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.
Masonic is located close to the Nevada border, 12 miles northeast of Bridgeport via a dirt road. It can also be visited by taking the back road into Bodie from the north. A short distance from Masonic on the dirt road to Bridgeport lies the Chemung Mine, where the remains of the mill still stand.
Travelers driving SUVs will have the easiest time getting to Crystal. The winding, steep 7-mile road out of Marble is a challenge to negotiate in good weather—don't even consider it otherwise. (In this town as in others, you will need to call in advance about road conditions if you decide to travel in the colder months. Roads can be muddy, unpaved and buried under drifts of snow.)
Over in St. Elmo, check out the Miner's Exchange general store, which caters to hundreds of visitors a day. St. Elmo is one of the best-preserved ghost towns in Colorado.
Located in the Rocky Mountains near Schofield Pass, southwest of Aspen, the site is not completely deserted—several cabins are still in use. Remains include the famous Sheep Mountain Tunnel Mill, which appeared on the cover of our May 2001 issue.
The road to Crystal outside nearby Marble is a rugged, one-lane track. When you get there, keep in mind that the mill property is privately owned. Crystal is very remote; there are no phone lines beyond Marble, but you'll find a tiny souvenir shop that's open during the summer months. For jeep tours of the area, call Crystal River Jeep Tours, 970-963-1991. Reservations are recommended. (620 West Park Street, Marble, Colorado 81623)
St. Elmo and Alley Belle Mine
Located up Chalk Creek Canyon about 15 miles southwest of Buena Vista, Colorado, the Alley Belle mine is about five miles south of St. Elmo. There you will find crumbling structures precariously perched on the side of a hill.
Update: On April 15, 2002, a fire in St. Elmo ghost town destroyed 6 buildings. Unfortunately, that was most of the town.
From Denver, Colorado, the trip is 155 miles and will take about three hours. Take Interstate 70 west 21 miles to Interstate 470 south and go 3 miles. Turn right on Highway 8 and drive south 2 miles to Highway 285. Turn right and drive southwest for about 115 miles. Take a right onto Highway 50, heading west, and continue on it for 11 miles into St. Elmo. St. Elmo General Store, P.O. Box 158, Nathrop, Colorado 81236; Telephone: 719-395-2117; e-mail: [email protected].
About two dozen adobe and wood frame buildings line Wall Street in the privately owned town of Chloride, located in the central-western part of the state.
Chloride's general store, the Pioneer (c. 1881-1923), was recently converted to a museum. The Pioneer and the other buildings are owned by Don and Dona Edmund; Telephone: 505-743-2736. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged.
Chloride, on Forest Road 226, is two miles southwest of Winston, located off State Highway 52. The owners ask that you drive only on the roadways.
The streets of southern Utah's Johnson were once part of a movie set that has gradually faded into ghost town status. Also in the south of Utah are the desolate ruins of the Mormon town of Widtsoe Junction.
Located outside Kanab, Utah, Johnson is privately owned but is sometimes open for tours; call 435-644-5323. Admission is $3 per person to view the set, which appeared in such movies and series as How the West Was Won, Wagon Train and Gunsmoke.
From Kanab, go east ten miles on Highway 89 until you reach Johnson Canyon. Turn left and drive about five miles. The movie sets are visible from the road.
The old schoolhouse and the ruins of a few other buildings are all that remain of this former Mormon town. One third of the town is privately owned, another third is owned by the State of Utah and the final third is owned by the federal government.
Widtsoe Junction is located on the east fork of the Sevier River about 16 miles northeast of Bryce Canyon.
Tourists are welcome to visit the saloon in Gold Point, owned by Herb Robbins, aka Sheriff Stone. The sheriff will set you up in one of his guest cottages, but be advised that there's no running water. Top off your gas tank at Beatty on the way so you'll have enough gas to get home.
Gold Point has old miner's cabins available for overnight stays. Rates are $77 per room per day for 1 or 2 people. Add $20 for each additional person in the same room. Breakfast is included, as well as a tour of the town and mines. The site is open year-round, although you should call in advance about road conditions in the winter months.
Herb Robbins, Star Route 30, Gold Point, Nevada 89013; Telephone: 702-643-4372 (please leave a message if no one answers); e-mail: [email protected]; Website: www.goldpointghosttown.com
Gold Point is about 180 miles northwest of Las Vegas, 70 miles north of Beatty and 30 miles south of Goldfield. Drive north on Highway 95 about 165 miles. Roughly 15 miles past Scotty's Junction, turn left (west) by the Cottontail Ranch onto Highway 266. Go 7 miles and turn left onto Highway 774. Drive 8 more miles to Gold Point.