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Bring the Past to Life: Visiting America's Ghost Towns

Goldfield Ghost TownWith less crowds and off-peak discounts at many campgrounds and RV parks, the winter months are the perfect time to explore America.

This month, head out to one of the country's many surviving ghost towns to get a fascinating glimpse into what life was like in another era. As you stroll along dusty streets and wooden boardwalks, you can peek into vintage buildings and imagine a time when these now-quiet towns once bustled with those seeking their fortunes.

Arizona

Goldfield Ghost Town in Apache Junction

Set against the stunning backdrop of the Superstition Mountains, the Goldfield Ghost Town dates back to 1893 when high-grade gold ore was found in the area. It began a new life in 1984 when ghost town enthusiast Bob Schoose and his wife Lou Ann purchased the site of the Goldfield Mill and rebuilt the old town. Today, Goldfield Ghost Town is a multi-faceted attraction that offers mine tours, gunfight reenactments, a museum, gold panning and much more. It’s also the site of the Mammoth Steakhouse and Saloon that has a stagecoach from the legendary town of Tombstone on display.

California

Bodie State Historic Park in Bodie

To see an authentic ghost town that was part of the California Gold Rush, head to Bodie State Historic Park located east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and approximately 75 miles southeast of Lake Tahoe. This former boom town was once home to nearly 10,000 people. A small part of the town survives, and has been preserved in a state of “arrested decay," with its buildings’ interiors left as they were and still stocked with goods. According to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, “today, this once-thriving mining camp is visited by tourists, howling winds and an occasional ghost.”

Colorado

St. Elmo Ghost Town in St. Elmo

The pursuit of gold and silver is what once brought nearly 2,000 people to St. Elmo. The town is set in the San Isabel National Forest approximately 100 miles west of Colorado Springs and dates back to 1880. At one time, there were over 150 patented mine claims in this area, and St. Elmo served as a hub for supplies arriving via the Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad, but the tracks were abandoned in 1922. It is said that St. Elmo’s population rode the last train out of town and never came back. The St. Elmo General Store is now the site of an antique shop.

Montana

Garnet Ghost Town in Granite County

Gold miners and their families flocked to Garnet in the 1890s, and by 1898, around 1,000 people called the town home. Back then, Kelly’s Saloon was a popular gathering place, as was the Miners Union Hall that doubled as the town’s dance hall. Two dozen buildings still remain, and guided tours are available whenever Bureau of Land Management staff members are on site.

Texas

Terlingua Ghost Town in Terlingua

Described as being located “just a few exits past the end of the world,” Terlingua’s ghost town includes the ruins of the Chisos Mining Company which was once a quicksilver mercury mining operation, as well as a frontier graveyard that dates back to 1902. The historic Starlight Theatre, which at one time served as the town’s movie palace, is now a restaurant and saloon, and the town is the home of the Terlingua International Championship Chili Cookoff which is held the first Saturday of November.