The Lure of Ghost Towns

I’ve wanted to go to a ghost town, well, pretty much forever. Perhaps my interest was sparked by the many books I read as a kid that suggested grandiose visions of American history. While visiting somewhere like Boston or Colonial Williamsburg would be great, there was something even more romantic and fascinating about ghost towns. They were remnants of the past, abandoned in a moment, stuck in time almost.

Of course, ghost towns are far from things like the Parisian apartment that was recently discovered, having been untouched since the occupant had fled just prior to World War II. They are not time capsules of an idealized West, but rather the forlorn remnants of what can happen to boom and bust economies. Some have since been turned into tourist destinations, while others have simply disappeared, roads and all.

When I went to Arizona last summer, I looked into going to several ghost towns, but most were either required things like 4-wheel drive, which my rental car was not equipped, or were just too far away from our main destinations.

Of course, I have been to plenty of Western “reenactment” towns like Paramount Ranch, where tv shows like Little House on the Prairie and Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman were shot. There was also a visit to Carson City, Nevada when I was 4;, the sole memory being allowed to blow out the lantern the tour guide had when we were in the silver mine. (Apparently this is some sort of joke they play on tourists to help simulate the terror of being stuck in a mine.)

So at last, this past month, I was able to visit a ghost town while driving through Colorado. We were stopping in Aspen anyway, so we decided to drive the 10 miles up to Ashcroft, an abandoned mining town now owned by the National Forest Service. 

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There are few surviving buildings, including a saloon, but otherwise, they seem to disappear into the mountain. Of course, we were there off-season, so we couldn’t go into all of them (it looks like they do more during the summer season), but the ones we could were little more than the bare structures with dirt floors. We walked into one second story building and when we tried to go upstairs, quickly realized the stairs were far from sturdy. Nails seemed to be prying themselves lose from the boards, despite the wood looking much newer than the actual structure. 

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I had always pictured the forlorn desert towns, but there was something equally isolating and heartbreaking in these vast stretches of mountains. There were signs about discussing what life would have been like – the hardship of getting food, the lack of people, etc. And even though the town had people living in it until the 1940s, but it still seemed to suggest a forgotten moment, one that we could never really get at. 

We picked our way through the mud and snow, back down the trail, got into our car, and drove away.

 

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