Exploring the abandoned Black Canyon City Dog Track

There’s an abandoned dog track in Black Canyon City north of Phoenix. Abandoned means abandoned here: while there’s nothing to stop you from exploring it, there is also nothing that says that’s OK. So if you follow my footsteps here, you do so at your own risk. Or, you can just read on and take my word for it.

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The main building from on the track.

 

A few years ago, I had an offer to write a book about strange things to do in and around Phoenix.  That fell apart, but before that could happen I made it out to the Black Canyon Dog Track to see how much of the rumors are true.

Again – this is a legal grey area, and if you go – YOU GO AT YOUR OWN RISK. This is an abandoned building on what is presumably private property. There are no barriers to trespass – no signs, fences or doors. Someday, some insurance firm will notice this and do something about it, but for now it’s just there.

To get there, take I-17 north from Phoenix to Coldwater Canyon (Exit 244) which is on the north end of Black Canyon City. Head west along Cold Canyon to Maggie Mine Road. The pullout on the NW corner of that intersection is as good as spot as any to park the car.

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Wear sturdy shoes.

The site has basically four features: The main grandstands, an adjacent restaurant, the overgrown track itself, and the distant kennels. Of these the stands and the restaurant are the most interesting. The kennels are a row of empty sheds. The dog track is exactly what it looks like from the stands.

 

Wear sturdy shoes. The insides floors are covered with broken glass and exposed nails. The outside is choked with cactus. As we walk through the non-extant doors of the stands, I remind you one more time:

 

EXPLORING THIS SITE WOULD BE ENTIRELY AT YOUR OWN RISK – and this risk is not inconsiderable. Aside from the broken glass and timbers, the walls are crumbling, and full of mold. the extant counters are covered in vermin droppings, many surfaces (particularly upstairs) are unsafe to walk on. All of that in addition to the normal proviso about poisonous insects and snakes. There is no one to sue if you get hurt. And if you find someone, they are going to use the word trespassing – a lot.

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Seating might be limited.

And that’s in the daylight. This site is clearly a habitat for drunken teens and their angst, and visiting at night might add whole new layers of unwelcome excitement.

Besides leaving beer bottle and the like, the alternate visitors have decorated. Every flat, clear surface has graffitti ranging from the hatefully ignorant to the deeply artistic, to the oddly profound.

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The locals have decorated.

There is not as much trash as you would expect. Most of the debris is left from the dogtrack itself. The scattering of beer cans and paint bottles are the exception. So there’s a mystery:  Who picks up the trash?

Can you climb up on the roof and reach the “press boxes”. Yes. Should you? No. Did I? No comment.

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No comment.

The facility opened in 1967 and operated as a dog track until 1982, and then intermittently as a swap meet site further into the 1980’s. It has not hosted a public event since 1988.

 

Built and originally operated by the Funk Family, and later included in the Western Racing chain which operated dog tracks across several states. The business history is more legend than fact, as these businesses are not known for their transparency.

 

While the wild rumor about a mass murder at the track that you could find on Redit and other sticky places on the web is certainly fabricated, the Funk Family was closely associated with the Emerson group which operated Phoenix Greyhound Park. Both of those outfits were associated with organized crime.

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Here you can follow the ghostly steps of underfed greyhounds.

Their names come up in the 1976 murder of Arizona Republic investigative reporter Don Bolles. In the vague yet convoluted fallout from that, the Funk family was obliged to divest itself of racing interests in Arizona.  Sportsystems Incorporated ran the track to its last race, but apparently, with honest accounting and changing tastes in gambling, the dog track business was not what it used to be.

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Still better than Cracker Barrel

Thirty years and counting of disinterest have followed. And you can poke around in crumbling remains of how men once made money from shadows by getting dogs to run around a track as fast as they could. But watch your step.

Watching your step is good advice from any era.

I plan to add a video to this subject, but in the meantime, the one below is relatively recent, and really well done.

 

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Backpacking in Point Reyes National Seashore

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Bongo at Bear Valley Trailhead

In April of 2018 I scored a permit to camp inside the Point Reyes National Seashore just north of San Francisco. There are no drive-in campsites in Point Reyes; they are all walk-in or boat in. In the case of the Glen Campground, where I had a ($20) permit, this meant about 5 miles from the visitor center.

Just long enough to call it backpacking.

The Bear Canyon Visitor Center is everyone’s first stop, being where the permits come from, and correspondingly crowded. Get beyond it, and the little maze of day-use trails wandering around the picnic grounds, and the crowds started to thin, even on a Sunday afternoon with good weather.

