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Jonathan Stull | 10.27.2017

The mysterious relics of history make a great hike an even more memorable experience. The North American continent lacks the rich architectural history of that other hemisphere, where castles have stood for hundreds of years. Our castles in the sky are of natural origin, granite aeries that have stood for epochs long before the Holocene.

It is in this rugged wilderness in the West and elsewhere that we find the decaying remains of humans gone by, and the message here is stark: dust to dust. The West is a region with a rich mining past, a home to people who occupied unfamiliar lands in search of peace, religious freedom, economic gain, or perhaps just an escape from the strictures of an unfriendly society. In the West, their failures are laid to rest by the blowing winds and the slow passage of time.

Some are slower to pass than others. In Mesa Verde, perhaps the original and earliest ghost towns are preserved under the sandstone overhangs in dry desert air. Their inhabitants are believed to have lived there more than 1,000 years ago, when the climate was more friendly to their mesa-top agriculture. For 200 years they built their dwellings into the mesas before the winds shifted the rains elsewhere, and they slowly abandoned their stone palaces in search of more verdant land.

In Colorado, one of the earliest mining boom states, the sites are ramshackle reminders of pioneers in search of plunder. Some of the most photographed sites in the West are found on the western slope of the Rockies, cities built and abandoned in less than a decade, mines that were opened and operated in even shorter amounts of time. The Yankee Girl Mine was one of the richest silver finds in the Red Mountain area of the San Juan Mountains. Nearby Ironton was founded in 1883, the Colorado Boy Mine its most famous structure. The Crystal Mill is something of a Colorado state mascot, perched precariously above a waterfall on the Crystal River.

The American conquest of lands farther west left behind more bizarre and more modern buildings. In Arizona, Two Guns is a monument to an overland automobile route that was lost in the era of the interstate. A vestige of a swindling mining tycoon, Scotty’s Castle enshrines something like Vegas in the valley of death. And overlooking the Pacific, Knapp’s Castle is a reminder that even the worst can happen in wildfire country.

For this week’s installment of the #52WeekAdventureChallenge, we encourage you to explore the sites that are lost to time, and there are many of them throughout the West.

British Columbia

Utah

Montana

Alaska

Washington

Nevada

Arizona

Oregon

Colorado

California

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