Archive for March 22nd, 2023

It’s not always bad news…

Reason #45- Ghost Towns

One of the great adventures you can take, especially in the West and Midwest, is to search for ghost towns.  You might define a ghost town as one that was abandoned by its inhabitants, usually because of a business decline.   A nearby mine may have been worked out, a large dominant company may have closed its doors or an environmental or weather-related disaster may have chased residents away.  When we come across one, it is both sad and fascinating.

Goldfield, Nev., was one of the first ghost towns I’ve ever visited, though, to be fair, there are still a bit over 200 residents listed in its official population.  That is a far stretch from its heyday as the largest city in Nevada, when the population was around 20,000 in about 1904 to 1906.  During that time another bit of history was made there when Wyatt and Virgil Earp arrived.  Virgil was hired as a Goldfield deputy sheriff in January 1905, but in October he died of pneumonia after six months of illness.  Wyatt Earp left Goldfield shortly afterward.  By 1910, the population was down below 5,000 and by 1912 the largest mining company shut down operations.  A fire due to a moonshine explosion destroyed most of Goldfield’s wooden buildings in 1923, and the town continued to decline until it became what we see today.

To be able to read about that kind of detail about a town’s history is unusual, mostly available because of the tourist draw.  Most ghost towns have limited documentation, but sometimes that makes the find even more interesting, our imaginations placed in high gear to fill in the blanks.  Some, like Tombstone in Southern Arizona, Calico in Southern California and St. Elmo in Central Colorado, have renovated or reconstructed many of its buildings in order to draw tourists.  Others, such as Gila City and Fortuna, both outside of Yuma, Ariz., are barren or badly neglected.  More and more, however, are being renovated due to an apparent need of new attractions for tourists.

I remember seeing several rows of abandoned two-story houses and other buildings when we were on our way to check out the quaint town of Red Cliff, Colo.  We could see the remnants of a mining operation and assumed it was a closed company town.  A little research told us that it was indeed an abandoned mining town called Gilman that had operated from 1886 until the mine closed in 1984 by the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as its unprofitability.  Apparently, in mining large quantities of lead and zinc, the mine contaminated the groundwater with toxic chemicals.  You can’t get close to the buildings, but with a telephoto lens or binoculars you can see household items and furniture still sitting inside.

Another cultural phenomenon has created a new tourist boom — haunted towns that put the “ghost” in ghost towns.  One of the most popular is Bodie, Calif.  As with most mining towns in the 19th century, the business of sin took advantage of the gold being pulled from the mines.  All of that crime, greed and lust took its toll and, when the town was abandoned, stories remained of paranormal experiences, especially in the home of a man named Jim Cain.  An Asian servant took her own life there after being fired and ever since there have been numerous reports of the sound of music from a particular bedroom, the face of a woman eerily appearing at a second-story window, individuals feeling as if they are being held down, and others.  Bodie was also reportedly cursed as well.  I’m not into paranormal experiences, but if you are, ghost towns can be a gold mine, pun intended.

Like geocaching, locating and exploring ghost towns are extremely enjoyable activities, getting you outdoors and walking or hiking about the area.  There is much information about which ghost towns are in any particular region or state, often including directions and/or GPS coordinates.  When we have taken on such an outing, there is a real possibility of not finding some of the towns, since roads leading to them have often been abandoned or torn up, and that there may well be nothing to find.  But, that’s half the fun, right? 


To complete this topic, I’ll end with a quote from American actor Hong Chau, who said, “I’m really into ghost towns. I’ve driven cross-country the past few summers, and I would stop at some ghost towns along the way. They’re like a microcosm of America as a whole.

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