Ghost Towns of America’s Southwest
On a roadtrip the journey is the destination – whether you follow a mapped route or just let the road take you to places you had no idea about. Either way, the trip will offer plenty of opportunities to discover what is hidden off the beaten path.
Take ghost towns as an example. The decaying remains of old western mining towns are especially popular with photographers. Unfortunately, some of the previously authentic ghost towns were remodeled and turned into lively tourist attractions, giving them more of a theme park character. So it’s worthwhile to check the places online first before embarking on a ride into the desert, and to avoid parking spaces crammed with sightseeing buses.
photo via 50 states or less
Historians estimate that there may be as many as 50,000 ghost towns, near ghost towns, and semi-ghost towns scattered across the United States. Considering this staggering amount of abandoned places, it doesn’t seem difficult to find them. Then again, there are reasons for those places to have been deserted by their inhabitants. Some of those towns are located in remote areas where people lived in the most unfriendly conditions. Even today, these places are hidden in the back country and require a good map to find them. Let’s take a closer look at America’s Southwest.
On a side note: There is something called the “Ghost Towner’s Code of Ethics.” This basically asks visitors not to take souvenirs from ghost towns or trespass fenced property – take only pictures, leave only footprints.
Bodie is one of the most famous ghost towns in California, perhaps even in the entire U.S. The mining town was founded in the late 1800’s and inhabited by an estimated 10,000 people during its heyday. Bodie was crime-ridden and home to more than 60 saloons and numerous brothels, producing the famous quote “Goodbye God, I’m going to Bodie.” After the mine was shut down, population decreased rapidly. The first label of Bodie as a ghost town was in 1915.
Today, Bodie is a protected landmark and preserved in a state of arrested decay, which means that the 110 remaining buildings will be maintained but only to an extent that they will not collapse. Unfortunately, visitors are only able to enter some of the buildings. Most of them are closed for reasons of preservation or danger of collapse.
The ghost town is located in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, about 13 miles off Highway 395. Look out for the State Park sign which is placed just a few meters ahead of the park entrance. Since Bodie is located in a very deserted area, make sure to stop for gas in either Bridgeport or Lee Vining before entering the park. Bodie is open during the winter as well but requires snow transportation.
The semi-ghost town of Chloride had its beginnings some time around 1860. The name for the former mining community derived from the fact that the exposed ores carried heavy silver chloride. When the cost of mining materials and labor escalated in the mid 1940’s, the mines were shut down and the workers left town. Today, mainly artists, writers, and musicians call Chloride home. Plenty of events take place year round, the town even has its own St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Interestingly enough, there also still is some mine activity. The Chloride Post Office, established in 1862, is the oldest continuously operating post office in the state of Arizona.
Chloride is located close to the town of Kingman, AZ, near the historic Route 66. When driving north on Highway 93, look out for the ruins of the town of Santa Claus, AZ, to your left. Santa Claus was originally planned to be a hotel but went out of business in the 1990’s since the place was too difficult to locate.
Death Valley Junction, California
The community of the tiny place of Death Valley Junction has a population of only 4. Most of the buildings in the area are abandoned, some fragments of the railroad can also be seen. Death Valley Junction started as a tent town and increased in size when mines were discovered nearby. Even in its early days, the small town was popular with tourists. In 1967, Marta Becket, a New York ballet dancer, had a flat tire in Death Valley Junction and has stayed there ever since. She opened a theater inside the former Amargosa Hotel and can be seen on stage until today. The hotel was re-opened as well, with the rooms featuring murals painted by Marta herself. As the name already gives away, Death Valley Junction is located in the Death Valley at the junction of California State Routes 127 and 190.
Other well-preserved ghost towns in the southwestern part of the U.S. are Mogollon, NM, Rhyolite, NV and Berlin, NV, for example. Traveling elsewhere? For more information on ghost towns across the U.S. and Canada, click here and here.
Except for #1, all photos by Cordula Schaefer.
Cordula Schaefer is a photography enthusiast who loves to venture out to explore new places and hardly ever leaves the house without a camera. A New Yorker at heart, she is especially fond of city trips and has a soft spot for beautiful beachscapes. She currently bases herself in Berlin and keeps the visual documents of her travels at Cordugram.