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Thursday, December 18, 2008
How to be a Ghost Town Explorer
I've really dug the desert for a while, and lately I've become big into ghost towns. I've taken advantage of some recent free time by engaging in an extensive ghost town and desert reseach project...
The point of this is that while there is a lot of desert, desert mountains, and 'ghost towns' on maps and websites like ghosttowns.com, there are many different kinds of desert, many different kinds of mountains, and MANY fake ghost towns. These include towns with old buildings where people are living in newer buildings nearby (Belmont, NV, Apex, CO), ghost towns with active mining where industry and other ghost tourist might make you feel less comfortable (Chloride, AZ and Manhattan, NV), and ghost town "sites" with nothing left at all. I suspect ghosttowns.com has several such enteries just to generate traffic and thus get better ranking in google searches (for ex, check out their listing for Roosevelt County, NM. There's a rediculous number of enteries, and almost all of them have no information at all).
There are ghost towns like Rhyolite, NV, where many buildings are fenced off and signs tell you not to picnic after dark. Others like Henson, CO, have decently trafficked forest roads going right through them and "no tresspassing" signs all around- not exactly the most comfortable place to lounge around.
Also, there are ghost towns in more inaccessible places, and some just off major interstates. Some have good conditioned roads going to them and others may require a hike over mountains or a desert. Choosing either to visit may be important if your car likes to break down a lot, is only 2 WD, or you don't have lots of extra water with you...
So the point is to find the ghost town that is right for you. Here is a method.
1) a computer with fast internet and tabbed browsing
2) the websites images.google.com, ghosttowns.com, and http://www.legendsofamerica.com/ is helpful too.
3) maps. If you have two different atlases, ideally made in different years and/or by different companies, that's the best. If you have an atlas and also a state specific map that's good too. Also, the satellite imagery on maps.google.com is helpful to find starting points if you like different terrian (Ex: the new mexican forested mountains of the Sangre de Christos are a way different environment than the desert badlands of the Northwest poriton of that state)
I start with the name of an alleged ghost town. Today I click on a county on ghost towns.com and I open a new tab for all the ghost towns listed in that state. A lot of the entries on that site are essentially blank and I soon close those. For the places that look real, have pictures, and say there's no one living there, I do another search on images.google.com to learn more about it. I also check the location on my map. If it looks interesting I make a note of it in the wordpad document that's on my computer. If it looks super interesting and I may actually try to go there I'll mark the spot with a pen in my atlas.
A lot of ghost town themed websites have incorrect or contradictory directions. Open up mapquest and google maps in their own tabs and type in the name of the town and state. Even though the towns maybe abandoned, those sites still have data on them and you can find good directions that way.
Also, looking at your atlas you will notice a lot of very small roads, and perhaps unpaved roads, that seeming lead to nowhere or have a lot of empty space between their begining and end. On Atlases I have it's rather interesting that some of the "towns" marked on there are actually ghost towns (ex: Rhyolite, NV, Midas, NV, Cisco, UT, and Ancho, NM all appear on my atlas but are actually ghost towns). This kind of research is also rather practical, as for instance, it's over a hundred miles on I-70 without a single gas station between Grand Junction, CO, and Green River, UT. If you were planning on gassing up half way in between at Cisco, you'd be in for quite a shock when you found it was a ghost town!
Now that you have a few interesting places marked down, you can plan a more rewarding trip. It can sure be a drag to drive rather far only to find a place is not quite what you thought it would be- so being this methodical helps eliminate that margin of error.
To keep things organized I started a word document for each western state I'm interested in visiting. Then I divide it into NW, NE, SE, SW sections, and list the towns by county, and add any useful data there.
Lastly, it's cool to share your stories and photos about where you've been.... but I'm almost starting to think it's best to leave the names of places out of your stories... I'd hate for my favorite middle of nowhere spots to become too popular or get vandalized or looted. Except maybe for Cisco (not the looting part though), because Cisco is totally awesome, and everyone should go there.