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6 Living Ghost Towns in Arizona that Deserve a Visit

The state of Arizona is packed with picturesque places to stop and stretch your legs while on a road trip or a longer visit. ROUTE offers some suggestions on a few of our favorite.

Jerome, Arizona

You might be thinking that a "living ghost town" is a paradox, and you'd be right. But the following six towns in Arizona are remarkable representations of the past that continue to survive into the present, resulting in mesmerizing living tableaus. Arizona is a hub for these historical towns, places that prospered due to mining booms but eventually succumbed to dereliction and desertion. But with dedicated residents and fascinating histories, these ghost towns make for wonderful adventures. These are our six favorite living ghost towns in Arizona; on your next road trip be sure to check them out and become a living part of history.

Bisbee, AZ

Southeast of Tucson near the Mexican border lies the picturesque town of Bisbee, nestled in the rolling mountains like freshly fallen snow. Of course, there is no real snow here as Bisbee has one of the most perfect year round climates, making it a perfect tourist location with its historic architecture and thriving cultural scene. However, Bisbee was not always so quaint and tranquil.

The area was first scouted by a reconnaissance detail of U.S. army scouts and cavalrymen in 1877. They were sent to the Mule Mountains to search for renegade Apaches, but instead found signs of mineralization indicating the presence of lead, copper, and silver. Prospectors and speculators flooded the area hoping to strike it rich and Bisbee became known as "Queen of the Copper Camps."

This resulted in an economic and population boom, with Bisbee becoming the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco and one of the most cultured in the west. You can experience the vitality of this time by visiting the still operating Warren Ballpark (arguably the oldest ballpark in the country), Arizona's first golf course Turquoise Valley, and the state's first community library (fittingly called "Copper Queen").

The deportation of striking mine workers in 1917 and the closing of the depleted mines in 1974 impacted the population and economy. However, Bisbee's historic charm and inexpensive real estate attracted numerous artists and free spirits that make the town what it is today. Walking through the old-fashioned downtown you'll find whimsical art galleries and bustling shops, merging the skeleton of the old mining town with the vibrant spirit of its current residents.

But the town hasn't forgotten its mining past: you can explore the history and lives of miners in the area at the Smithsonian-affiliated Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum, or experience it for yourself at the world famous Queen Mine Tour where you'll don mining hats and slickers, and ride the train deep underground to search for precious metals. If real ghosts are your thing, you can visit the Bisbee Seance Room, a Victoria parlor for the paranormal, or venture for ghosts on the streets on the Old Bisbee Ghost Tour. Talk about a real living ghost town!

Tombstone, AZ

The town of Tombstone certainly lives up to its name: the place is a veritable effigy of its Wild West past. But despite being frozen in time, Tombstone is still a living and working town with just over a thousand residents, leading to their motto, "The Town Too Tough To Die."

Located just north of Bisbee, Tombstone has a similar origin. Prospector Ed Schieffelin was in the area in 1877 as part of a scouting expedition against the Apaches and would often venture out into the wilderness "looking for rocks." His fellow soldiers told him that the only stone he would find out there would be his tombstone, and when Ed discovered silver he named his first mine The Tombstone.

The town rapidly expanded and within two years of its founding it had 4 churches and 110 saloons - a ratio that tells you where the miners preferred to do their praying. Schieffelin Hall was built as a respectable theatre and is the largest standing adobe structure in the southwest U.S., and is still in use today. However, the real center of town was The Bird Cage Theatre, a raucous saloon littered with bullet holes and reported by The New York Times in 1882 as "the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast."

Tombstone was a key locale of the wild west: the famous "Gunfight at the OK Corral" occurred here. This gunfight between members of the "Cowboys" and Wyatt Earp and his brother (and their friend Doc Holliday) actually happened in a vacant lot, not the corral, and the casualties are buried in the local Boothill Graveyard.

Today, the town's rich history is evoked at every corner with old west architecture, underground mine experiences, a shooting gallery with real Colt 45 caliber Cowboy Guns, ghost tours, and gunfight re-enactments. If you ever wondered what it would have been like to live in the Wild West, visit Tombstone to find out.

Chloride, AZ

Another town with a disquieting name, Chloride is located just north of Kingman and old Route 66 and south of Vegas. While Chloride is a great stop for sightseers, it is quieter than other touristy ghost towns and whispers from the distant past are around every corner. The historic downtown will inspire the imagination and evoke a range of emotions with its old saloon, undertakers office, antique jail, and Lavender Lace’s Boarding House for Fine Women.

This display of the town's vibrant past recalls its mining boom in the late19th and early 20th Century. Chloride was founded in 1862 when silver ore was discovered, and during its heyday more than 75 mines were in operation and the population soared to 5,000. With the depletion of the mines and the large town fire in the late 1920s, the town was virtually a ghost town by the 1940s. However, the town has retained a few hundred residents, and Chloride is now Arizona's oldest continually inhabited mining town.

