We have lived in Nevada since 2011, and we have been pleasantly surprised with how many interesting things there are in Nevada that are off the beaten path. Nevada is definitely one of the best places in the West to explore ghost towns. We have been to a handful of ghost towns during our time in Nevada (including Goldfield and the Wheel of Misfortune, which we have covered on this site), and every time we go to a ghost town, I reach out to my good friend for advice. He is definitely the most knowledgeable person in Nevada I know when it comes to ghost towns.
He recently launched a new website with the help of another expert I know well. These are two guys who have spent decades exploring every old road you could find in Nevada. Their website, Nevada Ghost Towns and Mining History, is the best free resource out there for those interested in ghost towns and mining sites in Nevada.
To celebrate this new site, I reached out to my friend to learn more about the site, his experience and expertise and to learn more about his favorite ghost towns in Nevada. The following is my interview with him and all images are his also.
Being that my friend is a proud born-and-raised Nevadan, I first asked him some questions about Nevada in general.
Facts about Nevada that most people don’t know
A majority of the state has cold weather. Most people are familiar with the small portion in southern Nevada where Las Vegas is located. Because of that climate, people attribute the mild weather to the whole state. Where I live, our record low temp was -47 degrees below zero. We get snow throughout most of the state. Second, the state is often seen through the scope of Las Vegas. Fast paced, gambling and night life. Outside of Las Vegas and Reno, the rest of the state is rural and revolves around mining and cattle ranching.
If Nevada were a country, it would rate in the top few countries in the world for gold production. Nevada is also a big cattle ranching state. Elko County is a top 10 county nationwide for beef cattle production and always has been. Last year, Elko County ranked #7 out of every county in the country. Some of the last of the massive, open range cattle ranches in the west are still operating in northern Nevada. The TS, Spanish, Winecup-Gamble, etc. World champion rodeo cowboys come from Nevada.
Most people have heard the term “Buckaroo”, but very few people know the origins of the word. It is a term of honor given to working cowboys in the Great Basin. Northern Nevada is known as the heart of Buckaroo Country. The National Buckaroo Hall of Fame is located in Winnemucca. Ranchers and cowboys from all over the west decided on Elko to hold a major ranching symposium every year for the last 40 years. It’s called the “National Cowboy Poetry Gathering”. One traditional story is that the word buckaroo was bastardized when Spanish cowboys were teaching their style to white cowboys in the latter half of the 1800’s. They were asked what they called themselves. “Vaqueros”. This was bastardized into “Buckaroo”.
What is your experience with Ghost Towns in Nevada?
As a teenager, we were outdoor kids. We spent a lot of time in the hills. My friend Dan had a lifted, 4-wheel drive. We went and checked out Rhyolite, Johnnie Mine, Ash Meadows and several others. My friend Josh was the same way. He had a lifted Jeep with a winch. We hit every goat trail that we could find and discovered historical places that I may never get back to again. My only regret about those days, were all the places that we saw without having a camera. Or, we only had 2 or 3 photos left on one of those cheesy 24 picture, disposable cameras. As an adult, I’ve made many excursions with my parents and my children. Three generations.
What got you interested in ghost towns?
I’m a native Nevadan. Battle Born PROUD! All four of my grandparents are buried in Nevada soil. I did my third-grade book on the Nevada State Animal. The Desert Bighorn Sheep. My love for the western mining and ranching history of Nevada expanded in the fourth grade. My teacher, Mrs. Webster, did Nevada History every Friday afternoon. And she did it right! She brought historical displays and we sang “Home Means Nevada”. When I go to these old sites, I can still hear the boots on the boardwalk, the old-time piano playing, and the laughter coming from the saloons. This is hard to explain to people who don’t get it. To me, it still gives me goosebumps.
How many ghost towns in Nevada have you visited?
