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You could spend a lifetime visiting Nevada’s many deserted—or nearly deserted—settlements.
Photo: Steve Woodbury (Rhyolite, above; Nelson, below)
Ghost towns have always captured my imagination. As Indiana Jones-obsessed children, my brother and I relished the opportunity to roam around the ruins of abandoned settlements in the Nevada countryside. And while my Harrison Ford role-playing days are over—mom took away the whips almost immediately after we got them, and I still can’t pull off the fedora—I am still drawn to these deserted outposts.
Luckily for me—and all inquisitive Nevada travelers—the Silver State is home to the remains of hundreds of former towns. Some are little more than crumbled foundations or a picked-over garbage heap, but others have stood more steadfastly against the ravages of time and Nevada’s harsh elements to provide unique glimpses into a time long passed, but not forgotten. Following are some of the Silver State’s most interesting, well-intact, and accessible ghost towns.
If you choose to follow our tire tracks, or create your own, here are a few things to remember to ensure that you have a safe, enjoyable trip:
† Many of the towns still maintain small populations, so please respect the residents and private-property signs.
† The derelict buildings you see are historical artifacts that depend on visitors to help preserve them—leave no trace, and take only memories and photos home with you.
† Most ghost towns are on infrequently traveled dirt roads. While two-wheel drive vehicles can easily reach them, they are remote. Start with a full tank of gas, and carry extra water and a spare tire.
† Only a few of Nevada’s ghost towns can be accessed with the use of a standard state map. Most require a detailed Nevada road atlas, available at many bookstores and grocery stores throughout the state.RHYOLITE
Location: Four miles west of Beatty via State Route 374
Rhyolite was born in early 1905 following the discovery of gold in the Bullfrog Hills to the west of the town site. By 1907, the crude camp had grown into a bustling city complete with electricity, water mains, telephones, newspapers, hotels, banks, and even a stock exchange. Estimates put the town’s peak population anywhere from 5,000 to 8,000 residents. Financial panic in late 1907 started Rhyolite’s bust period, and the town never recovered. By 1909, new ore discoveries had ceased. A year later the banks had closed, and the town claimed only 675 residents. By 1922, the population had dwindled to 14, and in 1924, Rhyolite’s last original resident died.
Rhyolite’s handful of buildings and ruins, proximity to Beatty and U.S. Highway 95, and the Goldwell Open Air Museum make it one of Nevada’s most visited ghost towns. The Bottle House—built by Tom Kelly during the town’s heyday, using roughly 30,000 bottles—is one of Rhyolite’s most unique attractions. Other partial structures include the two-story school, three-story Cook Bank Building, and the Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad Depot. While it does not date to the early 1900s, the museum is as much a part of Rhyolite’s draw as the town itself and consists of the works of seven artists, a visitor center, and the Red Barn Art Center. Beatty, about four miles away, has food, gas, accommodations, and services and is a great base camp for a visit to Rhyolite. rhyolite.org, rhyolitesite.com, goldwellmuseum.org, beattynevada.org
Location: 40 miles south of Las Vegas via U.S. Highway 95 and State Route 165
Local legend maintains that American Indians, Spanish explorers, and Mormon settlers had mined the Eldorado Canyon district near Nelson for more than 150 years before miners from nearby Potosi made significant discoveries in 1861 at the Techatticup Mine. Born from those finds, Nelson’s predecessor, Eldorado, was a tough and lawless camp almost 200 miles from the nearest sheriff. Nelson emerged more than four decades later at the head of the canyon. An explosion at the town’s smelter in 1909 started a two-decade period of inactivity until production resumed in the 1930s. Increased costs of labor heralded the town’s demise in the 1940s.
