12 Ghost Towns in Arizona with Wild & Woolly Histories
Arizona’s boom-and-bust mining history left hundreds of ghost towns in its wake. Here’s a look at some of the most interesting ones still around today.
Since 1872, more than one million mining claims have been registered in Arizona, and that’s not including the thousands of years indigenous peoples mined the state for turquoise, copper and other minerals.
Needless to say, mining is at the heart of Arizona’s history — as a region, territory and state — and a century-plus of mining ambitions left ghost towns scattered throughout the Copper State.
Many abandoned towns are concentrated in key areas where precious minerals were once found in abundance: in Yavapai County, where more than 20 ghost towns lie within 25 miles of Prescott, and in southern Arizona, where towns like Tombstone, Bisbee and Ruby once thrived.
Each of these ghost towns has unique stories and timelines — some were gone within a few years, and others survived into the 21st century as revamped tourist destinations. Some were visited by presidents, and others were backdrops for famous personalities and events in Western history.
A Note About Exploring Arizona Ghost Towns
Many ghost towns in Arizona are open to the public and safe to visit. Others, especially more obscure spots, are remote and often located near old mining operations.
If you’re hunting for out-of-the-way ghost towns, keep an eye out for abandoned mine shafts and other pitfalls around old mining camps. According to the Arizona State Mine Inspector, which offers info on safely navigating mine land, there are some 100,000 abandoned mine openings in the state, and it’s not always obvious where they are.
Over the years, several people have died after falling into old mine shafts, so it’s worth keeping an eye out while you explore the backroads and hills of Arizona.
Ghost Towns in Southern Arizona
Honorable mentions: Paradise, Agua Caliente, Fairbank, Castle Dome City, Charleston, Cochise, Contention City, Gleeson, Pearce, Total Wreck, Millville
1. Dos Cabezas
Named for two prominent peaks in the Dos Cabezas Mountains to the north, this camp was one of Arizona’s longest tenured mining towns. By the late 1870s it had a post office and typical mining camp merchants — and a number of hopeful frontier families.
“The town of Dos Cabezas has twenty four houses and the population in the district numbers about 175 men and 125 women and children,” reported The Arizona Citizen in February 1880. “There is a good two-story hotel, presided over by Jos. Maley, whose good cheer is the delight of all travelers.”
Mines in and around the Dos Cabezas mountains supported the town, which grew to hundreds of residents within a few years. The town maintained law and order but had its share of mining camp scrapes.
In May 1879, a young man named Meyers was killed by Pat Cannon, a “quite generally known” person in the Arizona Territory, who gave Meyers a “heavy blow with a gun barrel, fracturing his skull and resulting fatally,” reported The Arizona Citizen.
While many mining camps died after a few years, Dos Cabezas survived well into the 20th century, even thriving when a nearby copper mine was established in 1907. Dos Cabezas didn’t really become a ghost town until the 1960s, when the mines were no longer productive and most residents moved on.
Today, there’s a well-maintained pioneers cemetery in Dos Cabezas, as well as adobe ruins and old mines. For ghost town seekers looking to spend the night, there’s a pleasant bed and breakfast on Highway 186.
Deep in the Oro Blanco Mountains just a few miles north of the Mexican border, Ruby is a storied ghost town with a violent past: in a 1965 issue of Frontier Times, writer James A. Long described Ruby as “an open invitation to trouble with renegades, gun-smugglers and murderers.”
Before it was Ruby, it was Montana Camp, a small but lively community sprung up near the Montana Mine in the 1870s. Julius F. Andrews took over the local camp store in 1895, applied for a post office and when it was granted in 1912, renamed the town Ruby after his wife, Lillie B. Ruby.
The following year, Andrews sold the store and post office to Philip M. Clarke, who built a new store and post office some 400 yards away, on the hill of a “padre’s grave.”
The local Mexican population believed the store to be cursed, and in February 1920, two Canadian brothers hired as shopkeepers for Clarke — Alex and John Frazier — were attacked in the store. Alex was murdered at the scene, and John died from his injuries the following month.
Local law enforcement had no leads, and the working theory was that Mexican bandits had looted the store and fled across the border, something that was not uncommon in that region.
Just over a year later, in August 1921, the new owners of the store, Frank and Myrtle Pearson, were ambushed by “seven armed Mexicans,” according to Frank’s sister Irene. The bandits killed Frank, forced Myrtle to open the store’s safe before killing her, and as they left, knocked out five of Myrtle’s gold front teeth.
