Abandoned Arizona: Copper State's rich history is on display at these deserted mining towns

Peter Watson

With literally thousands of abandoned mines and surrounding communities in Arizona, these ghost towns offer an insight into the Copper State's rich history.

Arizona is home to thousands of ghost townsSean Pavone/Shutterstock

With literally thousands of abandoned mines and surrounding communities throughout Arizona, there are plenty of lesser-known ghost towns to see as well.

From historical parks to pub crawls

Jerome was founded in 1876 and named a US Centennial City in 1976. Once home to the wealthiest mine in the world owned by one man, the whole town was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1967. The third-largest town in Arizona at its peak, the boomtown was called the Wickedest City in the West in 1903.

A local count showed 37 bars, 13 bordellos, and four churches, which the locals thought was just about right. Jerome was the largest producer of copper, gold, and silver in Arizona simultaneously in the 1920s before the mines closed in 1953 and it became the largest ghost town in the west.

Today, as with Bisbee below, Jerome – with its established population and stable tourism flow – is more "town" than "ghost."

Jerome's outdoor museumMara Velgus/Shutterstock

Probe deep into Arizona's mining past in Bisbee, a town of colorful architecture and equally colorful characters.

Throw in a touch of the haunted and a pub crawl and Bisbee is anything but an ordinary destination.

As with all the best treasures, Bisbee is a hidden gem tucked just beyond the point where you think you’ve overshot the approach to Arizona’s southernmost border.

In Bisbee, however, there’s no such thing as going too far; unless of course, you live more than 70 steps up on one of Bisbee’s 350 historic staircases. Today, Bisbee remains a unique place where the past clashes with the present in a melting pot of passion, art and charisma.

After discovering gold nearby in 1874 and the population swelled to over 500 miners. Migrants from the east named mines in the area after their previous homes, giving Kentucky Camp its name.

By the 1880s, most of the gold deposits had run dry, and the population dwindled as quickly as it had grown.

In 1904, the Santa Rita Water & Mining Company built the current buildings at Kentucky Camp but swiftly abandoned the camp in 1910 after struggling to stay afloat following the tragic death of its founder in 1905.

Today, visitors can hike and bike and even camp or rent one of two cabins for $75 a night on the site as part of a USFS program.

And ghost towns to the oldest continuously inhabited mining town

Swansea is a brilliantly well-preserved ghost town in western Arizona.

Named after the Welsh hometown of founder George Mitchell, Swansea's mining operations kicked off in the 1880s. By 1909, a post office was established and the town expanded to a population of 750.

Just a year later, the first railroad arrived from Bouse, connecting Swansea to the rest of the world. The town had the normal saloons and restaurants but also featured a car dealership, a theater and an electric light company.

Today, dozens of buildings and structures remain and can be easily explored.

Unlike typical Arizona ghost towns based around mining, Agua Caliente – which means "hot water" in Spanish – was established around a natural hot spring and a stagecoach line. The natural hot spring in the area was used by Indigenous Americans and then by travelers along the Butterfield Overland Mail Route in the early 1860s.

By the year 1897, a 22-room resort had been developed, complete with a swimming pool fed by the hot springs. Many visited the resort for its healing properties, but farming in the area ultimately stripped the springs dry.

Today, visitors can see the remains of the hotel, several other stone buildings, and the Agua Caliente Pioneer Cemetery.

Hackberry began in 1874 as a silver mining destination. The initial mining helped to develop the town but the claims quickly played out and the area was reduced to a ghost town. When Route 66 was constructed, the town was revived with several service stations. Misfortune returned when Interstate 40 came along, and the town once again depreciated to next to nothing.

The Hackberry General Store reopened in 1992 as a Route 66 information center and, once again, the town's future rebounded and the population slowly grew as did the number of Route 66 travelers.Today, Hackberry is an iconic Route 66 stop for many travelers, but still retains that "ghost town" charm.

Located around 50 miles from Phoenix, Tip Top was once among the three most active mining towns in Arizona (the other two being Tombstone and Wickenburg). At its peak in the late 1880s, Tip Top had six saloons, three stores, four restaurants, a school and the first brewery in Arizona.

"She's a tip-top silver mine," said prospector Jack Moore to his partner Bill Corning in 1875 – and the name stuck.

Tip Top in ArizonaMarynaG/Shutterstock

The pair set out south from the town of Prescott trying to get to Castle Hot Springs when they stumbled upon some rich minerals. Later, the town quickly shot to a population of about 1,200, and the men were earning up to 1,000 ounces of silver per ton of ore.

In 1895, less than a decade later, the town fizzled out and, despite a brief revival attempt in 1910, the town was abandoned by the onset of the First World War. Today, the ruins at Tip Top stretch nearly two miles along Cottonwood Creek. There are dozens of buildings in various states of ruin, an old headframe and several tunnels still left.

Ghosts likely outnumber residents in this western Arizona town of 350 - give or take.

Considered the oldest continuously inhabited mining town in the state, Chloride is home to cattle ranches, brightly painted cliff murals, dark skies and a hand-built ghost town within a town: Cyanide Springs.

Once home to a turquoise mine preferred by Tiffany and Co in the mid-1880s, all that remains of Gleeson today are some private ranches, a nearly collapsed general store, and an old jail.

The jail was restored and operates as a museum with local artifacts and lore, open on the first Saturday of each month or by appointment.

Formerly the town of Haynes, Arizona, the Gold King Mine is part museum, part mining camp. The $5 admission gets you into the site, which also includes a display of vintage cars, trucks and abandoned mining equipment.

Self-guided tours take you through exhibits such as a 1914 sawmill, a mineshaft and an array of old buildings that once served as the dentist's office, school, and garage. Kids are welcome, and families can take part in a blacksmithing demonstration or try their hand at gold and gem panning.

Goldfield Ghost Town gets a special mention as it's a recreated boomtown that’s great fun for the whole family.

Goldfield Ghost Town in ArizonaMara Velgus/Shutterstock

Visitors can ride Arizona’s only narrow-gauge railroad, catch a mock gunfight, visit the Superstition Mountain Museum, or take a ride on the Superstition Zipline.

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Peter Watson is a writer, photographer and adventurer. A keen trekker and climber he can usually be found on the trails of the Greater Ranges. He’s visited over 80 countries and is currently focused on climbing the seven summits – the highest mountain on every continent. Four down, three to go... He has also travelled extensively around the US developing a penchant for American backcountry, abandoned buildings and natural wonders en route.

Phoenix, AZ

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