Explore Wild West Mining History in Nevada Ghost Towns
Nevada’s ghost towns have stories to tell. Tales of riches sought in Wild West boomtowns, of infamous criminals roaming the desert, of Civil War deserters seeking a hidden haven. Travel Nevada’s back roads to reach the state’s ghost towns, once booming centers of mining enterprises and community life. Today, picturesque wooden structures and crumbing stones mark the places where pioneers and dreamers once struggled to wrest a living from the desert.
Here’s a few ghost towns to consider when planning your Nevada road trip:
Infamous criminal Charles Manson once may have camped in Belmont, about 45 miles north of Tonopah in Nye County. Of course, the town predates the alleged Manson visit by almost a century. Belmont was founded after an 1865 silver strike in the area. By the 1870s, the population peaked at about 2,000 people, but soon dwindled after the mines shut down. Today, a couple businesses remain, along with old wooden structures and the Belmont Courthouse, which sports graffiti that may have been left by Manson. The courthouse is closed, but tours are offered from May through September through Friends of the Belmont Courthouse.
This central Nevada ghost town pairs up with an ichthyosaur fossil site to form Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park. Founded in the late 19th century, Berlin saw its mine produce a total $849,000 before residents abandoned the town in 1911. Today, visitors can explore the remaining buildings on a self-guided tour as well as take a guided tour of the Diana Mine on weekends from May to September. Also in the park is the Ichthyosaur Fossil Shelter, an excavation site housing the fossils of ichthyosaurs—prehistoric marine reptiles that swam in a warm ocean covering central Nevada 225 million years ago. Fossil Shelter tours run from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
It may be premature to call Goodsprings a ghost town—about 229 people live here, according to U.S. Census data—but this community about 39 miles southwest of Las Vegas has similarities: a history as a mining town and great stories. Goodsprings got its start in the 1860s when silver ore was discovered; gold, platinum, vanadium and lead-zinc also were mined here until the mid-20th century. A popular spot to visit is the Pioneer Saloon, home of the famous Ghost Burger and a tragic story. In 1942, movie actor Clark Gable spent three days at the Pioneer Saloon Bar, waiting for word of his wife, actress Carole Lombard, whose plane had crashed into nearby Mount Potosi.
If you like your ghost towns inhabited—and we don’t mean by ghosts!—Jarbidge is your destination. The town, about 100 miles north of Elko near the Idaho border, is home to about a dozen residents and is known for its scenic backcountry. Jarbidge was settled in 1909 by prospectors after reports of a gold strike and saw its population swell to about 1,200 people before the mines played out in the early 1930s.
Only a few structures remain to mark this ghost town about 60 miles outside of Elko. Metropolis is unusual in that it wasn’t founded as a mining town, as most Nevada ghost towns were, but as a planned agricultural community. The New York-based Pacific Reclamation Company established Metropolis in 1910, intending to support a community of 7,500 people with homes, a business district, amusement hall and other amenities. Misfortunes, including plagues, a devastating fire and drought ended the town in the 1930s. Today, the old Lincoln School, built in 1919, is one of the few remnants of Metropolis.
This ghost town near Beatty, about 123 miles northwest of Las Vegas, is right next to an outdoor art installation. The town—Rhyolite—came first, established in the early 20th century and bustling with the promise of mining riches. Rhyolite had a stock exchange and Board of Trade, hotels, stores, a school for 250 children and two electric plants, but the financial panic of 1907 took its toll. By 1916, residents abandoned Rhyolite, many of them taking the wooden building materials that constituted their homes and businesses in their search for the next mining boomtown.
Decades later, in the 1980s, a group of artists would install of handful of large-scale sculptures adjacent to Rhyolite, an area that has come to be known as the Goldwell Open Air Museum. Today visitors can see the remaining structures of Rhyolite, including the old bank building and the bottle house, as well as such sculptures as “The Last Supper” and “Ghost Rider.”
Civil War deserters reportedly preferred Eldorado Canyon—home of the Techatticup Mine and its corresponding ghost town—just 44 miles south of Las Vegas. The isolated canyon first was mined for gold by the Spanish in the 1700s; later prospectors established the Colorado Mining District—which included the Techatticup—in the 1860s. Today, historical mining tours are available through Eldorado Canyon Mine Tours.
American author Mark Twain once prospected in this town off Interstate 80 in Pershing County. Founded in 1861, Unionville experienced a major mining boom from 1863 to 1870, and once served as the seat of Humboldt County. In its heyday, it was home to about 1,500 people; today, about 20. Hit the road to check out the weathered wooden structures, including Twain’s old cabin. For an overnight, consider the Old Pioneer Garden B&B Guest Ranch, one of the town’s few remaining businesses.
For more on Nevada ghost towns and Nevada travel, visit TravelNevada.com.