Photos by E. Groves
The Buckhorn Baths have been on the corner of Main Street and Recker Road in Mesa since 1936. In its heyday, the 10-acre property included a bathhouse annex with 25 whirlpool hot tubs, a motel, and a wildlife museum. Its large neon, Vegas-style sign beckoned to weary travelers from the middle of nowhere across an expanse of undeveloped desert.
Seventy four years later, Buckhorn Baths is a place lost in time, an urban ghost town surrounded by gas stations, drug stores, and housing developments. It's certainly rustic, but its decay is beautiful in its own way, tempered by nostalgia. Walking this immense, abandoned property (which still has all buildings intact), we can only imagine what this place was like when it was thriving.
Unfortunately, Buckhorn Baths closed in 1999, and the property has been for sale ever since since. Ted Sliger, who opened the business with his wife Alice, died in 1984. Alice Sliger is now 103, and understandably past the point of trying to run a bathhouse/motel on her own. But she hopes the property, which has been rumored to be in danger of eventual razing for redevelopment, will eventually sell to someone who'd rather restore the place. (For more on the tribulations of Buckhorn Baths, check out this feature story from 1991).
Buckhorn Baths used to be a place frequented by professional baseball players during spring training, and it's now part of an exhibit on the Cactus League at the Arizona Museum for Youth. It's also near the top of the Society for Commercial Archaeology's 10 endangered roadside places in the U.S..
This old well and overgrown flora are the only visible remnants of the Buckhorn Baths hot spring.
Even closed, Buckhorn Baths is a roadside attraction. The sign alone is worth visiting, and the property itself still holds a kind of dilapidated, folksy charm.
The strip of adobe-style buildings resembles a street out of the Wild West, with swinging, saloon-style doors between storefronts. Barrel cactuses, which once stood proudly along the front of the main building, are now uprooted and overturned, some laying on their sides and yellowing in the sun. On the side of one building, birds have turned an old air conditioning unit into a giant nest. Many of the windows, which have been coated with beige paint, are cracked. Grass is growing on some parts of the roof. The smell of horse dung lingers at the front of the property.
The buildings are all locked, but the outside property is easily accessible, and there are still some signs of life here -- primarily in the three large ponds out back, where lilies, dragonflies, and lily pads have proliferated.
Buckhorn Baths is located at 5900 E. Main Street in Mesa, on the corner of Main Street and Recker Road. Call 480-832-1111 for more information.
The lily-filled ponds at Buckhorn Baths.
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