Four Best Southwest Ghost Town Rides
Planning a cross country or regional motorcycle ride is a daunting task by itself; add to that the thrill and intimidations of ghost towns – and you have a real adventure. Taking a tour through the ghost towns of America past, sometimes with a dash of spookiness in these abandoned mining towns, takes some pre-planning indeed.
Ghost towns are not just a Wild West phenomenon (although some of the best preserved are found in the arid Southwest). You can find these abandoned towns across the country, from Pennsylvania to Alaska, California to Alabama. Some were abandoned over time due to economic hardships; others were immediately evacuated, as if it was a sinking ship, leaving buildings full of furniture, stores full of merchandise and church pews lined up. They sit there at the mercy of time and nature—and time is brutal, bringing with it vandalism and fires that can slowly and repeatedly remove the marks of a previous township.
Here are four of our favorites:
Rhyolite, Nevada / Near Death Valley National Park
A very strange and weathered out of the way location featuring foundations or rusted shacks on dusty desert roads. Rhyolite is one of the most accessible and best-preserved gold rush towns in the area, reachable on paved roads about a 45-minute drive from the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. The town was named after the abundant volcanic rock in the region, but the thousands of people who arrived here between 1905 and 1916 came not for the rhyolite, but gold laced in the bedrock. Visitors today can see remains of buildings, as well as a bank, jail, train depot and other aspects of the once thriving community that sprang up seemingly overnight and left with nearly the same startling speed.
Directions: Rhyolite is about 2 1/2 hours from Las Vegas, take I-15 North to US-95. Continue on US-95 about 115 miles to Beatty, Nevada. In Beatty turn left on NV-374 S (Main Street) and go four miles to the turnoff for Rhyolite. 374 becomes Daylight Pass Road in California. Rhyolite is less than 45 minutes from Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley and makes a good late afternoon shot if you are traveling back to Las Vegas from Death Valley, or are staying in Beatty.
St. Thomas, Nevada / Lake Mead National Recreation Area
The history of St. Thomas began with a mistaken assumption: Mormon pioneers who first settled there in 1865 believed they were in Utah. When the state of Nevada discovered otherwise and demanded back taxes, nearly all the residents left. In the late 1920s, lawmakers approved the construction of the Hoover Dam, and the government bought up plots of land in the town to build the enormous concrete structure and its reservoir, Lake Mead. In the early 1930s, workers began slowly flooding the area, forcing several communities to evacuate. The last St. Thomas resident famously put his possessions in a boat, set his house on fire and paddled away in 1938. Since the early 2000s, severe droughts and increased water use have brought the lake to historically low levels, and ruins that had been under water for more than 60 years began to resurface. The Park Service now maintains a 2.5-mile loop trail where visitors can see the strange ruins.
Directions: To reach St. Thomas Loop Route, enter into the City of Overton, NV via I-15 and Moapa Valley Blvd (Highway 169). You’ll have to enter into the Lake Mead National Recreation Area (pay the fee for day use or camping). Right at the fee station, you’ll take a dirt road named, “Old Saint Thomas Rd”, and take it all the way to its end. The trail parking lot is there.
Goldfield, Nevada / Esmerelda County
Goldfield was the site of a rare post 1900 major gold discovery in Nevada. Most major discoveries in the lower 48 occurred before 1880. The ore initially was very rich, spurring rapid growth of the town from 1902 until 1906. Goldfield became Nevada's largest city with over 30,000 people. Virgil Earp was made sheriff here in 1904 and Wyatt Earp also called Goldfield home. Goldfield experienced one of the most dramatic rises and subsequent crashes of all the mining towns of the Old West. By 1908 ore production was already in steep decline. The ore deposits were discovered to be very rich near the surface, but very shallow as well. By 1910, the population of Goldfield dropped below 5,000. In 1923, a catastrophic fire burned most of the town to the ground. Goldfield has been considered a historic ghost town ever since.
Directions: (From Reno, NV) Take Interstate 80 East to Nevada 439 south to Alt-US 95 south to US 95 south. Total distance is 255 miles with a drive time of 4 hours and 23 minutes. Be sure to fill up on gas in Tonopah as there is no gas station in Goldfield. Please call or text us at (775) 277-9284 when arriving in Goldfield and we will guide you to the shop.
Bodie, CA / Mono County, CA
Bodie State Historic Park is a genuine California gold-mining ghost town. Visitors can walk down the deserted streets of a city that once had a population of nearly 10,000 people. The town is named for Waterman S.Body (William Body), who had discovered small amounts of gold in hills north of Mono Lake. In 1875, a mine cave-in revealed pay dirt, which led to purchasing of the mine by the Standard Company in 1877. People flocked to Bodie and transformed it from a town of a few dozens to a boomtown. Designated as a National Historic Site and a State Historic Park in 1962, the remains of Bodie are being preserved in a state of “arrested decay.” Today this once thriving mining camp is visited by tourists, howling winds, and an occasional ghost.
Directions: Bodie is located in the Basin Range of the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, about 13 miles East of Highway 395 in central California. Take U.S. Hwy. 395 to State Hwy. 270 and drive 10 miles east until the paved road ends, then continue for 3 miles of an unpaved dirt road.