Wandering the Towns That Lived Fast and Died Young
A "wondrous battle raged, in which the combatants were man and earth," wrote one gold miner as droves of treasure hunters besieged the deserts and crags of the American West, hoping to make a fortune in gold, silver and copper.
However, for every successful mining town there were many false starts, as prospectors soon deserted their digs for what lay just over the horizon. Of the thousands of towns that sprang up in the 1800s, most have disappeared from the map. The few that remain are now just a shadow of their former selves.
Below we've listed travel tips for visiting the ghost towns that appear in Berthold Steinhilber's photographs. These deserted or nearly deserted towns are spread across California, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and New Mexico. They represent a sampling of the ghost towns you can visit, from large sites located on state historic lands to much smaller ones on private property. We recommend visiting ghosttowns.com for information on other sites.
Before you tour these ghost towns, go to our additional reading section and bone up on the West's mining bonanza of the 1800s. Pore over maps of the region so you can familiarize yourself with the locations of these remote sites. Be sure to schedule your trip in the summer or fall, when the towns are most accessible. Also check out our "Nine Tips to Make Your Ghost Town Visit More Enjoyable ... and Safer Too" for additional travel hints. And don't forget to pack your camera and lace up a sturdy pair of walking boots.
At the Bodie State Historic Park, high altitude and dry air have preserved the nearly 180 buildings from rot and decay. A visitor center offers handy walking-tour pamphlets and flush toilets, but pack a snack because there are no concessions or restaurants. And you'll have to find a place to sleep in nearby Bridgeport, about 20 miles away. (As for amenities elsewhere, guess what pardner? You're on your own. Just be sure to leave those campsites as neat as, or even cleaner than, you found them.) At Masonic and nearby Chemung Mine there are plenty of photographic opportunities. Keep a special eye out for a pesky poltergeist: rumor has it that he's knocked over a tripod or two.
Bodie State Historic Park, California
P.O. Box 515, Bridgeport, California 93517; Telephone: 760-647-6445
Sierra District, California State Parks
Hours and Admission:
Open daily year-round, from 8 A.M. to 7 P.M. in mid-summer and from 8 A.M. to 4 P.M. in mid-winter. Admission is $1 per person, and there's no charge for pets (must be leashed).
From Bridgeport travel south on Highway 395 for 6 miles, then turn east on Highway 270 and go 13 miles to the park entrance. Be careful: Highway 270 is open sporadically in winter, and the final 3 miles to Bodie is unpaved.
Town of Masonic/Chemung Mine, California
Masonic is deserted and consists of an upper, middle and lower town, with most of the ruins in middle town. The shacks there are rapidly decaying, but you can still see the remains of a tram system used to transport ore from the nearby mine.