Hit the road and visit these ghost towns in California, Nevada and Arizona that are frozen in time
Written by Kate Wertheimer & Time Out editorsThursday September 17 2020FacebookTwitterPinterestEmailWhatsApp
There’s something endlessly fascinating about a town frozen in time. It offers us the ability to get a glimpse of what life was like over a century ago, and the chance to witness the slow decay of things left behind. The ghost town is a concept most common in the West—mining booms and busts meant that towns sprung up and were abandoned as a matter of course. It also means that now, more than 100 years later, we can embark on our own adventures to visit these places, to see how the not-so-distant past has played a part in how (and where) we live today. Here are the nine most authentic ghost towns within road trip distance of L.A. Happy trails!
Step back in time at these ghost towns
2hr from L.A.
Okay, so this technically was never a real town. Built as a Western movie set in the 1940s, the buildings were designed to provide a place for the actors to live and socialize while on location for shoots. Founded in part by actors Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, the town consisted of structures with 1880s facades on the outside, and modern-day attractions behind, including an ice cream parlor, a bowling alley and motels for actors and friends. More than 50 movies and television shows were filmed there.
Pappy & Harriet’s, a longtime local club (and built as part of one of Pioneertown’s original sets), sits on the edge of town, still serving burgers and hosting world-renowned musicians on their outdoor stage.
2hr from L.A.
This former silver-mining town had its boom in the 1880s, but was already on the decline by the 1980s when the price of silver began to drop. It was a ghost town by 1907, and wasn’t restored until the 1950s. Walter Knott of Knott’s Berry Farm directed the restoration, adding kitschy additions like a gold-panning attraction and an almost comical number of gift shops. Today, Calico is protected as a San Bernadino County Park; one-third of the town’s original buildings remain including one of the mines, the post office and a schoolhouse.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/mlhradio
2hr 30min from L.A.
In 1908, four Black men purchased 20 acres of land along the Santa Fe Railway at a stop called Solita, and formed the first town in California to be founded, financed and governed by a Black population. By 1904, the town had a schoolhouse and was California’s first African American school district. It also became a judicial district, and was home to a Baptist church, a hotel and a library.
Unfortunately, the Santa Fe Railway moved its rail stop from Allensworth to Alpaugh, restricting commerce. Then one of the town’s founders, Colonel Allen Allensworth, was struck and killed by a motorcycle. The town declined from there, but was never truly abandoned, earning it the nickname “the town that refused to die.” In 1974, the remaining structures were preserved as the Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park, home to special events throughout the year. The area outside of the state park is still inhabited, more than 100 years later.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/David Seibold
Silver City, CA
4hr 30min from L.A.
Another town that never truly existed, Silver City is actually a composite of historic buildings from many different mining camps. The structures were slated to be demolished, but couple Dave and Arvilla Mills went on a mission throughout the ’60s and ’70s to have them restored and moved to their current site in Silver City. The “town” is now a museum with thousands of artifacts on display in and around 20 historic buildings including a jail, post office, saloon and general store. Apparently the site is haunted, and there have been reports of eerie happenings over the years, including bottles floating in the air and a violin playing itself.
5hr from L.A.
This town, named for the local volcanic rock in the area, sprung up in 1905 near Death Valley National Park with the promise of gold. By 1907, the town had a school, hospital, stock exchange and symphony, but the gold never showed, and people began leaving within just a few years. In the 1920s, Rhyolite was revitalized for a short time as a movie set. Though not many of the town’s original buildings are left standing today, you can still see the bank, train depot and jail, along with the famous bottle house. Saloon keeper Tom Kelly built a home with more than 50,000 beer and medicine bottles, and legend has it that Kelly still haunts the building.
5hr 45min from L.A.
Goldfield was once the richest and most-populated gold-mining town in Nevada; founded in 1902, it grew to a population of 30,000 by 1906 and produced $11 million in gold. Tex Rickard’s Northern saloon had a bar so long, it was said 80 bartenders were needed to accommodate the patrons. The Goldfield hotel, built in 1907, was said to have Champagne flowing down its front steps on opening day. It was outfitted with pile carpets, mahogany wood and intricate chandeliers, and was populated by the wealthy elite of the town.
By 1912, ore production had dropped drastically, and the town’s population quickly declined. It’s said that the Goldfield hotel, once defunct, became home to several ghosts, including a local prostitute and her child. The building has been of great interest to both professional and amateur ghost hunters for decades.
6hr from L.A.
Tucked into the valley northeast of Yosemite sits Bodie, one of the most well-preserved ghost towns in the country. It boomed as a mining town beginning in the 1870s, with a population that reached more than 10,000; at one time there were reported to be more than 65 saloons in town. By 1913, the mine had shut down, and by 1920 the census recorded that the town’s population was just over 100 people. The town was designated a historical landmark in 1961, and in 1962 it became Bodie State Historic Park.
It is maintained in a state of “arrested decay,” with everything left as it was found when the park was established. Just over 100 structures remain, including shops stocked with goods, saloons with glasses strewn along the bar, and so on. Some debris can be found on the roads and paths, but removing anything is against the rules of the park. What’s more, it’s said that anyone who takes a piece of Bodie with them will have bad luck; the park ranger often receives envelopes with nails, bottles and glass shards being returned to the park with notes of desperate apology.
6hr from L.A.
This gold-mining town, located on the historic Apache trail, experienced small-time booms and busts from the 1880s through the 1920s. In the 1960s, the town was reconstructed as a tourist stop, with kitschy additions like the Superstition Reptile exhibit, scheduled gun shows and a train ride. There are plenty of period attractions within the town; one old saloon is now a steakhouse, another is a shooting gallery; a “floozy” leads a 15-minute tour of the old bordello; there’s even a zip line strung above the town. It’s more theme park than history lesson, but is well-suited for kids.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/buffdawgus
North Bloomfield, CA
7hr 30min from L.A.
North Bloomfield came to be in the 1880s, when hydraulic mining brought more than 2,000 people to work the creek, as well as the saloons, hotels and groceries that popped up as a result. The town had a church, a school, a butcher shop, a bakery, a drug store and even a couple of breweries. By the late 1880s, however, hydraulic mining was made illegal due to environmental concerns and the town was slowly abandoned. It’s now part of Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park, and has been impressively well-preserved over the years; some of the most notable buildings still standing are the church, school, barber shop and fire department.
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