We've all seen them...the dilapidated remains of human developments that just didn't pan out. They can be the remains of mines, cabins, or even settlements, and they creak and decay as harbingers of time's victories over our best laid plans. Whether these areas were abandoned because of unsuccessful economic plans or external geographic or weather related issues, the remaining structures are often sadly beautiful and provoking. What happened? What's been left behind? Many of the ghost towns in the West are products of the California Gold Rush and mining boom in the mid-1800s. Once the mines were no longer economically viable or the initial location proved troublesome for transportation and profit, residents would move on to more productive areas and leave their homesteads, mines, shops, schools, bars, and hotels behind.
As you're traveling through the western states, take a trip back in time and pay a visit to one of these abandoned places in history.
Panamint City: The town of Panamint City in Death Valley National Park was incorporated in 1873, though the isolated mining town at the top of Surprise Canyon quickly became a rugged and lawless mining camp. The first thing that greets hikers into Panamint City today is the stretch of Main Street, which was once a 1-mile stretch of mills, a saloon, and a red-light district during the mining town's several incarnations.
Ashford Mine Camp: In 1907, Harold Ashford and his brothers had been mining a claim held by the Key Gold Mining Company near the southern end of Death Valley. Though they held the claims for the land, the Key Gold Company had not kept current on the annual assessment work necessary to retain the claims, and in 1910, a court granted Ashford title to the land.
Bodie State Historic Park: Formerly a place of gunslingers and Gold Rush fortune hunters, tourists now flood the once raucous and bustling streets of Bodie, California. A state historic park that hosts over 200,000 visitors annually, Bodie boasted a reputation as one of wildest upstarts in the West.
Empire Mine State Historic Park: Located in the heart of California’s Mother Lode Country in modern day Grass Valley, Empire Mine State Historic Park preserves what was California’s longest standing and most productive gold mine. The mine operated for more than 100 years and produced 5.6 million ounces of gold before closing it’s doors in 1956; this is a present-day value of more than $8 billion.
Eureka Mine + Aguereberry Camp: In 1905, prospectors Shorty Harris and Pete Aguereberry discovered gold at Providence Ridge. Aguereberry worked the claim for 40 years until his death in 1945. The ruins of his shelter (Aguereberry Camp) still stand today, and they emit an eerie feeling when explored.
Doble Mine: Doble is a nearly forgotten ghost town near Big Bear, abandoned since gold mining dried up in the first half of the 20th century. Gold was discovered in Bear Valley shortly after the 1849 California Gold Rush, but panning from streams turned up little, and making a big profit proved difficult in this area. After many years of searching, however, two determined prospectors finally found a healthy vein of ore in an unassuming ridge east of town. They filed claims in 1873 and began mining.
Metropolis Ghost Town: The town of Metropolis emerged when a group of Massachusetts and Salt Lake City investors, led by Harry Pierce and his Pacific Reclamation Company (PRC), envisioned a modern town central to a farming homestead district. In 1910, Pierce and the PRC bought 40,000 acres of land and set about constructing this new city. The city's school taught its last class in 1947.
Berlin-Ichthuosaur State Park: Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park combines two areas of historical interest that happened to be located within just a few miles of each other: the remains of the mining townsites of Berlin and nearby Union, and the largest collection Ichthyosaur fossils in the world. The Berlin mine was in operation from 1897 to 1910, with about $849,000 of silver and gold extracted.
Rhyolite Ghost Town: Rhyolite is an authentic ghost town preserved in a state of serious decay. Founded in 1905 after several gold discoveries in the area, the town grew to over 2,500 people in just six months. It boasted 50 saloons, 19 lodging houses, and 16 restaurants. By 1907 the population hit its peak between 4,000 and 6,000 people. The last remaining resident died in 1924 at the age of 94.
Independent Mine + Baneberry Trail: The Independent Mine, along with the nearby Mother Lode Mine and Blue Ridge Mine, are parts of an abandoned mercury mine in the Ochoco Mountains that helps tell the story of the region’s rich history. The lands for the mines were acquired by prospector George A. Dreis in 1930 for mercury extraction. Mercury comes primarily from the mineral cinnabar, which is sparsely but widely scattered throughout the Ochocos, particularly at the base of Lookout Mountain.
Lookout Mountain + Mother Lode Mine: Lookout Mountain is an excellent destination and can be easily combined with short detours to check out the Mother Lode Mine, the Independent Mine and the Blue Ridge Mine. Each were cinnabar mines that lived short lives from the 1930s to 1950s.
Shaniko: Built in 1901 around an old stagecoach station called Cross Hollows, Shaniko is a town with a fascinating and enriching history. Between 1874 and 1887, Cross Hollows was operated by August Scherneckau. Though Shaniko is classified as a ghost town today, 37 humble souls call this place home.
Ironton + Colorado Boy Mine: The town of Ironton was founded in 1883, and within three weeks it had 300 buildings under construction. The population peaked at about 1,000 and declined quickly, and the last resident died in the mid-1960s. Ironton was both a transportation hub for mining activity between Ouray, Red Mountain Town, and Silverton as well as a hub for local mining activities.
Yankee Girl Mine: One of the richest discoveries in the San Juan Mountains was made in 1882 by a prospector named John Robinson, and that claim was developed into the Yankee Girl Mine. One of only three vertical-shaft mines in the area, the Yankee Girl ore was so rich that it was shipped directly to the smelter, bypassing preliminary processing. The ore was valued at $10,000 per ton, and over $100 million (in today's terms) was extracted before the mine was shut down in 1898 after the country went to the gold standard and silver prices plummeted.
Ashcroft + Castle Creek Road: Like so many Colorado ghost towns, Ashcroft started out as a mining camp and quickly grew to about 2,500 people, larger than Aspen at the time. Unfortunately, Ashcroft never had railroad access, and it turned out to be too expensive to extract the silver here, so in just a few short years the town's population plummeted. It didn't go to zero for decades, however, and a few hardy souls hung on living here until the last died in 1939.
Castle Dome Mines + Ghost Town: The Castle Dome Mountains were the scene of extensive mining activities from the 1860s through the 1970s. Silver, lead, gold, copper, and zinc were mined in large amounts here, and the population of Castle Dome City reached 3,000 in the early 20th century. What remains at this site today are the remnants of several mines, over 40 buildings, and a wealth of artifacts from the mining era.
Monte Cristo Ghost Town: The town was built during the mining boom of the late 1800s, and it was the first on-site mining community in the western Cascades. During its peak, the town grew to a population of more than 1,000 people. Not much remains of the original infrastructure, but the trek through the wide river valley gives you the freedom to paint a primitive mental picture of the bustling hillside activity and the constant chugging of lead and silver-filled tram cars on the freshly built railroad.
Parkhurst Ghost Town: In the early 1920s the Barr Brothers’ Logging Company out of Mission, B.C., was running out of readily available timber and searching for a new location to set up shop. They looked at properties all around southwestern B.C. and eventually set their sights on a prime piece of land on the northeast shore of Green Lake with access to the forests, the water, and the recently built railway tracks. They bought the land, built a steam-powered mill and a few houses, and began operating in 1923. They named the mill and subsequent community Parkhurst after the original landowners.