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Top Ancient Archaeological Sites in the United States

doll-house-anasazi-ruin-utah-gary-whitton

The following are a list of ancient Native American archaeological sites, many of them of the ancient Anasazi (known more recently as Ancestral Puebloan). I have organized the list by the most visually stunning and well preserved, rather than by their cultural and historical significance. The dominance of the Ancestral Puebloans is as much attributable I believe to the preserving nature of deserts as it is to their characterstic of building monumental buildings. Many of these sites have been protected as state and national parks and are located primarily in the Western United States around the Four Corners region of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. If you only had one opportunity to visit these ancient American sites, a trip that covered this area of the Southwest would be well worth it. And they are within a 4-5 hour drive of three international airports – Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, and Phoenix.

Mesa Verde

Mesa Verde Nationa Park - Cliff Palace

Cliff Palace/Wikipedia

Located in the Southwest corner of Colorado, just outside Cortez, Mesa Verde is without a doubt the largest and best preserved ancient Native American ruins in North America, north of the Mexican border. A major settlement area for the Anasazi Indians (also known as Ancestral Puebloans) between 650 A.D. and 1285 A.D., much of the monumental architecture from the latest period of occupation can be found in a series of desert sandstone canyons with giant south facing alcoves turned into cliff dwellings. Cliff Palace, the largest of the dwellings contained at its height 150 rooms and 23 kivas, and housed an estimated 100 people.

At least 6 other major ruins are located in the park, with dozens of other sites within the canyons as well as the mesa top. These include Balcony, Long, Mug, Oak Tree, Spruce Tree and Square Tower Houses.

Mesa Verde NP: Website
Google Maps: Find
Flickr: Photo Gallery
Book: 
The Lost World of the Old Ones: Discoveries in the Ancient SouthwestDavid Roberts
Radio West: Author discussion of The Lost World of the Old Ones.

Chaco Canyon

Pueblo Bonito Anasazi Ruin - New Mexico

Pueblo Bonito – Wikipedia

Like Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon’s 15 major archaeological sites are a product of the Ancestral Puebloeans. Located south of Mesa Verde in northern New Mexico, it contained the largest buildings in the United States until the 19th century. The largest of these, Pueblo Bonito, covers 3 acres and contains close to 800 rooms. However archaeological, and climatic research suggests that Chaco may have been intended more as a  gathering place for religious ceremonies, than an attempt to build a large permanent settlement. The design and alignment of many of the buildings suggest that solar and lunar cycles played a significant role in their construction. This importance is mirrored in the petroglyphs found in the area, including famously those on Fajada Butte.

Another notable feature of the Chaco Canyon site is the network of roads that radiate from it across the San Juan Basin. The longest of these are the Great North and South Roads. Debate continues about other significant road segments in the area that are shorter and disconnected, that absent weathering over time, may have been connected in the past. Whatever the case, they hint both at the importance of Chaco Canyon, but also the significant effort that was required to bring materials from other area, like timber, to build the canyon’s monumental architecture.

Chaco Canyon NP: Website
Google Maps: Find
Flickr: Photo Gallery
Archeoastronomy of the Chacoan Pueblo (PDF)

Cedar Mesa/Grand Gulch

Unlike Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde, the Anasazi ruins in the Cedar Mesa/Grand Gulch cover a much larger area. The ruins are smaller and more dispersed, but finding them offers an intimate wilderness experience, with the real potential to see ancient relics that few others have. However the experience comes at a prices. Much of Cedar Mesa is a remote desert environment, with much of it accessible only by dirt roads that can change significantly with bad weather, and hiking trails that can prove challenging at times for the inexperienced and unprepared.

Some of the most famous ruins in the area include: Tower House, Fallen Roof, House on Fire, River House, Moon House and Jailhouse.

Grand Gulch: Official Website
Google Maps: Find
Fine Art America : Photo Gallery

Horseshoe Canyon Pictographs

Originally named Barrier Canyon, Horseshoe Canyon

 

was designated as an offshoot of Canyonlands National Park (Utah) in 1971. It was included in the management of the park to help protect what is arguably the best preserved example of ancient Native American rock art. It is also some of the oldest known rock art, with most scientists agreeing the pictographs are at least 700 to 2000 years old. Some believe they are far older. The canyon’s rock art is considered the archetype, and best example of a rock art style known as the Barrier Canyon Style (BCS) seen in different spots across much of the Colorado plateau.

