The state of Arizona is a land of extremes: blazing temperatures, vast skies, yawning canyons and unforgiving mountain peaks. Its economic history has followed a similar trajectory, vacillating between the booms and busts of the mining industry. This has left many abandoned places in Arizona over the generations to explore and discover.
Over the course of U.S. history, this ruggedly beautiful land has drawn millions of prospectors, settlers, transplants and tourists; while some manage to thrive, others have been chewed up and spit out by the challenges of life in the wild west. For evidence of the latter category, look no further than the following list of the seven best abandoned places in Arizona.
Need a strong camera to photograph abandoned places in Arizona? Look no further than our two top recommendations, the Canon EOS 90D and the Nikon D7500. Find more DSLR options in our comprehensive guide.
Interested in venturing outside Arizona? Here are a few guides to surrounding states that will be helpful in your explorations outside of the wonderful abandoned places in Arizona:
- Our Guide to the 10 Best Abandoned Places in California
- Our Guide to the 10 Best Abandoned Places in Nevada 2021
- Most Amazing Abandoned Places in Colorado: Top 7 Choices
The Best Abandoned Places in Arizona
Christmas Tree Inn in Santa Claus, Arizona (Santa Claus)
Though the town of Santa Claus was once as lively and jolly as its namesake, today the area is an abandoned ghost town marked by the decaying remains of the Christmas Tree Inn amusement park.
This desolate patch of land sits in the sparsely populated area along the state’s border with Nevada, roughly 90 minutes from Las Vegas, the closest large city. The community was founded in 1937 by Nina Talbot, a Los Angeles-based real estate agent with a self-deprecating sense of humor.
Her vision was to establish a Christmas-inspired resort town and theme park in the bleak desert landscape. In addition to the Christmas Tree Inn park, Talbot also hoped to profit from the sale of the surrounding parcels of land, but after they failed to draw any interest, she passed the entire property to new ownership in 1949.
Though the town’s population was made up almost entirely of theme park employees, the Christmas Tree Inn was considerably more successful as a tourist attraction, drawing families from across the country with the opportunity for the kids to visit Santa Claus at any time of year. The town’s post office also did a brisk business, receiving thousands of letters from children addressed to Santa and sending out replies with the coveted “Santa Claus, AZ” postmark.
Despite its kitschy nature, the Christmas Tree Inn earned endorsements from several notable celebrities. Famed restaurant critic Duncan Hines—whose name has since been attached to boxed cake mixes and other products—put the town in the spotlight when he published a glowing review of the Inn. Actress Jane Russell hosted a dinner party at the park in 1954, and science fiction author Robert Heinlein was so taken with his meal at the Christmas Tree Inn that he later featured it in one of his short stories.
Attendance at the theme park began to drop off in the 1970s, and falling profits led to lack of maintenance throughout the town. Owner Tony Wilcox tried to find a buyer for the town in 1983 but was unable to find anyone willing to pay the asking price.
The final business in the tiny town closed in 1995, and today just a handful of time-worn buildings provide enduring evidence that the town of Santa Claus once existed in the middle of the Arizona desert. As far as abandoned places in Arizona goes, this is one of the most popular and most sought-after.
The Casa Grande Domes (Casa Grande)
Though their futuristic appearance suggests some exciting purpose for these dilapidated, half-finished structures off I-8 Phoenix and Tucson, the Casa Grande Domes were originally intended as a manufacturing facility for circuit boards.
Construction on the four buildings—one saucer-shaped, the other three resembling inchworms—began in 1983, after tech manufacturer InnerConn Technology announced plans to move its headquarters from California to the 135-acre site in Casa Grande. The design of the buildings was selected for its affordability, short construction timeline and energy efficiency, with each estimated to take about six weeks and $150,000 to build.
Once the concrete foundation of each building was laid, a massive balloon shaped by a steel skeleton was mounted on top and then covered with a thick layer of polyurethane foam followed by a layer of concrete to form the building’s exterior. A network of underground tunnels used for ventilation and piping connected the buildings.
