhound racetrack at the north edge of town, just west of Interstate 17. It sits on a hilltop, a large rectangular mass with a dark brown rooftop. The corner has the words "Dog Track" painted in bright orange, but the T is missing so it reads "Dog rack." The building is bordered by a massive parking lot that was once paved, but has since turned into loose gravel. Little is known about the track, but it certainly invites visitors to discover more.

A covered entryway leads to a set of large glass doors where employees and customers once entered. Today the only occupants are pigeons and other desert creatures. The facility looks much larger inside than it does from the outside. A deafening BANG startles the visitor. The wind has blown the door against the frame and was surprisingly loud. The heart races; the brain recognizes that it’s already sprung into panic mode. But there is no threat. There are no greyhounds, no employees, no gamblers and no security. There is only silence.

The absence of walls and the narrow support beams create a feeling of vast openness. Clinging to the high ceiling are rows upon rows of fluorescent lights, now yellowed with age. The betting counter runs the entire length of the building, now covered with dust and debris. One can guess that in its heyday, the track was capable of handling very large crowds. One wonders how large the crowds really were, and if low attendance was a factor in the place becoming abandoned.

Above the betting counter, a small sign still hangs on the wall. "Min To Post," it reads, as if it were ready to light up before the next race. The kitchen is right by the front entrance, with an array of equipment still in place. Beside the sink and the grill sits an old soda dispenser, toppled on its side. At the far end of the track there is another small kitchen with a walk-up bar. No longer does it serve burgers and hot dogs and cold drinks. It now stands only as a reminder of the convenience of the past.

The seating area is impressive any way you look at it. The chairs are color-coded: yellow seats were 75 cents and red seats were 50 cents. They are hard plastic, lined in rows along the bare concrete floor. They offer a great view of the track through massive windows, which fill the place with sunlight. Outdoor seats were the cheapest, though they were covered with a shade screen at one point. The screen is gone but the support poles are still in place. Was this a year-round track? It is just one of many unanswered questions.

From the rooftop, the outline of the track is clearly visible. It’s now overgrown with creosote and prickly pear cactus, but it's there. The view at the top is excellent. One can see the rows of kennels on the north side of the track, where dogs were once boarded. Up close, they reveal another part of the mystery of this place.

Old signs and an office inside the maintenance area indicate that the kennels may have been used as a local mini-storage facility at one time. Inside the main grandstand, signs advertising a weekly swap meet indicate it had a second chance as well. When was this place built? Who owned and operated it? Was it ever famous? When and why was it closed? There is still a great deal of mystery about this place.

Inside, there are some clues to the past. An old license plate from 1972 lies on a workbench. A phone book from 1994 sits on a desk. Cans of chemicals which have been restricted long ago by the EPA are on a homemade shelf in the back. It’s timeless, really. The architecture, the design, the conveniences––they could have been built any time within the last 30 years. It’s difficult to tell just by looking.

Between the grandstand and the kennels, there is a modestly sized restaurant. The windows are long gone, allowing visitors to peer right in. Wooden chairs are stacked upside-down on the tables, as if the cleaning crew were coming after closing time. The floor consists of a dusty green carpet, spanning wall to wall. It offers a fine view of the first corner past the starting line. One wonders what type of restaurant it was. Did it serve the wealthy, or the common man? Was the food any good? What did they serve at a racetrack?

The exploration of places like Black Canyon Greyhound Park is a humbling experience. It’s about the people who used to work and be entertained there. It’s about finding that strange little room or closet that makes you wonder what it could have been used for. It’s about those questions that never get answered. It’s about discovering the past. It’s about being startled by strange noises and nesting birds. But most of all, it’s about the totally weird places you’ll find if you just keep your eyes and your mind open. –Trevor Freeman

Weird Arizona


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