A handful of original buildings and some photogenic, rusted cars remain at the site of Nelson, but the primary draw to the area is Techatticup Mine. Eldorado Canyon Mine Tours has excavated part of the old mine and restored some of the original buildings and offers hour-long tours. For more information about Nelson, Eldorado Canyon, and the Techatticup Mine, click here. Nelson is close enough to Las Vegas to make a single-day trip from a Strip hotel, but for a more laid-back stay, Boulder City is a great base for a Nelson visit—and closer. eldoradocanyonminetours.com, bouldercitychamberofcommerce.com
Location: 45 miles north of Tonopah via U.S. Highway 6, State Route 376, and S.S.R. 82
Silver was discovered in the Toquima Range in late 1865, and the ensuing rush in 1866 marked the beginning of Belmont. With an abundance of wood, stone, water, and clay readily available, the town grew quickly. In 1867, the Nye County seat was moved to the booming town of 2,000—at the time, the second-most populous city in Nevada behind Virginia City. Belmont experienced a slight decline beginning in 1869 but recovered quickly following further ore discoveries in 1873. Construction of the Belmont Courthouse was completed in 1876, a strong indication of the perceived permanence of the community. Mining spiked again in 1883, but the boom was short-lived. The mining boom in Tonopah at the turn of the century drew most of Belmont’s remaining residents, and in 1905 the county seat was moved to that community.
More than a dozen original buildings hang on in Belmont, and the pièce de résistance, the Belmont Courthouse (a State Historic Park), is worth the visit alone. Its well-preserved exterior belies the reality that it has been abandoned for more than a century. Inside, graffiti dating to the 1890s make the building truly unique among Nevada attractions. The property has hosted an unknown multitude of squatters, the most notorious of which spent a few weeks there in the summer of 1969. A doorway on the first floor bears the only concrete evidence of their visit and reads, “Charlie Manson + Family 1969,” the “o” replaced with a peace symbol. Call 702-486-5125 days in advance to set up a tour of the interior. Two saloons and a handful of residents call Belmont home today, and all rely on solar power. The saloons are open sporadically, and there are no services in town. Tonopah is the nearest place to find food, gas, and lodging. parks.nv.gov, belmontcourthouse.org, tonopahnevada.com
Location: 20 miles east of Gabbs via State Routes 361 and 844
Silver was discovered in the Shoshone Mountains in 1863, resulting in the birth of Union, a camp a mile south of the future site of Berlin. It was not until 1896 that Berlin itself started to develop. Though the town boomed from 1898 to 1908, its population never exceeded a couple hundred residents. By 1911, the town was completely abandoned. Some of the residents are interred in the cemetery below town. Photo: Rachid Dahnoun
Though by no means a big player in Nevada’s early mining scene, Berlin stands today as one of the state’s best preserved and most visited ghost towns with a well-intact mill and a handful of original buildings. Fittingly, another underground discovery has helped to preserve Berlin and protect it as a State Park. Following the discovery of fossilized ichthyosaur (a large Triassic-period marine reptile) remains, the area was designated as a State Park in 1957. A large enclosure a few miles from Berlin gives visitors the opportunity to view some of the fossils via a 40-minute guided tour, offered daily Memorial Day through Labor Day and weekends until the second Saturday of November. The Diana Mine Tour is available Fridays and weekends through late September. Call 775-964-2440 for more tour information. There is a campground in the park, but no services. Food and gas are available in Gabbs, but it would be wise to stock up on supplies in Austin, Fallon, Hawthorne, or Tonopah before a visit to Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park. parks.nv.gov/bi.htm, austinnevada.com, fallontourism.com, mineralcountychamber.com, tonopahnevada.com
Location: 25 miles east of Gabbs via State Routes 361 and 844
Ione was the first town born of the discovery of silver in the Shoshone Mountains, which came to be known as the Union District and later supported towns such as Berlin and Union. The current site of Ione was first populated in 1863. By February 1864, Ione was named the seat of newly created Nye County. The town boomed over the next couple of years but in 1867 lost the county seat to Belmont. Ione experienced varying levels of prosperity until it fell off sharply around 1880.
Ione has retained a small population since its founding and still boasts 41 residents, according to the sign (which also reads “The Town That Refused to Die”) as you enter town. Many original buildings remain, and its proximity to Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park—six miles away—make it easily accessible and well worth a side trip. As with Berlin, the nearest food and gas are in Gabbs, and supplies and accommodations are available in Austin, Fallon, Hawthorne, and Tonopah.
austinnevada.com, fallontourism.com, mineralcountychamber.com, tonopahnevada.com
Location: 61 miles west of Tonopah via U.S. Highway 95
Although they were reportedly known since as early as 1863, the veins of silver in the hills around what would become Candelaria were not tapped on a large scale until 1873. Thereafter the town boomed into the early 1880s when it reached a population of about 1,500, the largest town at the time in Mineral County. At its height, Candelaria supported hotels, breweries, a school, a telegraph office, saloons, and a branch of the Carson and Colorado Railway. Lawlessness and harsh conditions ruled the town, which started to decline after a fire in 1883, ironically not long after a waterworks was built. The town rebounded briefly in 1890, but was abandoned by 1892.