With the four existing buildings partially completed and the foundations laid for another three, construction on the campus came to a screeching halt in late 1983 after the company defaulted on a loan and its assets were seized by the bank. The half-finished structures were left to deteriorate in the harsh sun and wind, causing the concrete to shear off some parts of the domes to reveal the layer of mustard-yellow polyurethane underneath. Inside, the concrete walls are covered in graffiti, and the entire site has been used as a dumping ground for old tires, furniture and other trash.
Perhaps without knowing quite what they were in for, a couple purchased the property in 2006 and quickly faced a steady stream of demands from the local government to clean up the site. Keeping up with the constant parade of trespassers, vandals, trash-dumpers and adolescent parties proved a nearly-impossible task, and a “No Trespassing” sign on the property provides pricing for site rentals as well as permanent sale of the property.
After one of the domes collapsed in 2018, the city ordered them all to be demolished, but so far the strange structures have managed to escape this seemingly inevitable fate. If you’re looking for one of the most interesting abandoned places in Arizona, look no further than the Casa Grande Domes.
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Black Canyon City Dog Track (Black Canyon City)
This aging eyesore about 45 minutes north of Phoenix opened to the public in 1967, drawing crowds of gamblers and spectators to its convenient location just off recently-completed I-17. For 25 years, sleek canines blazed around the dirt track as expectant bettors waited to see if their picks would cross the finish line first. After the dog track closed in 1982, the facility hosted swap meets for a few years but was finally abandoned altogether in the late 1980s.
Though the years haven’t been kind to the shuttered park, its remains leave no question about what kind of facility the building was. The large, boxy building is still emblazoned with the words “Dog Track” in blazing orange vinyl letters, although the “T” has been removed and replaced with a crudely-painted “C.”
The sprawling asphalt parking lot is cracked, rutted and overgrown with weeds. Gaping holes in the building’s drywall have left little more than the structure’s wooden skeleton in many places. Streaks of rust and water damage stripe the interior walls, and the filthy floors are covered with rotted ceiling tiles, flakes of plaster and other debris.
Inside the restrooms, vandals have yanked sinks and other fixtures from the walls, leaving them laying haphazardly on the cracked tile floors. Rows of red stadium seats still line the viewing area around the dusty track, which is now choked with creosote and cactus.
On the concrete pillars of the entryway, one of the spray-painted messages warns trespassers to “Keep Out,” though based on the interior’s ravaged condition, it’s clear few trespassers have heeded the admonition. Despite this, the Black Canyon City Dog Track remails one of the best abandoned places in Arizona.
The Fort Courage Armory (Houck)
For a few years in the mid-1960s, the television series F Troop was sufficiently popular to inspire the construction of Fort Courage, an unofficially-sanctioned replica of the fictional Army outpost featured in the show. In addition to selling F Troop merchandise and displaying authentic props from the film studio, the Fort Courage Trading Post featured a gas station, general store, pancake house, coffee shop and eventually, a Taco Bell restaurant.
Conveniently located off the historic Route 66 east of the Petrified Forest, Fort Courage maintained a profitable operation for nearly four decades after it opened in the early 1970s, drawing crowds of road-tripping tourists in need of a tank of gas, a quick meal or a few Native American souvenir crafts. When the new Highway 40 replaced Old Route 66 as the preferred path through the region, business at Fort Courage declined precipitously, and it closed for good in 2014.
The abandoned property is now surrounded by a chain-link fence, but its bold signage and distinctive buildings—including an elevated wooden lookout post and the circular restaurant with its steeple-like sign screaming “Pancake House”—are still easy to spot from a distance, as is the red cylindrical water tower with the cartoon of a bumbling soldier painted on the side. While not as historical as it may appear, this still is one of the best abandoned places in Arizona to explore.
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Abandoned Jerome Post Office (Jerome)
This mile-high town in the Black Hills of Yavapai County was once a thriving mining community where rich stores of copper, gold and silver ore were discovered in the late 19th century. By the early 1920s, its population had swelled to more than 10,000. After several decades of constant mining activity, the deposits dwindled, and the last mine was shuttered in 1953. Most residents moved on to other cities in search of new opportunities, and within several years fewer than 100 souls remained in what had essentially become a ghost town.