The main pictograph panel in the canyon, known as the Great Gallery is 200 feet long and 15 feet high, with over 20 life-sized anthropomorphic images. The tallest is over 7 feet high. Other notable panels in the canyon, include Horseshoe, Alcove, and High Gallery.  All are found along the same hiking trail, and relatively easy to find.

The access point for Horseshoe Canyon is opposite the entrance to Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park, and requires a well maintained 2-wheel drive vehicle with reasonable clearance for the 30+ mile drive to the canyon’s edge. Once at the trailhead the hike is 7 miles round trip with the hardest part being the hike out. Keep this in mind, especially during the hot summer months.

National Park Service – Horseshoe Canyon
Google Maps – Find
Fine Art America: Photo Gallery
Article: The Archaelogy of Horseshoe Canyon (National Park Service) (PDF)

Montezuma Castle

Montezuma Castle Camp Verde Arizona

Montezuma Castle – Wikipedia

Montezuma Castle is a well-preserved cliff dwelling of the Ancestral Puebloeans located near Camp Verde, Arizona. The dwellings were constructed and used by the Sinagua, a tribe closely related to the Hohokam. Montezuma is believed to have been constructed after 1100 A.D. following the resettlement of the Verde Valley by the Sinagua. The structure contains 20 different rooms and may have housed as many as 50 people. The last known occupation of the site was around 1425 A.D. And like the Anasazi its believed that drought, and possibly warfare forced the Sinagua to migrate to other locations.

While the ruin is named after the Aztec King Montezuma, there are no known direct links to the Aztec’s themselves, although possible trading links have been suggested by some historians.

National Park Service – Montezuma Castle
Google Maps – Find
Flickr: Photo Gallery

Canyon de Chelly

Canyon de Chelly is a National Park wholly owned by and located within the Navajo Reservation. It is named after a particular canyon within the park but consists of three – de Chelly, del Muerto, and Monument. The canyon system is considered one the longest continuously inhabited locations in North America , mostly recently by the Navajo and Anasazi. Within the canyon are a number of visible Anasazi ruins, including White House, Antelope House and Sliding House. Of these three, park visitors can visit White House in the company of a Navajo guide.  In addition, over 2500 archaeological sites have been identified in the area, including dozens of Anasazi village sites.

Located in the Northeast corner of Arizona, it makes a good stop on a tour of other nearby archaeological sites, including Mesa Verde, Cedar Mesa and Chaco Canyon.

National Park Service – Canyon De Chelly

Google Maps – Find
Flickr: Photo Gallery

Wupatki

Wupatki Pueblo Ruins - Arizona

Wupatki Pueblo Ruins – Matt Kieffer

Wupatki National Monument is located in North Central Arizona near the town of Flagstaff. The park encloses archaeological sites from at least 3 distinct cultures, including the Cohonina, Kayenta Anasazi, and Sinagua. Wupatki Pueblo the ruin after which the monument is named is the oldest in the park and contained over 100 rooms. It also includes a ball court, a structure similar to those found in Mesoamerica, and suggestive of a link to tribes further south.

National Park Service – Wupatki National Monument

Google Maps – Find
Flickr: Photo Gallery

Serpent Mound

The Great Serpent Mound is a 1,348-foot long, three-foot-high prehistoric effigy mound located in Adams County Ohio. Managed as a park by the Ohio Historical society, the mound is believed to have been constructed by the Fort Ancient culture around 1070 A.D. The name of the culture is derived from the Fort Ancient archaeological site, located with Washington Township, Ohio. The Fort Ancient peoples are believed to have lived along the Ohio river from West Virginia to Kentucky between 1000-1750 A.D.