I headed south(ish) along the Bear Valley trail until I realized this dirt road is everyone’s day hike. So I cut to the right, west, up the Meadow Trail. This spur trail cuts steeply uphill to the Skyline Trail, which bisects the main ridge forming the peninsula.

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Pretty typical…

The heart of Point Reyes is Inverness Ridge, which has been separated from Bolinas Ridge on the coast be the San Andreas fault. To the north end of the peninsula, that fault line is submerged by Tomales Bay. To the south it runs roughly under Highway 1. Point Reyes is a couple notches of Richter Scale away from being an island.

The thick canopy of trees and brush are all part of the Phillip Burton Wilderness, which actually encompasses about a third of the total peninsula. The rest is extant private ranches and a scattering of state and local parks.

It felt strange climbing the hill, until I realized that I was still at about 700’ total elevation. The atmosphere was still thick. And humid – I soaked everything in sweat with temps in the low 80’s.

 

About a mile and a half past where I picked it up from the Meadow trail, Skyline winds down the west side of the ridge towards but not to the Pacific. The trees open up, and you are in for a heavy dose of sea breeze and sunlight. It cuts back inland to cross Coast Creek via a wooden bridge. I snuck off to the side here,and found a place to force my feet into the frigid creek.

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The bridge across Coast Creek

I wasn’t at blisters yet, but I could feel them coming.

Work boots aren’t hiking boots. Good Advice from Direct Experience.

Happily, I was less than a mile at that point from Glen Camp, though I likely hiked 6.5 miles overall taking the scenic route.

 

The walk-in campsite has twelve designated sites fanning out from a vault toilet. Each campsite has a table, fire ring and an enclosure to protect your food from ambitious raccoons. There is also, unpublicized, a water spicket available for use. I had to hang my hammock over some pretty steep hillside, but otherwise had no complaints.

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Glen Campground – site 12.

In April, the overnight low reached the low 40’s, maybe upper 30’s. I had to use all my layers.

In the morning, after a leisurely – for me – breakfast, I conceded to my blisters and took a more direct route to the wide and sunny Bear Valley trail. With the ridge to my west, and Divide Meadow refusing to block any morning sun to my east, and limp-marched back to the visitor center.

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Even at that pace, I had time to drive out to McClure’s Beach towards the north tip of the Peninsula. You reach it via a narrow road winding sharply through prairie covered hills, where you are not likely to get out of 4th gear. The short trail follows a drainage to a wide beach flanked by tide pools. Worth it even with blisters.

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Bongo at McClure’s Beach

Worth it more: the bar in Olema, the tiny town that guards the entrance to the park, where I had oysters and whiskey for a late-late lunch. Cannot recommend that sort of thing enough.

So, Easy, Scenic and Fun. The hard part is getting there – and totally worth it.

The bumpy back way into Sedona

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I have been zipping up and down I-17 from Phoenix to Flagstaff and back for various reasons. That is a fine drive if you need to make some time, but going back last week (in October 2018) I found I had more time than I needed. And from the gas station in Kachina Village, I looked at the map and took a chance.

 

Forest Road 237 connects I-17 to the scenic AZ 89A, but there’s a catch: it is not maintained for low clearance vehicles. I drive a 2013 Kia Soul, not known for it’s off-road prowess.. I took the road anyway.

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This mostly dirt track has been called Pumphouse Wash Road, but it is not signed that way, nor will Google name it such. That is its’ paper-map name.

The road begins as an unmarked service road separating the gas station in Kachina Village (there is only one) from the southbound on-ramp to I-17. Yes, that battered line of asphalt is the road ,and the condition will not improve much. Within a quarter mile, it will make a sharp right, and here it will be signed at FR237, and “Not Maintained for…” in English and Spanish.

 

From there, it winds through the tall pine-covered, lava-rock strewn hills that dominate the Kaibab Plateau. The most unique feature you will encounter is the split-rail fencing designed to keep vehicles out of the meadows. But it has gentle quiet you will not find on either of the highways it connects.

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When the Forest Service website claims the road is maintained for passenger vehicles, they mean the last few miles, on the west end. From the east approach, you go in and out of a canyon where the track has, in many places, eroded down to dusty boulders.

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Important note: I took this road in dry conditions with good light. I would not have taken it in the rain or the dark.

Another Important Note: I took this road generally downhill into the canyon. It would have been much harder to go uphill.

Yet Another Important Note: I did the first two miles or so in 1st or 2nd gear.

Most disasters on dirt roads come from inattentive drivers going too fast. Go slow and pay attention (get out and look if you need) and you can dramatically increase the kind of trouble you can get your vehicle in and out of.