Jerome was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1967, and thanks to an organized effort by a few members of the remaining community, the town has mounted a remarkable resurgence in recent years. Around 500 residents now live within the town limits. A number of its historic buildings and residences have been restored, and new shops and art galleries have opened their doors.
However, quite a few of the original structures remain virtually untouched and in varying states of deterioration. Most notably, the old post office near the town’s free parking district is in a shockingly dilapidated state, with broken windows and crumbling walls forming the ramshackle exterior.
Inside, rusted metal lockers, rotting ceiling tiles and glass shards litter the floor, and a precarious staircase leads to the second floor, where most of the ceiling has completely collapsed. This stalwart of abandoned places in Arizona is perfect for photoshoots, urbex photography, and standard, grungy urban exploration.
Gila River Memorial Airport (Chandler)
Just outside the city of Chandler—one of several bedroom communities that form the Phoenix metropolitan area—an airplane graveyard lies hidden in plain sight.
Built in 1942 to support U.S. military engagement in World War II, the Gila River Memorial Airport was originally known as Williams Auxiliary Army Airfield Number 5. Once the war ended, the 1,345-acre facility was rebranded as the Goodyear Air Force Auxiliary Airfield, and its runway was upgraded to fit the new, larger jets that were coming into use.
In the 1960s, the airport transitioned into civilian use, changing its name to simply Goodyear Airport and later Memorial Airfield. New hangars were built on the campus in the late 1970s. By then, the airport was used almost exclusively by Biegert Aviation for its fleet of air tankers.
Over the next two decades, the airport saw fewer and fewer takeoffs and landings, eventually becoming a repository for defunct aircraft. By the late 1990s, the airfield was littered with dozens of immobile, rusting planes, many of which were in the midst of being dismantled for parts or scrap.
In 2006, a plan for renovating and reopening the airport briefly surfaced, and one of the runways even received a fresh coat of asphalt, but the facility’s second life never got off the ground. The following year, the property was ceded to the Gila River Indian Community and its name updated to reflect the new ownership.
The tribe cleared all commercial tenants—and most of the retired aircraft—from the property with the hopes of building a casino on the site, but no additional steps toward this development have yet been taken. Today, just a handful of decaying planes and three deteriorating hangars are all that remains of this former military airfield. Those of you who are looking for one of the best aviation-related abandoned places in Arizona, look no further than the Gila River Memorial Airport.
Cameras, headlamps, respirators and more. Urban exploration can be very gear-heavy, especially when exploring abandoned places in Arizona. When this is the case, it’s important to have a good-quality backpack. We recommend both the Osprey Packs Daylite for sling backpacks or the Mardingtop Tactical Backpack for a standard two-strap backpack. Alternatively, check out our comprehensive guide for far more options, tips, and tricks.
Hill Street School (Globe)
This striking three-story structure is located on a triangular wedge of land in the heart of Globe. Made from sand-colored reinforced concrete, the abandoned school was built in 1921 and features a rectangular main building with a large round tower at one end. This section of the building housed the school’s gymnasium, and its curved shape was designed to accommodate an indoor running track.
Despite years of abandonment and neglect, the interior is still in relatively good shape; a peek through the large, wood-framed windows reveals classroom walls covered in long green chalkboards and ceiling fans still hovering over hardwood floors. The gymnasium floor is showing its age, but the basketball hoops mounted on opposite ends of the cavernous room still have intact nets hanging from their rims.
The building’s exterior hasn’t fared quite as well. Weeds have erupted through the cracks in the concrete courtyards, and a rusted chain-link fence marked with haphazardly-hung “Private Property” signs warns passersby against getting too close. Still, the old school is a remarkable building brimming with potential should the right developer mount an effort to resurrect and preserve it.
Our Final Thoughts on Abandoned Places in Arizona
Those who are into urban exploration in the Georgia state area, and wanting to explore abandoned places in Arizona, should get comfortable with Arizona trespassing laws. Luckily, in the state of Arizona, the laws are easy to understand and are pretty cut and dry.
For these cases, you should familiarize yourself with x. For more about obtaining permission to explore abandoned places in Arizona, check out our guide Explore Abandoned Buildings: How To Get Permission.