Ohio History Center – Serpent Mound
Google Maps – Find

Blythe Intaglios

The Blythe Intaglios (Geoglyphs) are a grouping of large figures, similar to the Nazca Lines of South America, near Blythe California. The largest figure is over 171 feet long. Similar figures albeit of a smaller nature can be found throughout the desert of Southeastern California. The glyphs were created by scraping away the top layer of soil which is darker color than the soil beneath. The Blythe figures are believed to range in age from 900 BCE to 1200 CE, based on radiocarbon dating. The tribe of people responsible for their creation has yet to be identified. Their meaning is more than likely spiritual in nature.

Bureau of Land Management – Blythe Intaglios
Google Maps – Find

James Jacob’s: Photo Gallery

 

Further Reading Suggestions:

Switzerland’s Most Beautiful Vistas

Stellarium and Kulmhotel, Gornergrat

Of all the countries I have visited, Switzerland leads the pack, in the amount of natural beauty it manages to pack into such a small geographic area. And the Swiss with their trains, gondolas and tunnels carved into mountainsides make it so easy to explore. But even with this added benefit, a lifetime wouldn’t be long enough to find all the beautiful vistas this country has to offer.

The Matterhorn Region

The area around Zermatt is a landscape photographer’s dream. Tucked away in the upper reaches of the Matter Valley (Mattertal), Zermatt is the gateway to an alpine wilderness of rugged beauty. Like much of southern Switzerland, the region’s history is dominated by glacial activity, and a number of large glaciers remain here today. Then there is the Matterhorn, which dominates the horizon for miles around.

Here are a few suggestions to start your adventurers in this region.

Stellisee – This small mountain lake lies above the Matteral to the east of Zermatt, and can be reached via a 20-minute hike from the Blauherd Summit Gondola station.

Riffelsee – This is a small mountain lake west of Zermatt near the base of the Matterhorn. It is accessible via the Gornergrat Bahn cog railway. After you get off at the Rotenboden station it is a 10 minute walk.

Lago Goillet – This lake offers another beautiful vantage point of the Matterhorn from the Italian side. Its a bit of a journey from the Swiss side, via the Trockener Steg Mountain Station. The alternative is to come up from Breuil-Cervinia, Italy.

Kulmhotel Gornergrat / Gornergrat Rail Station – Both locations offer a beautiful view of the Gornergrat Glacier valley and the landscape around the Matterhorn above the Matteral. For those interested in extending their adventure further, I recommend investigating the trek across Gornergrat Glacier to the Monte Rosa haute.

Schwyz-Lucerne Region

Its between Schwyz and Lucerne that several mountain ranges and glacially carved lakes converge to create one of the most beautiful natural landscapes I have ever witnessed.  And its from the high peaks that dot the landscape that the views go from great to spectacular.

Grosser Mythen - Schwyz - Switzerland

Grosser Mythen – MM/Flickr

Hwy 8 Scenic Viewpoint

My first introduction to the Schwyz-Lucerne area was during a return trip to Switzerland from Germany and Austria via Hwy 8, which makes its way into the Schwyz canton from the north. There are several pullouts along this section of highway, with the last one (see above) before you drop into the village being the most breathtaking. It also gives you a sense of the amazing photographic potential of this area, especially given the inclination of the Swiss as I have come to know them, for making it relatively easy to visit many high points in the Swiss Alps.

Grosser Mythen

Grosser Mythen is a prominent mountain peak just to the north of Schwyz. From the village a hiking trail rises to Holzegg Pass, passing along the way, the monastery of St. Josef. From Holzegg the trail ascends steeply to the top of the mountain, which offers both a trekking haute, where overnight accommodations can be made, and an amazing panoramic view of the Swiss Alps, Schwyz, and the lakes of Lauerzersee and Lake Lucerne (Vierwaldstättersee).

Flickr: Photo Gallery 

Fronalpstock and Lake Lucerne

Fronalpstock – Roel Hemkes/Flickr

Stoos Ridge (Klingenstock to Fronalpstock)

Stoos Ridge bridges two prominent peaks south of Schwyz (Klingenstock and Fronalpstock) and offers breathtaking views of Lake Lucerne, and the surrounding glacial valleys. Reaching the ridge requires a series of trips via cable car and chair lift, starting in the valley below the car-free village of Stoos. Once in Stoos, chair lifts are available to both peaks, with many hikers starting at Klingenstock and hiking in a northwest arch toward Fronalpstock. The complete journey is approximately 5km unless one chooses to forgo the chair lifts and hike the complete loop.