Once you make the final rocky dips and climbs in and out of Fry Canyon, you are past the worst of it. You can shift all the way to second. Up on the bluff, about 3 miles from I-17, you reach the designated campsites, and here you might even get to third gear.

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These campsites are free, popular, and have zero services. You must bring i your own water and pack out your own trash. The closest restroom is the gas station by the highway. You must only camp in the clearly marked spots – all other site are forbidden.

 

They were almost all empty on a late October Tuesday afternoon, butt that is likely a poor stick to measure with.

Soon thereafter, you come to the junction with AZ 89A.

AZ89A through Oak Creek Canyon and all the wonders it winds past is well documented. Let me add to those volumes only that is is especially worth it in late October.

In Sedona, I braved the traffic circles full of tourists to stay south on AZ-179, past The Village of Oak Creek, Bell Rock and the ranger station to make the right onto Beaverhead Flat road. A few miles into this road I found a scenic pull-out, and from that pull-out I found a short trail (The gated remains of FR 9500G) marching into the juniper studded hillside. I only took it about a half mile. It’s not five star, but better than just loitering in the pull-out.

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Back on the road, Beaverhead Flat leads to where a left (east) will lead you back to (sigh) I-17 , because, if you’re like me, you have to get back to Phoenix eventually.

 

 

Checklist for Hikers (and hiking guide authors)

Items that pertain to normal people are written normally.

(Items that pertain only to guidebook authors are in parentheses).

 

AT HOME:

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One possible resource for researching a trail. Just saying…
  1. Pick a hike. Don’t just drive somewhere and hope for inspiration.
  2. Pick the best hike feasible. Never skip a good hike for a mediocre hike thinking, “I’ll get to that other hike soon enough…” Weather/health/family/jobs sabotage hiking opportunities all the time. (If you haven’t prioritized your hike list by coolness vs accessibility, go do that now.)
  3. Do a little research. This, of course, depends on how comfortable you are with uncertainty. Some hikers like to know everything before they go (for which guidebook authors must be grateful). Some just want to know how to get to the trailhead, and let everything else be a surprise. At a minimum, though, you should know what the weather’s going to be like, and the water or fire conditions.
  4. (Learn something about the history, geology and ecology of your hike destination – so you know what to look for on the trail. Yeah, you can do a lot of that afterwards, but why work harder?)

 

PACKING THE GEAR

 

  1. Get a map. Bring it with you. Your GPS does not count. (Print an extra one for your significants – so they can refer to it when they call the emergency response team later)
  2. Gather your essential survival things. (Have these in a kit ready to go, and keep that kit in your vehicle, so your son does not plunder it).
  3. Calculate the most water you could possibly consume on the hike, and put at least twice that amount in the car.
  4. Don’t forget lunch!
  5. Make sure your GPS, flashlight and camera are charged.
  6. (Make sure your GPS has memory left.)
  7. (Make sure your flashlight actually works.)
  8. Make sure you camera has memory.
  9. (Clean the lens on the camera.)
  10. (Bring a notebook and a working pen – because bad things can happen to digital recording devices in the wild).
  11. If the hike is more than 10 miles round trip, or you know you won’t make the trailhead until after 11 am, pack extra batteries for the flashlight, and bring an extra layer of clothing. At ten miles or more, or a noon start or later, you are one wrong turn from looking for the trailhead by moonlight.
  12. Gather this stuff the night before if you can.

 

AT THE TRAILHEAD

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  1. Turn on the GPS, and let it find the satellites while you do the rest of your things.
  2. Finish your coffee. It won’t taste good when you get back.
  3. Now drink something else – don’t start the hike dehydrated.
  4. (Write down the GPS coordinates of the trailhead. Don’t just recite them into the DVR – write them down! Remember altitude.)
  5. Top off all the water containers.
  6. If there is some sort of toilet – use it. Especially if there are a lot of other cars at the trailhead. I don’t have to explain this logic – right?
  7. (Test the recording devices. Get the date and start time in the first recording, so you can use it on your blog seven months from now.)
  8. (Take a Bongo picture at the trailhead.)
  9. Lock the car.
  10. (Catch up with your companions who grew weary of your fussing and have already started the hike.)

 

The Canyon Cooler Scout and MSR Superfly stove.

I am, as a backpacker, somewhat of a gear hog. One of the few exceptions is cooking. I carry a little MSR stove, a can of fuel for it and a titanium pot, and that’s it. All I do with the stove is boil water.