The stark, treeless landscape at the site of Candelaria has not changed much in the last 150 years. Substantial rock ruins, including those of the bank, remain along with some wooden structures and a cemetery. A nearby abandoned open pit mine is a reminder that new mining processes often turn a profit from ore that was once thought to be tapped out. Keep your distance from the pit, as the sides are not stable, and it is a long way to the bottom. No services are available in Candelaria. Gas and some food are available in Mina, 21 miles north, but Hawthorne and Tonopah are also options for supplies, accommodations, and a greater variety of dining. mineralcountychamber.com, tonopahnevada.com
Location: 47 miles west of Ely via U.S. Highway 50 and White Pine County Road 11
During their heyday, the handful of settlements clustered in the northern part of eastern Nevada’s White Pine Range topped out at almost 20,000 residents. Rich lodes of silver discovered on and around Treasure Hill late in 1867 led to the birth of the settlements of Belmont Mill, Eberhardt, Hamilton, Shermantown, Treasure City, and a handful of smaller camps. Despite the rough climate (some of the towns were at elevations greater than 8,000 feet) the area thrived—Hamilton, the center of the district, grew to be one of Nevada’s largest cities with more than 10,000 residents and was named the White Pine County seat in 1869. Treasure City, the district’s second largest, reached a population of nearly 6,000. By 1870, the district started to decline, and devastating fires in the 1870s and ’80s sounded the death knell for Hamilton, Treasure City, and most of the Treasure Hill mining district. Spared from the fires that claimed the rest, Eberhardt prospered into the 1870s, but declining production eventually spelled its demise in the 1880s.
Ruins dot the hills and valleys all around the former Treasure Hill mining district, most notably at Hamilton and Belmont Mill, where a number of original structures—such as the mill itself—still stand. Hamilton and Belmont Mill are easily reached, but the remains of other towns take some route finding and more serious off-road driving to get to. Dirt roads twist and tangle across the region, making it difficult to reach some of the sites, so visitors hoping to see places such as Treasure City and Shermantown should be prepared to spend some time trekking. The closest services are in Ely, 47 miles east of the Hamilton area via U.S. Highway 50. elynevada.net
Location: Southwest of Hawthorne via State Route 359 and Lucky Boy Pass Road
The town of Aurora was founded in 1860 following the discovery of gold in the nearby hills. The $27 million worth of gold extracted in the following nine years helped the town reach a peak population of around 6,000 before declining ore values forced its demise. Aurora’s location, about three miles from the Nevada-California border in Mineral County south of Hawthorne, was long a point of contention—for a time, the town simultaneously served as the seat of both Esmeralda County in Nevada Territory and Mono County in California.
Many of the former brick buildings were torn down and sold to builders after the town failed, and vandals have regrettably pilfered and destroyed much of the site, but some ruins and parts of the cemetery remain.
Location: South of Sunnyside via State Route 318 and dirt roads
In 1870, the discovery of silver in eastern Nevada’s Bristol Range led to the founding of National City, the first settlement in what would become the Bristol Wells mining district. More claims were staked in the following years, and the region grew and prospered. In 1878, a stamp mill was constructed near the Bristol Mine, and the town was renamed Bristol City. The mill was expanded and a smelter was built in 1880, the same year the town’s charcoal ovens (which still stand today) were constructed in a valley about 12 miles west of the mine. Ten years later, a copper smelter was built. Activity at Bristol Wells declined in 1893, but the construction of a copper leach-recovery plant in 1900 restored mining activity intermittently for the next couple of decades.