And for those famished after their hike, Fronalpstock offers a restaurant, the highest one in Schwyz Canton.

Flickr: Photo Gallery 

Rigi Massif

Mount Pilatus

Mt. Pilatus - Lucerne - Switzerland

Mt. Pilatus – Paul Stocker/Flickr

Of the mountain views I discuss here, Mt. Pilatus, is much closer to Lucerne than Schwyz. Like the others, it offers a different view of the same intertwined lake and mountain system common to the area. It is also the most famous, probably because of how accessible it is. During much of the year, visitors can reach the top of the mountain via the village of Alpnachstad and the world’s steepest cogwheel railway, which has been in operation since 1889. Alternatively, gondolas and cable cars operate year-around from Kriens. And if you so desire there are trails to hike up to the top under your own power.

Both Kreins and Alpnachstad can be accessed by car and the Swiss Rail system.

Flickr: Photo Gallery
Official Website: http://www.pilatus.ch/en/

Aletsch Glacier

Aletsch Glacier in Valais, Switzerland

Aletsch Glacier – Wikipedia

As the largest glacier in the Alps, the Aletsch (Aletschgletscher) by default is a must see for landscape photographers, especially those who enjoy a wild landscape of rock and ice.   The most popular viewpoints are from the Bettmerhorn and Eggishorn, which can be accessed via cable cars. The Eggishorn viewpoint is the one most familiar to the author and can be reached starting in the village of Fiesch, where the Swiss Rail system has a station. Other access points include gondolas from the village of Morel and the Betten train station. These carry you to the top of the same ridge that overlooks the glacier.

If you want a glimpse of rural life in Valais, be sure to stroll through one of the three villages (Belalp, Riederalp and Bettmeralp) that lie between Eggishorn and Bettmerhorn.

On a clear day one can see the Matterhorn on the southern horizon.

Lauterbrunnen Valley

If time is the photographers overriding consideration when visiting Switzerland, the place I would probably recommend first is the Lauterbrunnen Valley, and its surrounding mountains, hillsides, and villages. Only a few hours from the Zurich airport, Lauterbrunnen is the epitome of the u-shaped glaciated valley. And centuries removed from the melting of the glacier that formed it, the valley and hills above have filled in with the beautiful colors of life.

The starting point for most is the ride into the valley, either by car or train, and this alone is worth the visit. But once you have stopped in the village of Lauterbrunnen, and admired the wonders of this valley from below, don’t forget to jump on a train or gondola and see it from above. Whether its the villages of Gimmelwald, Murren, or Wengen that cling to the slopes above the valley, all offer commanding vistas of this natural wonder of the Swiss Alps. But if you have enough time, another level of beautiful vistas awaits. There is the rotating restaurant on the peak of Schilthorn, made famous by the James Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, as well as the highest rail station in Europe at Jungfraujoch. From the train station at Kleine Scheidegg perched above the village of Grindelwald in the valley east Lauterbrunnen,  the railway winds makes it way up to a col between the mountain peaks of Jungfrau and the Mönch. On the journey the train passes through a tunnel carved through the Eiger and Monch, and offers an open air stop at Eigergletscher (Eiger Glacier).

Murren-Gimmelwald Via Ferrata (The valley at its most spectacular, but not for the faint of heart).

Kandersteg Valley

The Kandersteg, the valley immediately to the west of Lauterbrunnen, and south of Interlaken offers its own variety of alpine splendor, with the crown jewel being the glacially fed    or Lake Oeschinen. Its this glacier melt that gives the lake its distinctive turquoise color, and when the winds are calm and the lake turns to glass, the view becomes magical. The lake is a popular summer retreat accessible by gondola and hiking trail from the village Kandersteg. The best views of the lake are from the hiking trail that rises along its northern edge. For the adventurous, the trail rises high into the Bernese Alps to Blümlisalphütte (an alpine lodge), where those with prior reservations can spend the night.

