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10 Favorite Oddball Landmarks in Phoenix

10 Favorite Oddball Landmarks in Phoenix
Esther Groves

There are plenty of destinations to keep you busy this summer, and throughout the year -- especially if you're a fan of the unusual.

We've been on a hunt for lesser-known gems in our Hidden Valley series. Today, from abandoned dog tracks to castles, we bring you a few of our favorite oddball spots.

10. Black Canyon City Dog Track

The Black Canyon City Dog Track, about 40 miles north of Phoenix, is both a mecca for squatters and urban explorers and a fascinating study in decay. This massive property has been falling into rapid disrepair since the late 1980s, and remains one of the most accessible abandoned sites in the Valley.

Until recently, the property was highly visible from the I-17 just past Anthem. That's because the building had the words "DOG TRACK" painted in big orange block letters on the south side of the building. The "T" fell off at some point, so it read "DOG RACK" until somebody painted a black "C" on the building and it read "DOG CRACK." Now, the entire thing's been painted over. The dog track's still visible from the corner of Coldwater Canyon and Maggie Mine Roads, where people sometimes park and walk onto the property to explore. More...

10 Favorite Oddball Landmarks in Phoenix
Benjamin leatherman

9. Phoenix Trotting Park in Goodyear

Ever wondered what this town might look like, post-apocalypse? The abandoned Phoenix Trotting Park racetrack in Goodyear is a pretty good preview -- and a pretty handy one if all those rumors of The Rapture happening in less than a week prove to be true.

Desiccated by the ravages of the past 50 years, all that remains of the abandoned racetrack (off Interstate 10 on the edge of Goodyear) is its ginormous grandstand that looks like it survived a massive explosion and or served as a movie set. And oddly enough, it's done both.

Phoenix Trotting Park's lifespan was tragically short. It was built in the early 1960s and debuted as a gambling and entertainment destination for horse race junkies in 1965. Today, visiting Phoenix Trotting Park is a relatively dangerous, treacherous, and illegal journey. More ...

10 Favorite Oddball Landmarks in Phoenix
Photo by Esther Groves

8. Alleged UFO Crash Site at Dreamy Draw Recreation Area The next time you hike through the Dreamy Draw Recreation Area, watch out for aliens -- not illegal immigrants, but the extraterrestrial sort. They may be looking for the spaceship some people believe crashed there more than 60 years ago.

Today, Dreamy Draw is a quaint desert park next to Piestewa Peak, where people ride horses, have picnics, and bird-watch. But this area also boasts its own alien lore: that there's a 36-foot UFO buried beneath the Dreamy Draw Dam.

There reportedly were two UFO crashes around Phoenix in 1947, one in Dreamy Draw and one in Cave Creek. While it's unlikely that little green men touched down at Dreamy Draw, the park and dam are still worth a visit. There's plenty to see and do and learn. For example, it's true that the area was once mined heavily for mercury, before its debilitating effects on the nervous system were known. The phrase "mad as a hatter" is believed to be derived from the effects of mercury poisoning, which include hallucinations -- like UFO crashes, perhaps. More ...

 

10 Favorite Oddball Landmarks in Phoenix
Esther Groves

7. The Mystery Castle

There's not much mystery behind the Mystery Castle near South Mountain, but there is a great story behind this sprawling, quirky house.

Construction on the castle started in 1929, when the builder, Boyce Luther Gulley, drove to Phoenix from Seattle in a Stutz Bearcat. He'd been diagnosed with tuberculosis, and, figuring he was dying, he left his wife and daughter behind. They had no idea where he went or what he was doing until he died in 1945 -- not from tuberculosis, but cancer.

Turns out, Gulley had spent his 15 years in Phoenix building the Mystery Castle for his wife, Flora, and his little girl, Mary Lou Gulley. The Mystery Castle is a marvel from the outside, but the inside is equally impressive. The secondary living room was built around a saguaro, which still stands in the middle of the room today, now just a wooden skeleton. The bedroom is filled with photographs, and also contains furniture from the old House of Joy brothel in Jerome, where Boyce Gulley owned additional properties. More ...

10 Favorite Oddball Landmarks in Phoenix
Photo by Esther Groves

6. Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art's Sculpture Garden The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art houses a number of paintings, sculptures, drawings, and mixed-media works, but did you know there are numerous sculptures you can view for free right across the sidewalk in the Scottsdale Civic Plaza?

