Ghost Towns

They sprung up in all places gold miners and other fortune hunters projected their hopes on, where resources lured people from all over the country to and they all have in common that they experienced a short heyday with hundreds, sometimes thousands of inhabitants who then moved on just as quickly when there was nothing left to look for. Ghost Towns can be found everywhere in the USA, with those in the western half of the country, where in the middle of the 19th century one region after the other was struck by gold rushs, today are the most famous ones. In the Great Plains, there are also a number of towns that have been left by their residents when conditions appeared more promising elsewhere or when the railway company that had made the town develop ceased operations. 

Back then, most of the hastily erected towns particularly in the western territories consisted of ramshackle, wooden residential structures, a saloon and a dusty main street. Some of the now-deserted settlements however had a significant size. Bodie in California for example at around 1880 had a population of about 8,000 and even featured its own Chinatown. A number of other places showed that the fate of having become a ghost town doesn’t have to last forever. Park City, Utah; Aspen, Colorado and Virginia City, Montana are examples of thriving towns that had been ghost towns at one point in their history.

At the same time, Bodie is an excellent example for a ghost town that has been prepared to serve tourist purposes, as the state of California has set up a state park around the town’s remnants. Many other ghost towns are less famous and are sometimes located in very remote areas and so far off the grid that they can only be accessed when the weather is good and even then, only by using gravel roads. Those who are interested in seeing these witnesses of times gone by will find get a good idea of them in the easier accessible areas already, but those making it to the more remote ghost towns, for example some located in the Rocky Mountains, may have a chance to be all alone with the ruins of the Wild West and thus has an opportunity to transfer back in time to the times of the gold washers and miners.

These are some examples of ghost towns worth visiting:



In 1859, W.S. Bodey discovered gold near Mono Lake in Eastern California and within a short time, thousands arrived to share in on the wealth. Bodie had a fire station, up to 65 saloons, a red light district, a local newspaper and a mill that was connected to the electric grid. Only 50 years later, the town was nearly deserted. Today, Bodie is a California State Park. The Ghost Town is located a few miles outside of Yosemite National Park and can be reached via State Route 270 and a few miles worth of gravel road.



Founded in 1881 with the purpose of mining and processing the silver found in the Calico Mountains, Calico at one pointed had more than 1,000 residents. When mining ended in 1907, the town lost almost all of its citizens. Calico is located not far from Interstate 15 near Barstow in the Mojave Desert. It is today a tourist attraction that can get crowded at times, which impacts the ghost town appeal somewhat.  



Located at the edge of Death Valley and relatively easily accessible, Rhyolite was once a gold miner’s town with a population of almost 10,000 and a working power grid to supply it. By 1916, only ten years after the town had experienced its heyday, almost all residents had left Rhyolite again. Today, the well-preserved former railway station is the ghost town’s main attraction. 

Bumble Bee


The ghost town is set near Interstate I-17 north of Phoenix. Bumble Bee is one of the few ghost towns that didn’t spring up due to a rush for resources, but it used to be a stagecoach stop, established in 1863. However, when the stagecoach service was discontinued, the town faltered as well. In the 1930s, the town was almost entirely reconstructed in order to turn it into a tourist attraction, but the plan failed. It has since then become somewhat difficult to tell the difference between the authentic old town and attractions set up to lure visitors. 



The former mining town of Gleeson can be found east of Tucson and near Tombstone, another favorite among Wild West travelers. Gleeson used to be the center point of an area in which lots of mining efforts for copper, silver and lead were undertaken. Up to 500 people in town lived from these operations. By the 1930s, the mines were exhausted and almost all residents turned their backs on Gleeson. Visiting today, you will find the ruins of residential houses, a saloon, a jail and a hospital.

St. Elmo


Nestled in the Rocky Mountains and only accessible when weather permits, St. Elmo is a ghost town that had its best times between 1880 and 1910. In those days, resources were mined around St. Elmo and there was a rail connection to Denver. There was one single family living in town for a long time after the mines were retired and today, the last members of that family are rumored to be haunting the deserted buildings, which include a church, a school house, a hotel and a general store.



The Glenrio ghost town is located a few miles west of  Amarillo at the New Mexico stateline. It developed from 1903 on, when the railway service from Chicago to the Pacific reached the area and it experienced another boom time when Route 66 was opened. Glenrio had its own newspaper, a motel, several gas stations and cafés. When the Mother Road was discontinued and nearby Interstate I-40 opened instead, the town’s decline began. Today, there are only five residents left.


New Mexico

In 1866, the Ute gave a present to an Army General because he had saved the life of an old woman from their people. The present consisted of, as they put it, “pretty stones”. The general quickly realized that they contained copper. A year later, miners streamed into the Native’s homeland, soon there were 7,000 of them. A village was built, there were hotels and a brewery. A few years later however, mining costs surpassed the copper revenues and soon thereafter, the place was almost completely deserted. Elizabethtown is at US 64, one hour from Taos.



The example of the Cahawba ghost town prooves that those exist in the eastern USA as well. Cahawba was even Alabama’s capital once, chosen although there existed no settlement in the area. But there were floodings and mosquito plagues again and again and so it was decided to move the capital away in 1826. The Civil War, more floods and other factors contributed to the town being deserted and slowly returning to the wilderness it had derived from. Cahawba is located a few minutes outside of Selma.



In 1862, Montana for the most part was unexplored wilderness. That changed quickly when gold was discovered. Lured by the information that the gold found here was particularly high-grade, soon some 10,000 people settled in what is today Central Montana. This was followed by a short time marked by fortune hunters and lawlessness. The last residents left Bannack in the 1970s. The former gold mining camp today is a Montana State Park near I-15.

NM Elizabethtown
AL Old Cahawba Park
MT Bannack

Elizabethtown, New Mexico

Cahawba, Alabama

Bannack, Montana



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