Life in the Old West

True stories, tall tales, memorabilia of the American West

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Ghost towns of America abound throughout the West


Tiny abandoned or nearly abandoned villages are everywhere, but the ghost towns of America abound throughout the West. History of the Old West often focuses on the country’s westward expansion; but many who are most interested in the West are more interested in ghost towns than growing Western towns and cities.

The term “ghost town” was not a common part of the Old West. It came into use mostly in the 20th Century and chiefly to characterize mining camps and mining “boom towns” which rose up quickly around gold or silver claims — then nearly vanished just as quickly when the ore played out and miners moved on. Such towns and camps are located throughout the mountains and deserts of the West, from the Front Range of the Rockies up into Canada and through Alaska.

Such towns hold special fascination to hikers, campers, and tourists of every sort who flock to the ones that have been revamped and turned into tourist attractions. Some, such as Central City, Cripple Creek, Black Hawk and others in Colorado, have changed from ghost towns to booming tourism and casino sites through modern efforts to bring money into now mined out regions of the West.

Genuine ghost towns still hold their fascination without giving way to tourism gilt and glitter. Old mining structures — if not fenced off and still accessible to the public — vie with old livery stables, saloons, school houses, and other structures still standing from their departed glory days. These are the small settlements, sometimes nothing more than fallen sheds along abandoned trails, that offer a glimpse of the West’s history as it was lived by the men and women who lived and died there.

Other mining towns and settlements throughout the West went through a boom and bust cycle, but still maintained their populations and identity. They could have become ghost towns but had the resources and transportation links (railroads, stage lines, etc.) that helped them avoid the “bust” cycle and continue as contemporary mountain and desert small towns. Leadville, Colorado, is such a town. It was founded as a silver and lead mining boom town; millions of dollars and famous mining moguls rose and fell in the town. Yet today, Leadville is a thriving town of some 2,200 people. It offers all the fun and history of a mining and “Wild West” town without much of the glitzy tourism — and although there are several ghost towns in the Leadville area, the town itself is by no means a ghost town.

If you have the opportunity and time for it, you can spend many a fascinating vacation roaming through the treasures and history of ghost towns of America which abound throughout the West. Take a trip and see for yourself!