Arizona has many ghost towns. As miners discovered the state’s rich mineral deposits and started digging out gold, silver and copper, towns cropped up. Many of the veins are still being mined today, but for dozens of places, when the mine dried up, so did the town.
Tombstone is a classic former mining town that managed to stick around and prosper. Wild West lore (and a couple of Hollywood movies) gave the town a new purpose and tourists continue to support businesses there.
It is not alone. Several smaller ghost towns offer plenty of souvenirs and reenactments of gunfights. Oatman’s wild burros and covered wooden sidewalks are tucked in the mountains of northern Arizona. The Goldfield Ghost Town in the Superstition Mountains north of Phoenix advertises daily shootouts in the street.
But just outside Wickenburg, in the Sonoran Desert’s Wickenburg Mountains, you can visit Vulture City. The remnants of a town that once boasted a population of 5,000 is now the ultimate western ghost town.
The only indication of population here is a small building where you check in and can buy a postcard or t-shirt to remind you of your visit. A few displays tell a bit of the history of the town, but the real fun is once you step out the back door with your laminated map and head out to explore the abandoned homes and businesses.
Our “tour guides” during a recent visit were three of our grandkids. They followed the easy map, read the descriptions on the back and cautiously peeked into doorways before stepping into the structures to marvel at what they found.
No costumed characters wander the streets here touting campy gunfight reenactments. No vendors hawk “made in China” souvenirs. Once you enter the town, you can explore at your own pace, unimpeded by the distractions of the world outside Vulture City.
We checked out the hulking, rusted out equipment once used to haul gold out of the mine.
We stepped into the kitchen once used to prepare food for the hungry miners.
We visited the mine office and pondered the map of Arizona’s mineral mines.
Clothes still hang on a screen in a bedroom at the rooming house. A pair of shoes rest on a chair nearby.
The kids agreed the bathtub hadn’t been used in quite awhile … and laughed at how badly the miners must have smelled if they all had to share the same tub.
The hanging tree … don’t all abandoned western towns have a hanging tree? … still boasts a frayed rope dangling from a limb.
When I hear “ghost town” this is what I imagine. It’s truly abandoned. There was no crowd on this particular Sunday afternoon, in fact, we only encountered only a handful of other people as we explored the buildings.
The idea of a ghost town had the kids a little concerned about real ghosts, but once they realized there was no actual haunting happening, they laughed and relaxed and accidentally learned a lot about life in the Old West. (That said, Vulture City does offer private and public ghost hunts and tours, as well as overnight lockdowns, which are very popular this time of year!)
There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Spend a little time with the ghosts of the past if you get a chance.
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