SMoCA's collection of garden sculptures runs the gamut, from abstract stone pieces to detailed, anthropomorphic figures. Perhaps the most well-known sculpture in the area is Robert Indiana's "Love," which we didn't take a photograph of because hordes of happy children were constantly climbing all over it while we were there.

10 Favorite Oddball Landmarks in Phoenix
Esther Groves

5. Arvizu's El Fresnal Grocery Store ​The old Phoenix warehouse district is roughly between Seventh Avenue and Seventh Street, and between Madison Street south to Grant. There are numerous old warehouse buildings in this area, but one of the oldest and most interesting is Arvizu's El Fresnal Grocery Store. This building was constructed in 1900 -- 12 years before Arizona became a state. It was the earliest Hispanic-owned store in Phoenix and was run by Trinidad Arvizu from 1900 until 1920. The store ceased operations in 1924 (when the number of grocery stores had increased by nearly tenfold.)

Today, Arvizu's El Fresnal Grocery Store sits empty; its worn red bricks still bears the worn paint advertising the long-closed grocer. At the rear of the building, there's even more hidden history embedded in the bricks -- specifically, remnants of a "Mexican Masonic Temple." More ...

 

10 Favorite Oddball Landmarks in Phoenix
Esther Groves

4. L. Ron Hubbard's House on 44th Street Perhaps one of the wisest things L. Ron Hubbard ever said was, "If you want to make a little money, write a book. If you want to make a lot of money, create a religion."

Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, was definitely onto something there (although we can't vouch for the quality of his science fiction novels). We'd be interested to hear the late Hubbard's take on how to make a residence into a religious mecca, especially considering all the hubbub surrounding Hubbard's old house near Camelback Mountain.

​Hubbard moved into the house, located on 44th Street just north of Stanford Drive, in March of 1952. While there, he founded Scientology (the first organization was the Hubbard Association of Scientologists) and authored his first five books on the then-new religion. More ...

10 Favorite Oddball Landmarks in Phoenix

3. The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch ​The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch just might be the coolest place in Gilbert. This idyllic, 110-acre preserve sits in the heart of the city, providing both a home for wildlife and a source of renewable water for the town.

Located next to a big library, the preserve is several yards from the street and easy to pass on Guadalupe Road. But it's worth the turn-around. Even a quick walk through the preserve reveals of a plethora of different birds, bugs, and flora. There are plenty of people around during the day, too, hiking the nature trails and fishing in the well-stocked lake. More ...

10 Favorite Oddball Landmarks in Phoenix
Esther Groves

2. Hohokam Petroglyphs at South Mountain Park ​It's hard to say what remnants of metropolitan Phoenix will remain a thousand years from now, but it's easy to see remnants of what was in the Valley a thousand years ago. There are numerous prehistoric petroglyphs carved into the rocks across the sprawling, 1600-plus acre South Mountain Park.

These petroglyphs were tapped and pecked into the stone by the Hohokam people, who farmed around the Gila River and Salt Valley from around 1 A.D. to A.D. 1450. Like the petroglyphs themselves, the Hohokam are something of a mystery. Their name means "those who have gone," and at some point, scholars say, they simply vanished.

The designs they left carved into the rock faces across South Mountain Park depict animals, hunters, and abstract images that could symbolize the elements. The Pima Indians consider the Hohokam petroglyphs to have spiritual significance, but the true original purpose of the rock art is unknown. More ...

 

10 Favorite Oddball Landmarks in Phoenix
Esther Groves

1. Sunnyslope Rock Garden Sunnyslope hasn't changed much over the years. Aside from the expansion of John C. Lincoln Hospital (which caused the destruction of a few strip malls and the old Brookshires Restaurant), everything's pretty much as it was in the '70s -- packed with mom-and-pop auto body shops, shoebox-style stucco apartments, and quirky attractions like the Sunnyslope Rock Garden.

This place is one of the spots that makes Sunnsylope almost ghetto-fabulous. It sits on a residential street, around the corner from an auto body shop and across the street from a trailer park. If Tim Burton ever decides to make his own bizarre, folk-art version of Disneyland, Sunnyslope Rock Garden would be a great prototype.

This village of funky folk art was founded in 1952, when a retired heavy machinery operator named Grover Cleveland Thompson moved to a house in Sunnyslope. He wanted to build a landscape similar to the Peterson Rock Garden in his native Oregon. More ...

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