The Fascinating History Of Ghost Towns In The Wild West

Imagine yourself as a prospector in the Wild West, astride your horse and covered in dust as you explore the vast desert landscape. 

You’re looking for a place to set up camp, but all you see are rolling hills and mountains stretching for miles. How do you know if there’s anything worth finding here? Well, one way is to look for ghost towns. 

They’re easy to spot because they were built during periods of massive growth—and then just left behind after those periods ended.

Ghost towns are abandoned communities that were once thriving but have been left desolate due to economic or environmental factors.
The American West is home to many famous ghost towns, including Bodie, California, and Virginia City, Nevada.
Ghost towns offer a glimpse into the past and have become popular tourist destinations.
The history of ghost towns is tied to the economic and social factors that led to their creation, such as the gold rush and the rapid expansion of the railroad.
Books, websites, and articles are great resources for learning more about the history and significance of ghost towns in the American West.

Bodie, California

Bodie, California, was one of the most profitable gold rush towns. In its heyday in 1881, it had a population of 10,000 people and boasted 1,000 buildings. Mining operations were so large that they required five miles of flumes to transport water from the Sierras to the mines. 

The town was abandoned in 1942 and is now preserved as a state park where visitors can stroll through streets lined with shops and saloons or explore underground tunnels used by miners who worked underground.

“Exploring abandoned buildings can be an adventure of a lifetime. If you’re into urban exploration and searching for lost treasures, check out our guide on finding hidden treasure for tips and tricks on how to uncover hidden gems in the city.”

Calico, California

Calico is a small, unincorporated community in San Bernardino County, California. It has few structures and less than 500 residents in the 2010 census. Calico is situated in the Mojave Desert of Southern California, near Barstow on highway 395.

In 1881, silver was discovered by Hiram Mottram in what became known as the Calico Mountains and led to rapid development of the area into a booming town that attracted numerous prospectors and settlers. 

The name “Calico” comes from its abundance of calico-colored rocks (a type of limestone), which were used for building materials such as roofing tiles and stucco walls for buildings throughout the town.

Lake Valley, New Mexico

Lake Valley was founded in 1881 and abandoned in 1952. It is now a ghost town located just outside of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. 

The town was originally founded for gold prospectors who wanted to work at the nearby gold mines but never found any gold deposits. Instead, they made their money selling supplies to miners or by cutting timber from local forests. 

The town spent most of its time as a thriving community until World War II came along and made working as a lumberjack more attractive than mining for gold. In addition to being located near both the Rio Grande River and Colorado border, Lake Valley is also not far from Roswell!

“Ghost towns have a rich history and a lot of mystery surrounding them. To get an in-depth look at the legends and stories of these abandoned places, be sure to read our article on the mystery and legend of ghost towns.”

Glenrio, Texas and New Mexico

Glenrio is a ghost town located in the middle of the US-Mexico border. The town was originally named Glorieta Pass after the Battle of Glorieta Pass, although it wouldn’t be until later that it became known as Glenrio. 

The Rio Grande River runs through Glenrio and there are numerous businesses still standing today, including buildings that once housed a saloon and stagecoach stop. The Historic Highway 66 also runs through this area and there are several car clubs that gather here due to its unique history.

Gold Point, Nevada

Gold Point, Nevada was a mining town founded in 1865 by miners from the California gold fields. Located in the Black Mountains of Esmeralda County, Gold Point is about 15 miles north of the California border. 

Growth and prosperity for Gold Point came to an end when operations were suspended due to declining prices for gold and silver.

Ruby, Arizona

Ruby is a ghost town that was established in 1872. The town was founded by William Wilson, who named it after the nearby Ruby Mountains. Its population peaked at 120 in 1900, but it had declined to just 15 residents by the time it was abandoned in 1938.

“Have you ever wondered what it’s like to explore a ghost town? Check out our first-hand account of exploring the abandoned buildings of a ghost town to get an idea of what it’s like to walk through the deserted streets of a once-thriving town.”

Thurmond, West Virginia

Thurmond, West Virginia. What a story! A town founded in 1902 by the Thurmond Coal Company, Thurmond’s name comes from the original landowner: Thomas Jefferson Thurmond. The town thrived for many years as a hub for coal mining until its closure in 1966 when it was discovered that there were no more coal reserves to be mined from beneath the surface.

A large population of residents moved out of their homes and into nearby cities like Beckley and Huntington, but it wasn’t until 1990 that most of these former residents returned to begin work on turning Thurmond into an historic ghost town site (though it remains abandoned today).

Drawbridge, California

In the late 1800s, Drawbridge was a bustling gold-mining town. In 1892, it even boasted a newspaper called The Pacific Call. However, by the 1970s, Drawbridge had become an abandoned ghost town. 

There’s no official explanation for why this happened, but some local historians believe that it might have something to do with a nearby dam project which could have flooded out the residents of Drawbridge. Today the town is preserved as a historic site and can be visited on weekends from May until October (the rest of the year it’s closed).

Terlingua, Texas

The Big Bend region of Texas is a popular tourist destination, with its stunning landscapes and unique culture. It’s also one of the most striking examples of a Wild West ghost town.

