Thursday, March 4, 2010

Urban Exploration

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 It’s left us with unrepaired, outdated, and rather sadly nostalgic buildings and places.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


  1. We have a lot of abandoned farm houses and barns in our area. You just have to be very careful people are friendly here but if it's their property not so much. There is a home I'd like to go check out and shot some picture. And a barn behind a forclosed home. I'd like to take some pumpkins and get some creepy shots in the fall. My hubby of course thinks that is nuts. Too many hunters and I'm no deer. Oh,I wish you lived near me I know you'd be up for the exploration!

  2. Becca; I agree--we'd be partners in crime! I like the idea of propping up some pumpkins and getting some shots. It would be pretty obvious by the pumpkins in tow that you're just a woman wanting a cool picture. Private property is always tricky and I definitely look for signs. If they have signs, I pay attention to them. Here in AZ, much of the land is Reservation, so I do a Mapquest of the area--Reservation shows up brown on the map. That's another place I really don't want to get caught--they have their own laws and ways of dealing with things. I hope you can get the pumpkin pictures this fall--I've love to see them. I'm hoping now that it's very spring-like in the 70s here, to get over to Miami/Globe area here in AZ soon for a day trip for lots of photographing. I'd like to do it when I get my flip cam so I can do video for the blog. These huge copper mining towns are not only super uber creepy, but the locals aren't friendly in the least which kind of makes it like a creepy movie--hoping to use that for a plot in a scary story once I see what I evoke in them. They usually just drive by slowly and stare you down but sometimes they come together like a little crowd of zombies and it's kind of intimidating. I'm hoping I can capture those "wrong turn" elements of a nearly ghost town.

  3. Oh the mining town does sound creepy makes me think of The Hills Have Eyes. Becareful out there! Not to scare you or anything you know what I mean!

  4. I KNOW THAT RACE TRACK!!!!!!!!!!!!! That's why I love reading your blog. You help satisfy my soul's longing for AZ. Very cool. You and your abandoned bldgs...I appreciate them from afar. I tempt fate when I get a bright idea to go exploring one. Never fails I meet some kind of wacko, or drug hole up, or creature infested places. (Like rats and bigfoots yet. I'd freak, call you and have you boogie on over there!)

  5. I would love to explore some abandoned places around AZ with you. I am fascinated by the history of these buildings or the grounds to which they used to stand on. What fun it would be to take pictures of them.

  6. Julie;
    Since my ghost hunting partner, Ginny, and I both have Wednesdsays off, we're thinking very soon we'd like to take off for Miami/Globe for the day. It's a short jaunt, just over an hour and a beautiful drive. The buildings are mostly abandoned and the people are creepy and the antique shops freaky wild. So, as soon as we pick a Wednesday, I will let you know and see if you want to join us. How fun!

  7. Julie;
    I looked it up, it's about an hour or less drive. We could stop at Superior's Graveyard which is super creepy and weird. Hit Miami and I'll look and see if the Gila County Jail is doing tours in Globe because it's like 6 miles away from there.

  8. How did you know urban exploration was one of my favorite pastimes (hell, if you want to get technical you could even call it a passion). I do a lot of things I'm not supposed to and this would definitely be one of them. Unfortunately I haven't done any exploring in a while but there's an abandoned suburb here I wanted to check out as soon as the weather gets warm (and the ground dries). I had a post I was working on about one of my favorite "local" abandoned sites. It's an epic place but I'll save the surprise for when it's up. I haven't had the steam to get back to working on it recently (it'll be one of those well researched posts) so we'll see how long it takes for me to get it in gear and get it finished.

  9. Hey Grim;
    I'm not surprised you love urban exploration--I daydream about it all the time myself. There's something about places left behind, objects left someone who can read the objects and places, it's thrilling, especially if no one else has been touching them recently. I love the ugly exposed, rusted, peeling, and nasty places that nature reclaims. In the west, there's a lot of really freaky places. A miner's shack way up in the mountains was one of my favorites. It still had canned foods from back in probably the 20s! Jeez! I think Julie from Above the Norm and I will be hitting some awesome places very soon. As soon as I get my flip cam and can do video, I can take ya'all along on a virtual tour of what the west has to offer. I can't wait to see what you write about! Get motivated buddy!