The Legend of the Love Bowls

One of my favorite activities in high school was going skateboarding with my friends. We were always on the lookout for cool new spots to skate. The story of how we found the Holy Grail of skate spots - the Love Bowls - began when I was over at my friend's house one summer day.

The Mystery Ramp
I was hanging out at Joey's house when I noticed a photo hanging on his bedroom wall. He had found it somewhere on the Internet and printed it out. In the photo, a man was skateboarding on a massive concrete ramp in the middle of the desert. The ramp towered over the man and went completely vertical. "That place is somewhere in Arizona, but I don't know where" he explained.

From the time I first saw that photo, I was hooked. What was this giant ramp? Why did it exist? Most important, how was I going to get there? I knew I had to find this place. Unfortunately, the photo contained no clues to the ramp's location.

With no idea where to begin searching, there was not much I could do. Time went by and we both finished high school, but we never forgot about the ramp. By the time I was in my second year of college, a couple of years had passed.

Early Clues
The first big clue came from Joey's next-door neighbor. He was into skateboarding during the late 1970s and he told us that the ramp was actually a semi-circular bowl known as the "Love Bowls." As for the location, it was somewhere up in Carefree, but he wasn't sure exactly where. Armed with this new information, we began our quest to try and find the location of the Love Bowls.

The guys and I spent countless hours searching the Internet for anything related to these "Love Bowls." Only a few of the sites contained any useful information. While searching for information about the Love Bowls, one of us happened upon the website DesertPipes.com.

Desert Pipes is a gold mine of information about the early days of skateboarding in Arizona. The site features photos from the collection of Steve Pingleton, a fellow skateboarder who documented the spots he used to skate with his friends in the 1980s and 1990s. On his website we found a photo from 1991 that showed the semi-circular bowl in its entirety.

Further research revealed that the Love Bowls were built in the late 1960s. They were part of Southwestern Studios, a television studio facility built by CBS to film The New Dick Van Dyke Show. When filming began in 1971, the massive bowls were used as backdrops that could be rotated to catch the sun. The first two seasons of the show did poorly, and the set was moved to California for the third season before being canceled for good in March of 1974.

By now it was 2005 and our search was becoming more and more of an obsession. I came across a 1999 article from the Phoenix Business Journal which claimed that "Carefree Studios, the place where the New Dick Van Dyke show was filmed," had been demolished in order to build a new retail shopping center. Had we been chasing a nonexistent place the whole time?

The article seemed devastating to our goal of finding the Love Bowls. It wasn't the first or last time we would question whether or not they still existed. I still clung to the idea that we would find them one day. After all, the article described Van Dyke's studio as being on Scottsdale Road and said nothing about Carefree. It didn't add up.

Guessing Games
Our next big break came from a skateboarding website called Concrete Disciples. Someone on the message board asked a question about the location of the Love Bowls. Rather than give away the exact location, another person had replied with vague directions in the form of a riddle. The original post no longer exists, but it went something like this:

"The Love Bowls can be found in the town that has no cares. They are visible from the hotel named for the rocks shaped by spheroidal weathering and are across the street from the church."

The post included 4 or 5 very current pictures of the Bowls, the best we had seen yet. There were a number of follow-up posts from people who speculated that the bowls had been torn down or that they were about to be demolished. Still, we were determined to solve the riddle.

The first two clues were pretty easy. The town that has no cares is of course Carefree, Arizona. Carefree is also the location of The Boulders, a famous resort named after an outcrop of giant granite rocks. The guys and I set off for the resort one day in April of 2005. We brought a pair of binoculars and hiked up on some rocks near the hotel, but we could not find anything that looked like the Love Bowls.
Desperate for a better vantage point, the guys and I hiked to the top of Sincuidados Mountain in North Scottsdale. Although the summit was approximately 2,400 feet in elevation, we could see nothing but houses and desert in all directions. The view from the top was pretty awesome, though!

Searching for Answers
The guys and I quickly realized that climbing mountains was not the best way to survey such a large area. We went to the library where they have books of aerial photographs of every section of the city going back 30 years. We found several locations that looked promising and planned to check them out.

One night we ended up lost down some dirt road that did not have any streetlights. Without warning, the road became a dead end quite suddenly. We needed to turn the car around but the slope of the hill we were on made it very tricky. Somehow the car ended up with only 3 wheels touching the ground before it was fully turned around! With our hearts pounding, we couldn't help but laugh once the tension of the situation had faded.

Another time, we ended up at a storage yard for the city's road maintenance department. We knocked on the door of a trailer on site and asked the man inside about the location of the Love Bowls. When we mentioned Dick Van Dyke studios, he said he had heard of the place but wasn't sure exactly where it was. Farther north, he thought. In spite of his enthusiasm, he wasn't much help.

There was another time where we happened upon a fire station and figured that the firemen would know the area pretty well. They invited us inside the station where dinner was cooking and everyone was gathered around the TV playing Xbox, like a big happy family! When asked about the Love Bowls, they responded enthusiastically and gave us very clear directions on how to get there! We went directly to the spot they described and still did not find them!

We explored every side street, dead end, and back road but all we found were water tanks and pump stations. We looked up every church in the area, hoping to find them just across the street. It was starting to feel like we would never find the Love Bowls. Where the hell were they??

By now it was mid-2006 and we had been looking for the Love Bowls off and on for about four years. Maybe they really were gone. At any rate, we couldn't keep up the frenzied pace of searching forever. We continued to skate together and hang out, but our weekends of driving all over Carefree eventually came to an end.

The Breakthrough
In early 2008, I came across a video on YouTube of some kids riding BMX bikes at the Love Bowls. The date on the video was current, and the feeling of excitement about the bowls came rushing back to me for the second time. They had to still be out there somewhere!

During the past few years, the aerial imagery on Google Maps had improved dramatically. One section of land that I had never really noticed before jumped out at me. It had a large object the right shape and size close by where we had been looking. The very next chance I got, I hopped in the car and drove up there to check it out.

I drove to the location I had found on the map and found a place to park. After a short trek through the desert, I spied a large wall off in the distance. I picked up the pace and started moving faster, dodging the bushes and plants that were everywhere.

And just like that, there I was! Standing at the Love Bowls all by myself. It was anti-climactic end to one of the great adventures of my youth. There was no sign, no reward, nobody to slap hands and shout with. Just me and the Love Bowls.

I walked around for a bit and thought about all the time we had spent searching for them. All of the people who said they had been torn down. All of the times we got our hopes up, only to be let down over and over again. It was so great to finally find them until I realized that I didn't even have my skateboard with me!

After the discovery, the guys and I returned to the spot to have a go at riding the bowls. It wasn't as easy as we thought. The steep walls were definitely not designed for skateboards. Still, it was a lot of fun to just be there. We determined that the reason we could not find them before was because of a fenced-in construction project that had blocked the view during our frenzied searching days. With the fence long gone, it was easier to find the bowls which are not visible from the road.

Searching for the Love Bowls was one of the most long and drawn out ordeals I have ever been a part of. Today I look back on it differently, remembering not only the bad parts, but the good times spent in the company of some great friends.