Terlingua was founded in 1872 as a mining camp, but its population grew after an entrepreneur named Jacob Schmidts began to ship in water from Terlingua Creek (which still bears his name). 

By the 1940s, it had become home to around 1,500 people—a number that was halved by 1952 when a flood destroyed many structures in town. The population has since increased again to around 300 people today, though most live outside of town limits and commute daily for work or school.

The biggest draw for tourists looking at this historic site is Terlingua Ghost Town State Park one of several historical sites near Lajitas Golf Resort & Spa on Highway 170/180 heading toward Study Butte Pass Road on the way into Big Bend National Park.

 Visitors can enjoy guided tours through town or self-guided tours if they prefer; there are also camping opportunities available here as well as cabins available through El Real Inn Bed & Breakfast if you want somewhere other than your tent or RV while staying overnight in the area!

Rhyolite, Nevada

Rhyolite is a ghost town located in the northern part of Nye County in Nevada, United States. The small town was founded as a silver mining camp on May 15, 1904 by John William Mackay and James G. Fair as the result of their search for gold and silver deposits along with several other prospectors who were associated with them.

The name “Rhyolite” was given by Mackay to his mine when it was discovered that gypsum had replaced most of the silver ore he had originally found there (his claim site had been named “Gypsum”, but no gypsum could be found), so he decided to use the Greek word for “furnace”. 

A post office began operating on March 1, 1904; it closed on December 31, 1920 due to declining population during World War I and Prohibition-induced economic hardship in the region.

“Ghost towns aren’t just abandoned, they’re often haunted too. If you’re interested in the paranormal and want to explore some of the most haunted ghost towns in America, check out our list of the top 10 most haunted ghost towns in the country.”

Centralia Pennsylvania

Centralia PA is a ghost town in the wild west that was founded in 1864. The fire started here in 1962, when a trash fire at an abandoned strip mine caught on to underground coal deposits and created an underground coal mine fire that has been burning ever since. Today, the town is abandoned because of toxic fumes from this burning mine.

The story of Centralia PA begins with mining operations dating back to 1821, when anthracite coal was discovered there by Joseph Haldeman and Peter Minnich—the first white settlers in what would become Carbon County (PA). 

In 1865 they built a pair of mines called Haldeman-Minnich Colleries (later known as just Minnich Mine), which were purchased by other groups over time until 1887 when they were taken over by Standard Coal Company who began developing them into one large colliery operation called Conyngham shaft number 4.

Kennecott Alaska

Kennecott, Alaska. A mining town with a fascinating history and an even more fascinating future. When it was built in 1906, it was merely a base camp for construction of the Kennicott Glacier Mining District. 

But by the 1940s, Kennecott had grown into an entire town full of homes and businesses serving its 1,200 residents—all thanks to the Kennecott Copper Corporation and their amazing work extracting copper from nearby mines.

In 1967 President Johnson declared over 6 million acres surrounding Kennecott as part of Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Preserve (which includes 13 glaciers). 

This protected status meant no more expansion or development could take place within this area; however, this didn’t stop Kennecott from continuing its operations until 1974 when they finally shut down after decades of success as one of America’s most profitable companies!

“The Great American Gold Rush was a fascinating time in American history, and there are still lost mines and treasures waiting to be found. To learn more about the history of the gold rush and explore the search for lost mines, check out our article on searching for lost mines and treasure.”


These are just some of the many ghost towns that can be found throughout the Wild West. These towns were once bustling with life and activity, but as time went on and circumstances changed, they eventually became abandoned by their inhabitants. 

Some were destroyed intentionally while others simply fell into disrepair over time. Many of them have been revitalized by people who love history or want to preserve what remains of these abandoned places for future generations; however, there are still some which remain untouched by man’s attempts at change.

Further Reading

For those interested in learning more about ghost towns and their history in the American West, here are some additional resources to check out:

Ghost Towns of the American West – a book that explores the history and significance of ghost towns in the West.

Hidden Tales of Ghost Towns – a website that features stories and legends of ghost towns and their past.

7 Fascinating Ghost Towns of America’s Old West – an article that highlights some of the most interesting ghost towns in the American West and their history.


What is a ghost town?

A ghost town is a place that was once a bustling community but has been abandoned due to economic or environmental factors, leaving behind empty buildings and a sense of desolation.

Why were so many ghost towns created in the American West?

Many ghost towns were created in the American West during the 19th century as a result of the gold rush and the rapid expansion of the railroad. When resources were depleted or the railroad routes changed, many towns were left abandoned.

Are there any famous ghost towns in the American West?

Yes, there are many famous ghost towns in the American West, including Bodie, California, and Virginia City, Nevada. These towns are popular tourist attractions and offer a glimpse into the past.

What is the history behind ghost towns?

The history of ghost towns is often tied to the economic and social factors that led to their creation. Many were boomtowns during the gold rush or other resource booms, and when the resources ran out, the town was abandoned.

Can you visit ghost towns?

Yes, many ghost towns are open to visitors and have become popular tourist destinations. Visitors can explore the abandoned buildings and learn about the history of the town and its people.