In addition to the three charcoal kilns, a handful of buildings and the ruins of the mill remain. Photo: Elke Cote
Location: 53 miles north of Ely via U.S. Highway 93 and State Route 489
Silver discoveries in 1872 and failing mineral production in other parts of White Pine County led to Cherry Creek’s founding and growth. By late 1880, the town supported as many as 1,800 residents, a Wells Fargo agency, and even a horse track. Cherry Creek unsuccessfully challenged Hamilton for the county seat in 1882. The district busted in 1883. Cherry Creek boomed again slightly from 1905 to 1908 and again from 1935 to 1940.
Cherry Creek is still home to a handful of residents and numerous original buildings, including the log jailhouse—now converted into a private residence—and 1883 post office, which is now a saloon and Cherry Creek’s only business. The original school, built in 1872, still stands and now houses a museum. Ely is the closest place to find food, gas, and lodging. elynevada.net
Location: East of Alamo via U.S. 93 and dirt roads
Delamar was born in 1889 following the discovery of gold in Monkeywrench Wash by local rancher-prospectors John Ferguson and Joseph Sharp, who named the camp Ferguson. In 1894, trading and mining magnate Captain Joseph Raphael De Lamar purchased the region’s mining claims and renamed the town Delamar.
Within a couple years, Delamar grew to more than 1,500 residents and boasted a hospital, opera house, and schools. When gold production waned at the turn of the century, Delamar’s prominence also declined. By the time mining boomed in Tonopah at the turn of the century—which signaled Delamar’s final insult—the town was all but vacant.
Delamar’s unflattering nickname, The Widowmaker, was earned through many of its miners dying of the lung disease silicosis. The gold at Delamar was embedded in quartzite, and mining it resulted in a fine quartzite dust, the cause of the often fatal disease. Photo: Anders Sorensen
Many ruins remain at the site of Delamar, including two cemeteries and numerous still-standing building facades and foundations.
Location: 55 miles south of Tonopah via U.S. Highway 95 and State Routes 266 and 774
Gold Point was born as Lime Point in 1868 following the discovery of rich lime deposits in the area. Silver was found in the area in 1880, but the discovery of gold in Goldfield in 1903 and the ensuing rush virtually emptied the town. The discovery of high-grade silver in 1908 refilled the town, which was renamed Hornsilver. After 1930, the town was renamed again since it was producing more gold than silver. Mining operations in Gold Point ceased in 1942.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of private landowner, Harold Stone, Gold Point is one of Nevada’s best-preserved ghost towns. Since the early 1980s, Stone has been restoring the remaining buildings in Gold Point, including the post office, general store, and several homes. Some of the homes have been turned into a bed and breakfast with a main cabin that features dining and entertainment such as pool and shuffleboard. The nearest place for gas and supplies is Tonopah. goldpointghosttown.com, tonopahnevada.com
Location: 49 miles north of Tonopah via U.S. Highway 6 and State Routes 376 and 377
Silver was discovered near the site of Manhattan in 1866, but poor yields resulted in the area being abandoned in 1869. The area’s major boom came following cowhand John C. Humphrey’s accidental discovery of a rich ore lode in 1905, and by the beginning of 1906, Manhattan sprang to life with an influx of nearly 4,000 people in two weeks. The infamous April 1906 San Francisco Earthquake caused a mass withdrawal of money from investors and within a month of the quake, the district’s mines had all but ceased operation. The town revived thanks to rich ore finds the summer of 1906 only to be dealt another blow by financial panic in 1907. Manhattan rebounded again in 1909 and supported copper, gold, and silver mines sporadically until the 1940s.
Manhattan has retained a small population since mining operations ceased in the 1940s. A handful of original buildings remain among more modern businesses and residences. The most interesting stop is the old Nye and Ormsby County Bank building. The stone ruins house the bank’s original vault. Inside the vault the bank’s safe sits empty, the door blasted open decades ago. Tonopah is the nearest place to find food, gas, and lodging. manhattanmotelandbar.com, tonopahnevada.com
Location: 15 miles northwest of Wells via Elko County Road 754
Metropolis is unique in that—unlike the vast majority of Nevada ghost towns—it has no ties to mining. Born in 1911, the town was among the West’s earliest master-planned communities, envisioned as an agricultural city set amid more than 40,000 acres of farmland. A dam on Bishop Creek in the headwaters of the Humboldt River would support the crops. The town boomed in the following years and boasted its own spur of the Southern Pacific Railroad and one of the finest modern hotels in the state. Prosperity was short-lived, however, and following lawsuits filed by farmers in downstream Lovelock, Metropolis’ water rights were cut from 40,000 to 4,000 acres. Dry farming techniques kept the town afloat into the 1920s when the investment company behind the town, Pacific Reclamation, declared bankruptcy. Fires and cricket infestations led to the town’s demise by the early 1940s.