Bluemlisalp Hut – http://www.bluemlisalphuette.com/
Oeschinen – http://www.oeschinensee.ch/en/

Trift Gorge 

The Trift Gorge carved out mostly from runoff by the upstream Trift Glacier (Triftgletscher) is located in the Urner Alps near Gadmen. Centered in the Grimselwelt region of the Bern Canton, the hike in offers a spectacular  view of the Triftsee, a lake that formed in 2002 as a result of global warming and the shrinking glacier. Before the glacier receded, hikers would cross the glacier to various mountain huts in the surrounding mountains, but the melting made that impossible to do. This led to the construction of a foot bridge, the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the Swiss Alps, in 2004. The bridge crossing and the view it offers is the reward for those willing to make the journey up the canyon.

Hikers have the choice of starting their hike in Gadmen, or taking a cable car part way. For those with extensive alpine experience, the trail continues onto the Trifthuette, where advanced reservations can be made. More family friendly accomodations are available at the Windegghutte, which is accessible via a side trail prior to reaching the Triftsee Bridge.

Windegghütte – http://www.windegghuette.ch/
Trifthuette http://www.trifthuette.ch/

Unteraar Glacier

Lauteraarhutte above Unteraargletscher

Lauteraarhutte / Wikipedia

The Unteraar Glacier located in the Grimselwelt region is by far the most remote area covered here, and is reminiscent of the experience you might expect in similar glacially covered landscapes like Alaska. Roads are few, and gondolas non-existent. Getting in requires a long hike, at least 8 hours round-trip. Unterraar offers a rugged, primal beauty, that forgoes the forested mountainsides and pastureland of other Swiss alpine valleys. But the reward at the end, near the Lauteraarhütte, is well worth the trip.

 

Further Reading Suggestions:

 

Top Western Ghost Towns – US/Canada

Bodie Ghost Town Methodist Church

Bannack, Montana

Bannack is a ghost town in Beaverhead County, Montana. Its founding in 1862, followed the discovery of gold on Grasshopper Creek, by John White. Its name is derived from a local tribe of Native Americans (the Bannock). It served briefly as the capitol of the Montana Territory in 1864. Bannack’s peak as a gold rush town was relatively short as prospectors moved with the news of new discoveries in nearby Virgina city. However gold mining continued in the area until the 1950’s. Its last permanent residences left the area in the 1970’s.

Today the town is a Montana state park, and has over 60 structures for visitors to explore. The best point of access to the site is from Dillion, MT on highway 278.

Official Website: http://www.bannack.org/
Google Maps: Find
Flickr:  Photo Gallery

 

Bodie, Californa

Bodie Ghost Town Methodist Church

Bodie Church – Wikipedia

Bodie, a gold rush mining town, began in 1859 following the discovery of gold by W. S. Bodey. The discovery coincided with the discovery near by of silver in Aurora, Nevada, and the famous Comstock Load near Virgina City, NV. While never as rich as the Comstock load, Bodie is speculated at its height to have housed nearly 5000 people, and a significant population remained in the area until the 1920’s.

Today it is a California state park, and is considered the best preserved ghost town in the state. Over 100 standing structures and other relics are available for visitors to explore and photograph. It can be accessed heading south from Reno, NV, on highway 395, near Willow Springs.

Official Website: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=509
Google Maps: Find
Flickr: Photo Gallery

Chesterfield, Idaho

Chesterfield is a ghost town in Caribou County, Idaho. It was founded in 1879 by Chester Call as a ranch along the Oregon trail. It quickly grew into a Mormon agricultural settlement as friends Chester and other immigrants entered the area. The town hits its peak in 1900, after which a series of cold winters, national recessions in the 1920’s and agricultural problems caused many people in the town to leave. By 1941 the town was mostly deserted, and only about 200 people lived in the area.

Today Chesterfield is managed by the Chesterfield Foundation, and contains many restored buildings, including the Mormon Meeting Hall, School House, Tithing office, the Town store, and numerous brick and wooden homes.

