It’s no secret that I adore any place that’s abandoned. I can’t make a road trip without wanting to stop at every abandoned place. I have to use discretion, as the people you find in abandoned sites and the legal issues with trespassing can be more scary than the dirty old forgotten building.
I do have the advantage of seeming to be a perfectly normal and friendly woman, so I don’t often get into trouble with camera in tow like a cheesy tourist, but you never know. Many folks have been hauled in for exploring abandoned sites.
Generally, I’ve found that home sites aren’t particularly patrolled but more likely to have indigents and fantastic boomtowns of abandoned sites like Detroit, are targets for homeless and for patrolling both.
We have a huge racing track built here in Arizona back in the 60s and left abandoned basically. The guy had big dreams that never came to fruition (the, "I will build it and they will come" did not happen for this guy). This enormous structure now has housing developments around it and is patrolled heavily. They pay to keep people out and the neighbors call the cops asap! It’s a shame. I always wanted to explore it, but by the time I realized it existed, the suburban sprawl had already arrived.
The practice of urban exploring has been around a long time. Folks in France appreciate the labyrinths and the danger involved in endless miles of tunnels under the city filled with their dead who had no place to be housed. In New York, subway tunnels and sneaking through the grates was talked about back in the 60s when there was a counterculture of runaways. Detroit has become a ghost town and at times parts of Texas have experienced this, as well. In our economic times now with more people abandoning homes and businesses, I’m sure you’re all aware of the empty places in your neighborhoods and the rows of empty strip mall shops. It’s rather like the dustbowl and depression era all over again.
My son says his generation adopted the world of the babyboomer’s crumbling infrastructure built in the 50s boom time and he’s right. It’s left us with unrepaired, outdated, and rather sadly nostalgic buildings and places. In fact, he’s doing a whole art project based on Desert Center and Salton Sea in California which were supposed to be spa getaways.
The urban exploration field is a lot like ghost hunting in that there’s people trying to get into places that are off-limits and are very secretive about their finds. Each location in the US is known for different types of abandoned buildings and infrastructure. Cities are more likely to go underground with subways and tunnels. The Southwest has ghost towns and mines. The South has more abandoned homes and mills. The Northeast has more train-related tunnels as well as barns and institutions.
Where do you find the interesting and abandoned? The safest sites are truly those along rural highways. Route 66 has a huge amount of them and most folks pull off and photograph them regularly. For the frightened and timid, that’s a good avenue. If it's near a major roadway, no one can get angry at you for stopping to take a picture or two. For the daredevils, tunnels are the favorite. For the artistic, it’s old buildings and their character. Here in Arizona, I’ve found a lot of abandoned hotels and they are really interesting to photograph and explore. I love to see what others are up to and often look at photos from other countries—Japan is probably one of the best with amusement parks and even an entire abandoned island.
If you want to live it vicariously, you'll be amazed by what's out there online. Some day, I'd like to take my favorite found photos of amazing abandoned places and blow them up in black and white and cover an entire wall with them.
Here’s a few sites that are helpful and interesting to study:
This is a fantastic site for art/grafitti/abandoned places and all things urban
This is an organized places for explorers to meet and discuss their trips
This site has a lot of resources and shared info about sites