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Summer is upon us, and once again it’s time to pack up the station wagon (am I showing my age?) or SUV and head out with the family to visit new cities, relax at a lake, or immerse ourselves in culture by visiting museums or touring historic sites—some of the best being Nevada’s ghost towns. They were once bustling centers of activity, with churches, saloons, and general stores, but when the population moved on to the next big strike, the abandoned towns fell into disrepair. Visiting them is a great way to step back in time and see what life was like for the folks who built Nevada and mined the precious metals, ores, and minerals that would come to define the West. Following are some of the Silver State’s more intriguing ghost towns—or nearly so:
Aurora — Founded in 1860 after a gold discovery southwest of today’s Hawthorne, there was a dispute regarding which side of the California/Nevada state line Aurora was located. Once it was decided the town was three miles inside the Nevada border, the miners got to work. By 1869, $27 million worth of gold had been extracted. At its peak, Aurora boasted 17 mills and more than 10,000 residents, but by 1870, most of the mills were closed and half of the buildings were vacant. Only the foundations of the buildings remain, as the town was dismantled for the used bricks when it became popular in home building and décor.
Berlin — This town was established in 1897 after gold was discovered and the Berlin Mine opened in 1896. By 1911, the town was abandoned. However, what makes this ghost town stand out is a discovery of fossils just outside Berlin in 1928. The fossils were of a Shonisaurus—meaning “lizard from the Shoshone Mountains”—a marine reptile believed to have lived approximately 215 million years ago. Some of these fossils are on display at the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park and can be viewed by visitors. The Fossil Shelter tour is 40 minutes and is available through Labor Day daily at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., with a noon tour added on weekends.
Gold Hill — Not to be confused with Goldfield, Gold Hill was settled just after gold was found in the hills south of Virginia City in the late 1850s. These mines were part of the Comstock Lode, and Gold Hill endured for 20 years, boasting 8,000 residents during its heyday. Like Goldfield, Gold Hill still has residents, along with Nevada’s oldest hotel, and is a stop on the Virginia & Truckee Railroad, a historic steam train that ferries tourists from Virginia City to the Carson City outskirts.
Goldfield — Based on its name, it’s not surprising that gold was found in “them thar”…um, fields. By 1904, two years after its founding, the mines in Goldfield had produced 800 tons of ore—30 percent of the state’s production that year—and the resulting rapid migration made Goldfield the most populous city in Nevada with 20,000 residents. As of 1910, however, the population had dwindled to fewer than 5,000 residents, and in 1919 the largest mining company closed its doors. What’s unique about Goldfield is that the town has not been completely abandoned. Every building is owned—some with the hopes of restoration—and the residents stage the Goldfield Days festival annually in August (this year August 16-18).
These are just a few examples of the history to be explored in Nevada. For more information on traveling in our great state, visit travelnevada.com.
Brian K. Krolicki
Chairman—Nevada Commission on Tourism