Relics of a Time Gone By: Part 4
March 23rd, 2015,
(This is the fourth part of an ongoing series highlighting Arizona's abandoned sights.)
In 1982, ground was broken for an electronics assembly plant on Thornton Road near Interstate 8. This dusty 5-acre plot in the middle of nowhere was meant to become InnerConn Technology’s production headquarters. On the site they constructed 4 massive concrete domes each varying in size and shape. Its estimated that each building cost about $150,000 and took about six weeks each. Despite all this effort, not a single circuit board was ever produced on the site. In 1983 InnerConn Technologies defaulted on a loan and the banks seized their properties. Once harmful chemicals were discovered in the groundwater beneath that site, the bank decided the plant wasn’t worth salvaging. Since then, the Domes of Casa Grande have fallen into disrepair due to time, the harsh Arizona environment, and vandalism.
If you google ‘Casa Grande Domes’, the first thing you’ll find is a post on weirdus.com. There they describe the Domes saying, “It's the kind of place that has no real past, and not much of a future. It's the kind of place where teenagers go to drink beer, start fires, and practice their graffiti skills. It's where the locals go to dump trash illegally. It's the kind of place your mother may have told you to avoid.”
Because of their strange appearance, the domes have long been shrouded in local legends. There are stories of UFO activity, ghostly hauntings, gruesome murders, satanic rituals, and other nonsense tales that often follow abandoned places. While I don’t believe in the those type of rumors, there is definitely something odd going on at the Domes. A spooky and unsettling vibe I came to discover on my most recent visit just 3 days ago.
Its was a Saturday afternoon when I set off south from Phoenix to Casa Grande. I was excited to be returning to the domes but also nervous. This was my first time driving on a freeway since getting my drivers license last September. Plus I was alone and planning to remain at the domes long after sunset with the goal of getting some incredible star photos. Something about sitting in the middle of the desert alone at night with my expensive camera in a supposedly haunted location frequented by drug addicts and teenaged hooligans had me feeling uneasy. The word ‘uneasy’ would come to describe this evening perfectly.
After an hour successfully navigating the Arizona freeway system, I arrived at the domes. Unfortunately the trip didn’t take nearly as long as expected so I had a few hours to kill before sunset. I wandered around the area scouting for good angles positions to take star pictures. However the entire time there I had this anxious feeling like I should jump in my car and go home immediately. It was due to this feeling and the fear of being caught trespassing that led me to eventually leave the site and returned to my car. There I spent the remainder of the day reading and napping.
Finally the sun started to set and I hesitantly exited the safe confines of my vehicle. As I began preparing my gear, I noticed dark figured down the road heading in my direction. I became alarmed and hid my camera in the trunk of the car. I tried to act casual as the figures drew closer. At this point I was able to make them out as three young teenagers wearing black hoodies. The oldest looking boy carried a hammer while the middle teen was holding a crowbar. They asked if my car had broken down and I told them i was fine. Explained why I was out there alone like a weirdo. They started asking me tons of questions about the domes and if the stories about them were true. I informed them that I really didn’t know anything about the domes history and hadn’t seen anything fishy all day until they arrived. I couldn’t help but inquire about the hammer and crowbar which the kids dismissed as ‘protection’. I remember thinking that perhaps it would have been wise if I brought my own protection that night.
The boys went off to explore the domes while I went my own way to set up my camera. There was still too much light in the sky for clear star pictures so i waited patiently and watched the sky. It was a new moon that night and the milky way was on full display. The tranquil moment was eventually interrupted by the cursing and bickering of the teenage boys in the distance. I couldn’t see them but I could hear the echoing of their voices and the sounds of rocks being thrown through the domes. At one point I believe I heard the kids taking the hammer to the dome wall which seemed like a terrible idea given how flimsy the structures looked. With such abuse, its a wonder these buildings lasted this long.
Finally the kids became bored of destruction and buggered off back down the road. Part of me was sad to see them go because I was now completely alone. Its not often I get afraid of the dark. When I was a kid, I was flat out terrified by it thanks to all the vampire films I watched with my father. Now as an adult, the only time I get nervous in dark places is when I feel vulnerable. Particularly when I’m alone and in wide open places. So basically the Casa Grande Domes on a moonless night was like nightmare fuel for me. I quickly set my camera to take automatic long exposure pictures (ideal for star trail pictures), booked it back to the car, and locked myself in.
After waiting for about an hour, I returned to the domes to recover my camera. At this point i was sick of the place and ready to leave Casa Grande for good. Upon inspecting my camera, I discovered it was on the wrong setting and had failed to take the consecutive pictures necessary for good star trails. The past hour was a complete waste of time. In any other case I would have reset the camera and patiently waited another hour. However I was fed up with the domes. Logic was out the window as I tossed my gear into my car and sped off back home.
In the end, my trip to Casa Grande Domes was a failure. I didn’t get the key nighttime shots I was aiming for. But like with all thing, this was another learning experience. Emotions can cloud your judgement and actions. If I had kept a clear head and pushed through my fears, I may have left that night with some epic milky way photos. Instead I left with just my story and a bad case of the willies. I’ll be planning another trip to the domes the next new moon available. I think this time I’ll bribe some friends to come along.