I’ll clarify that question a little bit. Many people call places like Goldfield or Virginia City ghost towns. They are not. They are very small shells of their former self, no doubt. But they are not ghost towns. People still live and work there, etc. There were also mining camps which weren’t technically towns. People lived here, but they often did so in wall tents or very cheaply made structures. Post offices never opened, streets were never laid out, etc. The ore veins ran out quickly and people moved on to the next strike. If you include true ghost towns, mining camps, stage stations, pony express stations, abandoned mine sites, etc., the number would be over 300 in Nevada. Throw in CA., AZ. and MT. and you can add in another couple dozen.
What advice would you give to beginners, or those not experienced in the Nevada back country?
Nevada is one of the least populated places in the country. Outside of Vegas and Reno, the state only has a tiny population scattered out over 110,000 square miles. Nevada is wild and rugged country. My admonishment is to go prepared.
Always let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Many of these sites are up rocky mountain roads in some obscure mountain range. 50, 60 or 70 miles by dirt road from the nearest convenience. Know the capabilities of your vehicle.
Make sure the spare tire and tire changing equipment are in good order. Is your oil level good? Emergency food, water, maps, fire starter, extra gas, appropriate clothing and materials to stay warm and dry if needed. Don’t go out with the, “wherever the dirt road takes me” mentality, unless you are truly comfortable doing that.
Spur roads, forks and goat trails can get you pretty twisted around out here. It’s happened to me more than once. Don’t take your vehicle beyond its capabilities. There will be times that once you start down a steep ore cart trail that’s only six feet wide, you’re committed whether you like it or not. There will be no turning around. It’s better to turn around before you commit, than to roll down a 200-foot cliff. Seeing a mining camp isn’t worth it.
If you’re comfortable with a firearm, take one. This state has coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, badgers, rattlesnakes, bears and OUTLAWS. You may run into one occasionally in the back country. The one thing to remember, is that you’re on your own out here. There is no 911, hospital, or gas station. It will only be you and Nevada. Please be respectful and leave it as you found it. Mother nature takes these places back quick enough without any further help from vandals and thieves. Go prepared and have a great time. BATTLE BORN!!!
What are the best ghost towns in Nevada?
I’m speaking of TRUE ghost towns. If I were to include places that still have a small population, nothing beats Virginia City and the Comstock! Eureka, Austin, Goldfield, Pioche, Jarbidge, Tuscarora, etc. are all fantastic, but still have small populations as well. Some will say that I’m biased because I’m from Nye County. Sorry, but Nye County is the western ghost town capital of the country, HANDS DOWN! I’ll do a Top 5 in Nye County and a Top 5 outside of Nye County.
These will be tough to rank and I’m sure that many will disagree with me. I’m okay with that. To me, it’s how a certain place hits you when you get there. Maybe some small, historical detail hits home. Maybe some abandoned structure contains a detail that sticks out to you. For instance, crumbling rock cabins are awesome. But when they still have the fireplace in-tact, it does something for me. I ponder about what meal was cooked over that fire? What stories did the family tell while the snow was falling on Christmas Eve? Those details make the difference.
Top 5 ghost towns in Nye County, Nevada
This is as remote as it gets. As you enter the canyon, the scenery jumps out. The road here is rugged and you are a long way from convenience. It is located on the east side of the Monitor Mountains, in the heart of Nevada’s big elk country. It was never a big town. The people who lived and worked here were some of the most rugged and hardy people alive.
The relics of Jefferson start low and continue up the canyon. It is easy to picture the layout of what it would have looked like in the late 1800’s. I hear that there is a newer/ better road to the area, but we always took the hard way through the creek. It is located on the western slope of the Toquima Mountains. If you can get to the mines up in the really high country, the views are unbeatable. Don’t try it with your Prius though!
Don’t go without 4-wheel drive. My 4-wheel drive broke on a past trip here. Add in snow and it was rough trying to get out. Have you ever gone to a place and had that feeling come over you? Something that said that you had either been there before or were meant to be there now. This is Ophir for me. The scenery is spectacular. The relics are awesome.