Official Website: http://www.historicchesterfield.org/
Google Maps: Find
Fineartamerica: Photo Gallery

Dawson City, Yukon Territory , Canada

Klondike Kate's Dawson City, Yukon

Klondike Kate’s – Wikipedia

Dawson City is a living ghost town, situated on the banks of the Yukon River. The townsite was founded by Joseph Ladue and named in January 1897 after Canadian geologist George M. Dawson. Dawson stood at the center of the Klondike Goldrush, and was the end point for many fortune seekers that traveled over the fabled and dangerous Chilkoot Pass. Of the estimated 100,000 people who attempted to reach the Klondike Goldfields, only 30-40 thousand succeeded. By 1898, little more than a year after it started, the rush was over and miners began chasing after new discoveries in Nome, Alaska and Atlin Lake on the Yukon River.

Today just over a thousand people call Dawson home. And while little remains in the gold fields but the tailings of dredges, many of the towns original buildings have been preserved, and include themed shops, art galleries, bars, and a theater/casino.

Official Website: http://dawsoncity.ca/
Google Maps: Find
Flicker: Photo Gallery

Grafton, Utah

Grafton is a ghost town, just outside of Zion National Park in Washington County, Utah. The town was originally founded in 1859 as a cotton growing project ordered by the president of the Mormon Church at that time, Brigham Young. The location proved a poor choice, not only because of the threat of flooding from the Virgin River, but also because of the heavy silt load in the section of the river where Grafton was located. This caused constant problems with the irrigation system put in place to water the cotton. This lead families of the settlement to move to better locations on the other side of the river, where the modern towns of Springdale and Rockville are located.

Today several well preserved and maintained buildings, as well original orchards and pastures from the settlement remain. The town site is maintained by the Grafton Heritage Partnership Project. The access road to Grafton is not obvious from Hwy 9. One should watch closely as they drive through Rockville for a street called Bridge Rd, which as the name suggests leads to a bridge that crosses the Virgin River. After that signs direct you to the site, as well as the town cemetery.

Official Website: http://graftonheritage.org/
Google Maps: Find
Fineartamerica: Photo Gallery

Jerome, Arizona

Jerome Grand Hotel - Arizona

Jerome Grand Hotel – Wikipedia

Jerome is a living ghost town that developed around rich copper deposits in the Black Hills of Yavapai County in the State of Arizona. The first miners were local tribes of Native Americans, who were followed by Spanish miners looking for gold. Jerome’s population reached a peak of 10,000 in the 1920’s, and as the copper reserves depleted the population decreased to less than 100 people in the 1950s. To keep the town alive, and preserve its history, a concerted effort was made to diversify into tourism and other industries. Today many of Jerome’s historic buildings and surrounding land are occupied with art galleries, coffee houses, restaurants, wineries, a museum and a state park

Official Website:  http://jeromechamber.com/ / http://jeromehistoricalsociety.com/
Google Maps: Find
Flickr – Photo Gallery

Nelson, Nevada

Located in El Dorado Canyon, in the Eldorado Mountains, on the southern edge of the Eldorado Valley, one might correctly guess that Nelson’s history has a lot to do with gold, or at least a Spanish obsession with labelling everything Eldorado. But in this case the Spanish who visited the area as early as 1775, were onto something, as Nelson would eventually stand at the center of one of the first major gold strikes in Nevada’s history. Pioneers to the area discovered gold and silver deposits in 1859, and with it came a rush of prospectors a few years later. Between 1859 and 1945, several million dollars in gold, silver and other metals were mined.

Today the town is notable for its colorful wooden buildings, and relics from the past, including antique signage from prominent US brands, Coca Cola, Texaco, among others.

Google Maps: Find
Flickr – Photo Gallery

Nevada City/Virgina City, Montana

Gilbert Brewery Virginia City, Montana

Gilbert Brewery Virginia City, Montana

Nevada City’s roots are firmly planted in the gold mining booms and busts of the American West. Along with its neighbor Virginia City, Nevada City was the center of one of the major gold strikes in the Rocky Mountain West. Between 1863 when the town was founded, and 1922 when major mining activity had ceased, its estimated that as much as $2.5 billion worth gold had been extracted from the area.

While time and carelessness led to the destruction of many of the city’s original buildings, 14 buildings from the original town site remain. In addition, 94 other historical structures from across Montana were brought to the area to form an open air museum.

