You’ll Love Visiting Arizona’s 7 Most Notorious Ghost Towns
Arizona is home to nearly 300 ghost towns, some also indiscernible from the landscape. While it can be tough to figure out what some of these once lively towns looked like or how daily life operated, there are some towns that are well-documented, thanks in part to their notorious histories. Today, we’re going to take a look at seven such towns that earned a reputation, most for their lawlessness and propensity for violence.
Please note: some of these locations gained notoriety for being a ghost town but have grown enough in recent years to shed that status. However, we still think they deserve a spot on this list for their historical significance.
1. Canyon Diablo
Most people tend to confuse the location of this old ghost town with the nearby abandoned attraction, Two Guns. It is actually located on the north side of Interstate 40, sandwiched between the highway and the railroad. Canyon Diablo was established in 1880 to build a railroad bridge and soon became a town of vices, with saloons, brothels, and gambling houses operating non-stop for its short life. It also became a hotbed for criminal activity, attracting outlaws and going through six town marshals who all died violent deaths while on the job.
Like most Arizona boomtowns turned ghost towns, what remains is minimal; you’ll find a grave marker and some building foundations but since the buildings were quickly erected from wood, most evidence of the town has vanished over the decades.
2. Contention City
Like Canyon Diablo, little evidence exists that this was once a bustling boomtown during its short 8-year life. You may have heard about this town from the film
3:10 to Yuma
and it is also mildly famous for being the location of a
shootout between outlaws and the lawman John Slaughter
Contention City was founded between 1879 and 1880 as a silver mining town with a population of 200 at its peak. It had two stagecoach lines that ran to larger towns, plus a railroad stop.
This mining town earned a ghost town status in the 1960s and 1970s but it has since found a new life as a tourist destination focusing on its complicated past. While long-time residents may contest its status as the most haunted town in Arizona, this is what brings thousands upon thousands of visitors to town every year. Even today, as the town sits lit at night on the side of Cleopatra Hill, it looks both lonely and haunting.
Jerome had quite a history when the mines were operating and had thriving saloons, brothels, and gambling houses. These sorts of businesses combined with violent crimes meant it earned the title for the "wickedest town in the West," although it’s likely some of those stories were exaggerated for headlines.
This town’s history was less notorious and more noted for being the honeymoon destination for silver screen stars Clark Gable and Carole Lombard in 1939. However, the once gold-seeking boomtown faced hard times and was nearly abandoned by the 1960s. Since then, it has seen a revival thanks to the tourism industry with a portion of the historic Route 66 running through town, wild burros, and a rustic atmosphere.
Yet another mining town that once saw better days, Ruby was known for its gold prospecting and mining, finding riches in 1891. It’s located far away from larger towns meant it was a a prime destination for bandits, cow rustlers, and the
infamous Ruby murders in the early 1920s
. The mine eventually closed in 1939 and by the following year, the town was abandoned.
These days, you can tour the remnants of the old town, which are numerous compared to plenty of other ghost towns in Arizona. You’ll find whole and partial building still standing, including an impressive example of the old school house.
You probably recognize this town! Tombstone, famous for the Earp brothers, the shootout at the OK Corral, and Boot Hill, was a pretty violent town during its mining heyday. It’s law troubles also meant there were plenty of rogue cowboys, smugglers, and outlaws passing through town and stirring up trouble.
Mining troubles meant that Tombstone nearly became a ghost town in the first half of the 20th century. The Town Too Tough To Die, however, has become a tourist destination thanks to its Old West notoriety and fantastically preserved buildings.
7. Vulture City
Located a short drive from Wickenburg, Vulture City was the home for miners of the nearby Vulture Mine. Established in 1863 with the mine, the now ghost town reached a large population of 5,000 and was a violent place. In town, you’ll still find the old hanging tree where hanged for stealing the very gold ore they were mining and an untold number of others died from other crimes.
You can visit the ghost town (right now is the perfect time of year) on weekends for guided tours or weekdays for a self-guided tour. Since the mine and ghost town are located on private property, refer to
How many of those towns have you visited before? Is there another you would add to this list?
If you want to find more ghost towns to explore, you will love reading about one of our favorite road trips! Read more in
This Haunting Road Trip Through Arizona Ghost Towns Is One You Won’t Forget.
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