Abandoned towns exist all over the world, but there's something uniquely American, even romantic, about Arizona's ghost towns.
And our state has its fair share. Among AAA Travel picks are Crown King, Tombstone and Goldfield.
This summer, step back into the past and visit one of them for a memorable experience.
It was around the early 1870s that prospectors discovered gold and began staking claims in the southern Bradshaw Mountains in Arizona, one of the most heavily mineralized ranges in the world. During the 1880's, Orrin F. Place, Noah Shekels, and George P. Harrington emerged as the major operators, opening several mines, including the Crown King mine, the largest in the Bradshaw range. They built a mill nearby to process the ore and a road to connect the Crown King Mine and the mill. They used 50 mules to haul the ore. Crown King, the community, grew up along the road, with a saloon as one of its first enterprises.
While they anticipated high profits, the men ran into difficulties transporting equipment and ore over rough mountain roads. They ran short of water to operate their mill. They got hit with a natural calamity in February, 1890, when a storm damaged facilities and washed away valuable ore concentrates. They faced problems hauling processed ore down the steep mountain slopes to the marketplace. Harrington lost a buckboard carriage full of bullion when he tried to cross a rain-swollen creek. The three owners got into a bitter and expensive dispute which led to litigation and violence. Operations finally collapsed around the turn of the century, and eventually Crown King became a ghost town, although it never completely died.
Today, the community of Crown King is nestled in the mountains and is a quaint, historic old mining town, with a growing number of summer homes in the pine forest and a full calendar of events during the year. It also a boasts a General Store that is nearly 110 years old. Visit Crown King and you will be rewarded with a look back into the world of a late 19th and early 20th century mining town, with weathered timber cabins, abandoned mines, deserted equipment, a fading cemetery, a living old-time general store and saloon, and, with good luck, a thousand tales about the good old days.
Crown King: Getting There
You can reach Crown King over a good gravel road which begins at the Bumble Bee exit off Interstate 17, about 65 miles north of downtown Phoenix. This route will take you through the near-ghost-town communities of Bumble Bee and Cleator to Crown Point, following an abandoned railroad bed for most of the final leg of the drive.
Tombstone was founded in 1877 by a prospector named Ed Schieffelin who discovered silver in the wilderness outside of Camp Huachuca where he was staying. He named his mine The Tombstone. It wasn't long before word spread about Ed's silver strike. Soon prospectors, cowboys, homesteaders, lawyers, speculators, gunmen, and business people flocked to the area in droves.
By the mid 1880s, Tombstone's population had increased to around 20,000 people. At its peak, it is said to have been the fastest growing city between St. Louis and San Francisco. There were more than a hundred saloons, numerous restaurants, schools, churches, newspapers, and one of the first public swimming pools in Arizona (which is still used today). The most famous event in Tombstone's history was the famed Gunfight at the OK Corral, which didn't actually happen at the corral, but in a vacant lot on Fremont Street. On October 26, 1881, members of the "Cowboys" had a run-in with Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan Earp with help from Wyatt's friend Doc Holliday. 24 seconds and 30 shots later, Billy Clanton, Tom and Frank McLaury were mortally wounded. In many people's opinion, it was this one event that has kept Tombstone alive for all these years.
Today, Tombstone is home to around 1,500 year round residents who enjoy the wonderful climate that Cochise County's high desert has to offer and believe in preserving the history and heritage of the Wildest Town in the West.
Tombstone: Getting There
Tombstone is located in Cochise County about 60 miles southeast of Tucson. Take Interstate 10 East to Benson (about 40-45 miles). Exit South on Highway 80 which will take you straight to Tombstone. The town is located on State Highway 80 between Benson and Bisbee. It is approximately a half hour drive from Tucson.
Situated atop a small hill between the Superstition and Goldfield Mountains, the settlement of Goldfield got its start in 1892 when very rich, high grade gold ore was found in the area. A town soon sprang up and on October 7, 1893 it received its first official post office. This "official" find, coupled with the legend of the Lost Dutchman Mine, which had been circulating for years, led plenty of new miners to the area and in no time, the town boasted three saloons, a boarding house, a general store, brewery,
blacksmith shop, butcher shop, and a school.
But like other gold camps, Goldfield's bustling days were quickly dashed when the vein of gold ore started to play out and the grade of the ore dropped even more. Just five years after it began, the town found itself dying. The miners moved on, the post office was closed on November 2, 1898, and Goldfield became a ghost town. However, some prospectors clung on to the area, sure to find the elusive Lost Dutchman Mine or perhaps, a brand new vein.
Today, Goldfield is filled with authentic looking buildings, includes underground mine tours, and the only narrow gauge railroad in operation in Arizona. Shops and buildings include a bakery, leather works, a jail, livery, and more. The authentic looking street is filled with people in period costume, horses and wagons, and sometimes authentic gunfighter presentations.
Goldfield: Getting There
From Phoenix, take US-60 East (Superstition Freeway) to exit 196 (Idaho Road/AZ-88 East). Turn left on Idaho Road/AZ-88 East and turn right on turn right at N. Apache Trail/AZ-88 East. Turn left at Goldfield Ghost Town. Goldfield Ghost Town is about a 45 minute drive from downtown Phoenix.
For more information, call a AAA Travel professional at 1-877-934-6222, stop by a AAA office or visit www.az.aaa.com/travel .