Official Website: http://www.virginiacitymt.com/
Google Maps: Find
Flickr – Photo Gallery

Rhyolite, Nevada

Rhyolite Train Station - Nevada

Rhyolite Train Station – Nevada

Rhyolite was a relatively latecomer in the precious metal booms of the American West. Founded in 1905 it was one of several mining camps that formed as gold-seekers entered the area following news of the latest discovery. But, like many mining boom towns Rhyolite’s fortunes rose and fell quickly, with the population peaking in 1908 at around 5,000 people. Not only did investors believe the mines in the area were being overvalued, but larger macro-economic issues in neighboring California,  and the country as a whole drew interest away from Rhyolite, Among these issues were the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 and troubles on Wall Street, known as the “Panic of 1907”. By 1911, many of the miners who had come to live in Rhyolite had moved on to better prospects.  And by 1920 it had become a side attraction for visitors coming to see Death Valley, and other points of interest in the area.

Today, among Rhyolite attractions are its train station, general store, a building constructed almost entirely of bottles, and artistic sculptures that have been added in recent years to its entrance near the highway into Death Valley.

Google Maps: Find
Flickr – Photo Gallery

Spring City, Utah

While less of a ghost town than any other towns on this list, I include Spring City because it has managed to preserve much of its historic character and original buildings.  In fact the entire town has been listed on the National Historic Register for this reason. The  town began in 1852 as Mormon pioneers settled the area. For a brief time the town was abandoned due to ongoing conflict with the local Ute Indian tribe, which eventually led Spring City to be one of the battlefields in what would become known as the Black Hawk Wars (1865-1872). The war included over 150 engagements with 16 Indian tribes of the Ute, Paiute, Apache and Navajo, led initially by the Ute Chief Antonga Black Hawk.

Today Spring City remains a small rural town engaged primarily in agriculture and ranching, the same as its early residents. It is located on Utah’s Highway 89, between the larger towns of Mt. Pleasant and Ephraim.

Official Website: http://springcitycorp.com/
Google Maps: Find
Flickr – Photo Gallery

St. Elmo, Colorado

St Elmo House on Main Street

St Elmo House – Wikipedia

St. Elmo is a former gold mining town founded in 1880. Situated at an elevation of nearly 10,000 feet, it lies high in the Sawatch Mountain Range. The town reached its zenith in the 1890’s at which time it had multiple hotels, dance halls, saloons, a newspaper and a school house. The largest of the nearby mines, the Mary Murphy Mine, recovered nearly $60 million dollars in gold. From the 1890’s onward the town gradually declined.

While St. Elmo was never truly abandoned, it has very few year around residents.  Today St. Elmo stands as one of Colorado’s best preserved ghost towns, even after a 2002 fire destroyed several prominent buildings.

The town can be visited via Nathrop, CO, by traveling west up Chalk Creek Canyon on Chalk Creek Rd. (Chaffee County rd 162).

Website of Interest: http://www.legendsofamerica.com/co-stelmo.html
Google Maps: Find
St Elmo: Photo Gallery

Tombstone, Arizona

While Tombstone is probably seen as the quintessential ghost town of the America West, given its history as the spot where the Earp brothers and Doc Holladay faced off against the Clanton and McLaurey brothers at the O.K. Corral, it was never really abandoned after the silver boom that got it started in 1877. At its height in the 1890’s more than 14,000 people called Tombstone home, and it boasted more than 100 saloons, three newspapers and 14 gambling halls. Its estimated the nearby silver mines recovered between $40-$80 million in ore.

Today the town has about a thousand permanent residents engaged largely in the tourism business. While many of the original buildings remain, the National Register of Historic Places has threatened to pull its designation of the town’s historic district, due to inauthentic changes made to historic buildings. Tombstone is just over an hours drive south from Tucson.

Official Website: http://www.tombstonechamber.com/
Google Maps: Find
Flickr – Photo Gallery

Further Reading Suggestions

Other Resources

If you would like to dig deeper into the hundreds of ghost towns that dot the American West. Here are some resources of potential interest.