There are two types of ghost towns in America.
The first are the modern ghost towns – the depressing and tragic reality of the American economy.
On a drive through the Mid-West you’ll pass many abandoned and derelict small towns.
It’s scary how new and contemporary some of the buildings look in these modern ghost towns. But the towns are empty: windows smashed in, cars burnt out, and five foot grass growing through every broken building and vehicle. Whatever happened to the economy of these towns, there was a boom, and the fall came swiftly.
Seeing these towns was one of the sadder parts of our recent RV trip through the American Midwest and Deep South.
I didn’t take any photos of these because I’m not a photojournalist and didn’t feel right gawking at a town’s misfortune and misery.
The other sad part that struck me was how clean, newly constructed and still inhabited nearby churches were in comparison to these ghost towns. Make of that what you will.
The second type of ghost town in America is the one you think of when you watch old western movies – the abandoned mining towns from the 19th century.
On our way through the Mojave Desert in California, we stopped in to visit Calico, the former mining town and current ghost town tourist attraction.
Calico was founded in 1881 as a silver mining town, with all of the facilities and infrastructure of large towns. It had a post office, a weekly newspaper called the Calico Print, three hotels, five general stores, bars, brothels, and restaurants. There was also a school, a sheriff, a lawyer, and two doctors. All the mod cons!
When the Silver King Mine was opened in the mid-1880s, it became the largest silver producer in California. In 1887, Calico had over 500 mines and approximately 1,200 people.
Like the ghost-towns of modern America, Calico’s downfall was economic. On July 14, 1890, the Sherman Silver Purchase Act was enacted. The mines had an over supply of silver, and the Act drove down the price of silver to the point where it could no longer be profitably extracted.
Calico is one of the few ghost-towns that has been reopened for residential purposes. Aside from the huge influx of tourists to the site for daily tours, six luxury villas were built about 100 metres away from the ghost town site.
Today, many of the buildings are no longer original and instead have been constructed as life like replicates of the original structures with false facades. The remaining original buildings in Calico are Lil’s Salloon, Smitty’s Gallery and Joe’s Saloon.
There are a stack of tours you can do in Calico (and annoyingly we’d just missed Halloween and some pretty awesome sounding ghost-tours).
We chose the self-tour of “Maggie Mine” – the old silver mine, and the Calico & Odessa Railroad Tour.
The guided mine tour sounded interesting, but we didn’t have the three to four hours to devote to it.
And the self-guided mine tour is great because you do it at your own pace. The mannequins inside are so hilariously bad you can’t help but giggle. I felt like we were in a spin-off of the House of Wax (a thoroughly enjoyable B Grade horror movie where Paris Hilton is brutally murdered in the first five minutes), and the figures were going to come alive and attack us!
And they do say that Maggie Mine is haunted by the souls of those who worked there. Perhaps this is what we felt?
The railroad tour was a relaxing way to end a half day of trekking around Calico. And we had the perfect day for it with the sun and the cool breeze. The railroad was originally used to transport silver ore from the mines on the hills, with contraptions to crush the ore along the railroad. There was nothing ghostly about this tour, but our train driver tour-guide did vibe a little like they’d lost the will to live.
Calico is worth the travel if you’re looking for a day trip anywhere in SoCal. Even if you don’t do the tours, it’s the best vantage point for viewing the Mojave Desert. The colours of the hills aren’t just calico, they’re burnt orange and rust and you get to see real, actual tumbleweed blowing across the roads leading up to it.
Sadly, we didn’t get to do the Ghost Tour as it was too early in the day and we had to get to LA to get me an emergency passport (another blog post for another time), but I suspect going through this ghost town on a night time tour could be an awful lot of fun.
Location: 36600 Ghost Town Road, Yermo CA 92398
Getting there: On the 1-15 you take the Ghost Town Road Exit (it’s impossible for even someone as spatially challenged as me to miss).
Contact Details: Open daily 9:00AM to 5:00PM, except for Christmas Day.
Phone: 800-86-CALICO Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Reservations: www.sbcountyparks.com Central Reservation 1-877-38-PARKS (1-877-387-2757)
Youth (6-15): $5
Under 5: Free
Annual Family Pass: $50.00. (Valid for 12 months from date of purchase. Excludes special events and holidays. Valid ONLY at Calico Ghost Town.)
Dogs: $1/dog (excludes disabled assistance dogs.) Must be on 6′ leash at all times.
NB – There are additional tour fee costs.
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