The first Nye County law enforcement officer to be killed in the line of duty was Richard Ryan in 1867. He was a miner’s store owner. He was also a good citizen. He took the oath that day to help the local Constables retrieve stolen mules. He was killed in the gunfight that followed. I still have the advertisement from the Reese River Reveille newspaper for his store from the day that he was killed. Ophir is located on the eastern slope of the Toiyabe Mountains.
4. Park Canyon
The upper portion of Park Canyon can also be very rough. I suggest 4-wheel drive or at least a high clearance vehicle. The old La Plata Mill is one of the better rock ruins in the state, in my opinion. You can stand up here and look at some of the most amazing views that you have ever seen.
There are also a couple of old house chimneys hidden in the aspen trees. The homes that were once attached to these chimneys are long gone. Again, it makes a person wonder about what took place next to those fires on those snowy December nights, 150 years ago. Park Canyon is located on the eastern slope of the Toiyable Mountains.
This town is extremely remote. The last leg of the road is rugged. I don’t suggest a passenger car. Something happened to this town after it died that I doubt any other ghost town can claim. When Nevada was still testing nuclear bombs, they blew one up not too far from here (Project Faultless). The rattle of the explosion caused some of the old buildings to collapse.
Some of the biggest mule deer in the west come out of this region. They call them the “Morey Bucks”. A friend of mine once took the biggest typical mule deer in the state for that particular year. While hiking out, she said that she saw a bigger deer than the one she already had. Morey is located on the eastern slope of the Hot Creek Mountains.
White Caps Mine (Nye); Knickerbocker (Nye); East Belmont (Nye)
5 best ghost towns in Nevada outside of Nye County
1. Goodsprings Mining District- Clark County (we have a post from our visit coming soon!)
The actual town of Goodsprings still has a few residents. It was founded before Las Vegas was ever a thought. The old Pioneer Saloon is still open. Clark Gable’s cigarette burns are still located on the wood bar. The plane carrying his wife Carole Lombard crashed on Potosi Mountain in 1942. Gable was said to have fallen asleep at this bar while smoking cigarettes, waiting for any news about survivors.
It is located not too far from Las Vegas towards the California border. If you leave the town of Goodsprings and go out into the mining district, it is a whole different experience. There are dozens of mines scattered throughout these hills. Some require hiking into. Others require 4-wheel drive. Etc.
2. Spruce Mountain Mining District-Elko County
This mining district stretches on for miles up into the mountains. The farther you go, the worse the road gets. There are mill sites, mining camps and actual towns like Sprucemont and Black Forest, etc. The scenery is beautiful and you should plan at least a full day to see it. I’ve been to the graves of a couple of the pioneers from this area. These sites are located throughout the Spruce Mountains.
3. Tunnel Camp and the Seven Troughs Mining District-Pershing County
Tunnel Camp is a newer mining town located in the Seven Troughs District. From memory, it fired up as a revival in the 1920’s. This was a continuation of towns like Seven Troughs, Mazuma and Vernon that had been previously abandoned when the ore ran out. Located about 20 miles outside of Lovelock. The dirt road is pretty good. Roads change though. With that said, do not attempt to go to the actual site of Seven Troughs without a good, high clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicle.
4. Delamar-Lincoln County
This was the first ghost town that I took my wife to 20 years back. I’ve since taken my children. I blew a very good, all-terrain tire on this trip. It was on a narrow cliff road. It happens, so go prepared for it. The relics here are awesome. Delamar boomed as neighboring Pioche was declining.
Delamar had the nickname of “The Widow Maker”. The mines here contained a lot of silica dust. Miners can only breathe so much of that before developing major lung problems such silicosis. There are many old graves throughout Nevada that list “Miners Consumption” as a cause of death.
5. Divide Mining District-Esmerelda County
This area is located in Esmeralda County, south of Tonopah. There isn’t much for old cabins, etc.. What it does have is an endless supply of spur roads leading off to different mine sites and general mining relics. You can easily spend days looking around in this area.
Candelaria (Mineral); Mineral Hill (Eureka); Bunker Hill/ Kingston (Lander)