There are some ranches in the Metropolis area today, but the town is completely abandoned. Some ruins remain, including the front arch of the high school and the vault from the bank inside the hotel. The nearest services are in Wells and Elko. wellsnevada.com, exploreelko.com
Location: 15 miles south of Overton via State Route 169 and Northshore Road
Established as a Mormon settlement in 1865, St. Thomas was officially vacated in 1938 when the rising waters created from Hoover Dam, completed two years prior, flooded the town.
Fast-forward 72 years, and the drought has provided an opportunity to explore a ghost town. A 2.5-mile loop trail leads to the ruins from a gravel parking lot (the dirt road is accessible from State Route 169 and Northshore Road). Foundations, walls, and grated cisterns dot the site, along with numerous alkali-crusted trails branching in all directions.
Read more about St. Thomas here.
Location: 67 miles northeast of Tonopah via U.S. Highway 6 and Hot Creek Road
Silver was first mined in the Tybo region starting in 1870, but the town did not begin its boom until 1874. By 1877, Tybo claimed almost 1,000 residents and was one of the most important lead producers in the United States. In 1879, the failure of the Tybo Consolidated Mining Company crippled the town. Tybo barely limped along until 1891 when all work ceased. In 1932, the mill started turning again. Five years later production ceased once and for all, and the mill was dismantled.
A handful of people call Tybo home today. Most of the town’s remains are either gone or fenced off and sport “No Trespassing” and “Keep Out” signs. A sign on the road leading into Tybo makes the claim of “Private Property.” Though the validity of this statement is questionable at best, some travelers might be more comfortable admiring the town via historical photos and accounts. Tonopah is the nearest place to find food, gas, and lodging. tonopahnevada.com
Location: 20 miles south of Interstate 80 via Mill City Exit and State Route 400
Local Paiutes first discovered mineral wealth from Buena Vista Canyon early in 1861. By the end of the same year, Unionville, in the upper part of the canyon, was founded and named the seat of newly created Humboldt County. The town reached its peak population of roughly 3,000 from 1863 to 1864. In 1872, fire marked the beginning of the end for Unionville. The fire was followed by a decline in mining yields in the region, and the county seat was moved to Winnemucca in 1873. By 1880, only 200 people remained in Unionville.
The Unionville area retains a small population of ranchers and farmers today. The canyon contains the stone ruins of several buildings and a cemetery, and the ruins of the mill still stand near the mouth of the canyon. The area’s main attraction is the Old Pioneer Garden Bed & Breakfast, set in homes that date to the birth of Unionville. For reservations, contact the Old Pioneer Garden B&B at 775-538-7585. To the right are the remains of Mark Twain’s cabin. He built the structure in 1881 before moving to Virginia City. Winnemucca or Lovelock are the closest places to find food, gas, and lodging if there are no availabilities at the B&B. winnemucca.com, loverslock.com
Location: Intersection of U.S. 6 and State Route 375 (E.T. Highway)
Originally founded as a stagecoach stop in 1866, Warm Springs never experienced any boom or bust, only a languid existence as a place to rest. Named for the warm springs that run through the site, the outpost started with a small stone house, which still stands today. At one point, the springs themselves were exploited and a pool, changing rooms, and adjacent restaurant/roadhouse were built.
While the pool and nearby buildings still stand, they are fenced off and marked with “Private Property” signs. Warm Springs’ location at the intersection of U.S. Highway 6 and State Route 375—the Extraterrestrial Highway—results in many passersby taking photos and admiring the site from the side of the road.
WORTH A CLICK
WORTH A READ
Nevada Ghost Towns & Mining Camps, By Stanley Paher
Nevada Ghost Towns & Desert Atlas,
By Stanley Paher
Both books are available at various Carson City and Reno bookstores, or by calling 775-747-0800.