To be fair, I am not a foody at all, and this allows me simple meals on the trail. And once you grasp that name-brand freezer bags will accept boiling water without melting, these meals become easy to prep in advance. I have oatmeal for breakfast, and maybe ramen, or some commercial boil-in-a-bag product. That’s it. That’s all the work I put into meals.

In town, my day job has me living – and often eating – out of my car. In Phoenix, this means a real cooler, or real disappointment. There is no middle ground.

In the video clips below I discuss my Canyon Cooler Scout, which lives in my car and allows me to eat lunch even in the summer heat, and my MSR SuperFly stove, which allows me to boil water on the trail.

(A more complete review of Canyon Coolers.)

I can confirm that the cooler will keep ice, or near ice for about 40 hours.

Eureka Copper Canyon 6 Tent Review

[This is a thing we do here from time to time. Unless noted, you can assume I bought the item in question.]

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Copper Canyon 6 in its natural environment.

Several years ago (2013) prior to what would become the Last Family Camping Trip, my wife and I, once we realized we did not have the finances to pull off any level of RV trailer, decided the consolation prize would be a really good tent. Our teenage kids, by his point, preferred their own tents, the dogs were not coming, and our giant, two room tent seemed actually too large. Also, it had leaks and failing zippers and other maladies that beset aging tents.

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How Eureka envisions the tent.

After some shopping about, we settled upon the Eureka Copper Canyon 6. What sold us was the steep walls and high ceiling which maximized 10’x10’ living space within the tent. The tent tops out at 7’, but even better, the walls are at least 6’, and nearly vertical. That means normal adults can stand up anywhere in that 10’x10’ space. We were old enough that we did not want getting dressed to be an Olympic event anymore, and having space, not on the air mattress, to do that was what sold us.

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All cleaned up for picture day.

Being able to sit in camp chairs inside a tent mitigates a lot of otherwise miserable circumstances at a campsite. Like riding out rainstorms. Or putting on socks.

Eureka touts the zippered port for an extension cord as some sort of big selling point. In my world-view that would be just another means for vermin to sneak in and/or another zipper to fail. People who value that sort of thing are really just biding time until they get an RV.

That said, I think we made use of it at a KOA in Oregon, so that the kids would have a dry spot to charge their phones besides the car. But the adults to not go out into the woods to stare at screens.

Make no mistake: this is a campground tent – not a wilderness expedition tent. It weighs about 30 pounds, and packs as thick as a sleeping bag and slightly longer. The zippers and the floor are all family camp grade. If you’re looking at heavy use, you will want some sort of ground-cloth, and a better grade of tent stakes than the ones that come with the tent. Mine had no leaks or zipper failures as of September 2018, but that’s really less than 20 use nights.

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The three-season rating is somewhat aspirational. It will take some wind and rain, as all tents should, but the design is more about privacy in summer than resisting inclement weather in early spring or late fall.

To get vertical walls, they had to include plastic sleeves to provide rigid corners. That works well, but setting the poles into those sleeves will take strong hands, and it is a LOT easier with two people. That said, I can set it up and take it down by myself in the same 20 minutes Eureka says is normal, but I’m pretty good at this sort of thing.

You could not leave this to junior high children and expect success.

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Minor nuisances in setting up: the upper tent poles, the wide ones, are longer than you think, and must go through sleeves at the top. Sleeves always aggravate me, and you will struggle to keep the extended end out of the dirt. Making the vertical poles will take strong hands. The rain fly is several orders of magnitude easier with two people, but that would be the case with any tent of this size.

Eureka did mark one corner for reference (this matters) and there are pockets in the rain-fly to stow the guy-lines, which saves a treasure hunt for yet another nylon sack.

Unlike Eureka’s backpacking tents, the carry bag is actually generously sized. You do not have to refold the thing to within a millimeter of factory spec to get it back inside the bag. I fold it ends to center and one more time over, but the tent is square – it really doesn’t matter which end you fold from. Four folds will leave the tent no wider than the bag of poles. Plop that bag on one end, roll to the other, and shove it in the bag.

I do not bring this thing when I camp alone – I have a hammock. But recently I had occasion to camp in a campground with a guest. Hammocks do not work well with campgrounds, or guests.

In the video below, I set it up in my backyard because I hadn’t used it in a while, and I wanted to make sure it was still complete and intact. The rest is from the above mentioned campground, namely Hualapai Mountain Regional Park near Kingman AZ.

I remember paying nearly $600 for this tent in 2013, because it was the new whiz-bang thing, and we had lost our window to shop around for price. Eureka now lists it at $259.95. That’s worth the money, if you need to duplicate your bedroom at the campsite.

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Did I mention there is room for a chair?