Today, you can appreciate the historic architecture and gun fight re-enactments in the downtown area, but if you venture further you'll discover the quirky and artistic part of the town. There is a unique and bizarre collection of junk art along the roadside in town, with everything from a flamingo made of a gas tank and a caterpillar made of bowling balls, to a metallic spider and a bottle tree. The graves in the town cemetery are even topped with old telephones.

The artistic streak continues just outside Chloride with the famous Purcell Murals. These murals run along a mile and a half dirt road and were created by the artist Roy Purcell in 1966. "The Journey" covers 2,000 square feet of cliffside granite with numerous symbols and pictograms. Chloride's ghostly air and strange art result in a unique experience that is difficult to forget.

Jerome, AZ

We're back to safe place-names with Jerome, AZ, but don't let the innocuous moniker fool you: Jerome was once known as the wickedest town in the west. South of Flagstaff and deep in the Black Hills mountains (the town is more than 5,000 feet above sea level), Jerome is considered "America's Most Vertical City" and the largest ghost town in the U.S.

Jerome was founded in 1876 with the discovery of gold and copper deposits in the area. Miners, gamblers, and old west bad boys flocked to the booming town and its large swaths of saloons and brothels, and the population swelled to over 15,000. The mines were producing 3 million pounds of copper per month, and during a period of 70 years the mines generated over a billion dollars worth of precious metals.

When the mines dried up in the 1950s, the town's population dwindled to less than a hundred, but these devoted townspeople were dedicated to promoting the town as a historic ghost town. Jerome was designated a National Historic District in 1967, and artists began to flock to the town in the 60s and 70s. Today, Jerome has a population just under 500, and is a vibrant community dotted with art galleries and wine bars.

Many of the historic buildings from the late 1800s still stand, and this nostalgic vibe coupled with the stunning views of the surrounding mountains makes for a transcendent experience. Stay at the Jerome Grand Hotel, rumored to be haunted, visit the Jerome State Historic Park which is home to Douglas Mansion, built in 1916 by a mining magnate, or head to the nearby Audrey Headframe Park that has a glass viewing platform over a 1918 mine shaft. Ascend to this picturesque artists' mecca to get down with the wickedest ghosts in the West.

Ruby, AZ

Mining and murder. Ruby's two most defining characteristics come together in an intriguing history. Prospectors discovered rich veins of gold and silver in the area around 1877 and a settlement formed at the base of Montana Peak. In 1912, local businessman Julias Andrews opened a post office and named it after his wife Ruby, and the mining camp eventually became known as Ruby. The most prosperous period for the town was the 1920s and 30s and the Montana Mine became Arizona's leading producer of lead and zinc. However, this prosperity was preceded by dark events.

Residing only 4 miles from the Mexican border, the town of Ruby was prone to Mexican bandits terrorizing the area. Between 1920 and 1922, three gruesome double homicides were committed by Mexican rebels or bandits in Ruby and the nearby desert. This led to the largest manhunt in the southwest and are known as the Ruby Murders.

The mining business dwindled in the mid 20th Century, turning Ruby into a veritable ghost town. Today, Ruby is considered one of the best-preserved mining towns in Arizona, due in part to its being privately owned - there is a charge for admission to the site. Within, you'll find numerous old west buildings including a historic jail, old schoolhouse, and other derelict buildings. The spooky and solemn atmosphere is underscored by a colony of 1.5 million Mexican free tail bats that make their home in Ruby's abandoned mine shafts from May to September. Their emergence en-masse from the mine at sundown is wonderfully haunting.

Goldfield, AZ

This living museum is located 40 miles east of Phoenix and is the gateway to the Superstition Mountains in the legendary Valley of the Sun. Goldfield was originally a wild west town and has been refurbished into a highly enjoyable tourist destination. The historic town offers many old west attractions where you can pan for gold, take a ride on Arizona’s only narrow gauge train, and witness an old west gun fight performed by the famous Goldfield Gunfighters. While a bit kitschy, Goldfield is great fun for the whole family and offers picturesque mountain views.

Goldfield was founded when, true to its name, prospectors struck gold in the area in 1892. That initial strike was worth as much as three million dollars, a vast fortune at the time, and prospectors and miners from all over flocked to this golden goose. The town's colorful residents increased and Goldfield expanded to include several saloons, a hotel, and a brewery, funded by fifty mines within the district. Goldfield, however, was destined to live fast and die young: the vein of gold ore faulted and the grade of ore dropped just 5 years after the town's founding, and Goldfield slowly died away.

Miners were able to revive the vein in the 1920s, but the renewed prosperity again only lasted five years. However, when Robert F. Schoose - a ghost town and mining enthusiast - passed through the area in 1966 he fell in love with the derelict town. He eventually purchased the town in 1984 and reconstructed it into a living ghost town attraction.

Today, the streets are lined with authentic old west buildings, people in period costume, horses and wagons, and enough attractions to cater to all types of visitors. For a fun and family friendly ghost town experience, Goldfield is the perfect destination.

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