Yet again, there were few leads in the case, but one day, Arizona Ranger Oliver Parmer got wind of an outlaw trying to cash in gold teeth at a cantina in Sasabe, Mexico. Eventually, Arizona officials and Mexican law enforcement took in Manuel Martinez and Placido Silvas for the murders.
Martinez was sentenced to death and Silvas to life in prison, but before their sentences were fulfilled, the duo escaped while being transported to the Florence prison. After they were caught in the desert some 40 miles away, Martinez was hung, and Silvas spent the rest of his days behind bars.
Back in Ruby, the Montana Mine employed about 300 men at its peak and population estimates ranged between 1,200 and 2,000, including women and children. Despite its remote location, Ruby prospered for a time, but by the 1930s, a lack of water limited mining operations. The Montana Mine finally shut down in 1941.
Today, Ruby is on private property, but you can get a permit for a day tour or overnight camping trip — check out the caretaker’s website for more information.
In some respects, Tombstone is hardly a ghost town: each year, hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to “The Town too Tough to Die” to catch a glimpse of Old West history.
But like most mining camps in Southern Arizona, Tombstone had humble origins. Back in 1877, prospector Ed Schieffelin, on his march from California to Camp Huachuca with the cavalry, scoped out the San Pedro Valley and thought it looked like the kind of place you’d find silver. He may have been right, but for years prospectors avoided the area because of local Apache bands.
Schieffelin took his chances in the desert, and when he was told he’d only find his own tombstone, he used that moniker to name one of his first claims (the other was Graveyard, though it didn’t produce like his Tombstone claim).
Several other claims in the area quickly produced more silver, and in short order Tombstone became one of the most bustling camps in the West. The mines in the region would produce upwards of $80 million in silver bullion through the 1880s. By 1882, more than 7,000 residents could get liquored up at some 150 saloons and restaurants around town, and it was as rowdy as it sounds.
In the mid-1880s, the mines around Tombstone began to flood, and eventually production ceased. Less than one thousands residents stuck around by the turn of the century, but a few decades later, as Western nostalgia ramped up, Tombstone reinvented itself as a tourist destination for history buffs around the country.
Naturally, the gunfight at the O.K. Corral is Tombstone’s main claim to fame, but plenty of colorful characters and events took place in town over the last part of the 19th century.
Today, Tombstone retains the sepia-toned vibe visitors often picture in ghost towns, but at its peak, it was a colorful, metropolitan community that rivaled San Francisco in terms of style and flair.
“If you look at clothes left from that period, if you look at wallpaper samples and paint samples and books, people have very wild use of color, they use lime green and purples and very jarring color schemes,” said Tombstone movie production designer Catherine Hardwicke in John Farkis’s book The Making of Tombstone.
Despite its touristy air, Tombstone retains much of its pioneer past: in 1962, the Tombstone Historic District was named a National Historic Landmark District and today preserves several key buildings and artifacts from its heyday.
Related read: 6 Tombstone Filming Locations You Can Still Visit Today
Bisbee’s reinvention, like Tombstone’s, saved it from the fate most Arizona ghost towns faced, and today it’s a lively artistic community home to an eclectic mix of residents and local businesses.
In 1877, an army expedition in the Mule Mountains found mineral deposits that would eventually become the mines around Bisbee, including the Copper Queen Mine. Over the next decades, millions of pounds of silver and copper would be dug from the mines (as well as some gold), and Phelps Dodge didn’t officially cease mining operations until 1975.
Bisbee had its share of frontier shenanigans, and because it was close to Tombstone and the “Cowboys” of Cochise County, residents of Bisbee were sometimes the target of their mayhem. On December 8, 1883, six outlaws rode into a Bisbee general store, robbed the place and killed five people within just minutes.
“Besides the carnival of blood instituted by the gang, they robbed the store mentioned of about $3,000 in money,” reported the Arizona Weekly Star. “The entire transaction occurred in the space of five minutes. The reports of the rifles were followed by the immediate departure of the bandits, and before the citizens could realize the danger that was upon them they had rode far out into the night.”
Five of the men would be caught and hung, and the sixth — John Heath, leader of the group — was taken by a mob and lynched in February 1884.
By the 1970s, the arts and tourism took place of mining operations, and Bisbee became an under-the-radar haven for local creatives. Visitors today can still tour the Copper Queen Mine and explore the town’s historic roots at the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum.
Ghost Towns in Central Arizona
Honorable mentions: Clifton, Goldfield, Gillett(e), Ehrenberg, Silver King, Weaver
When Al Sieber supposedly staked an unofficial claim on Mingus Mountain back in the 1860s, it was hardly the first mining foray in the area: Sinagua people had mined various minerals there for more than one thousand years, and evidence suggests Spanish explorers explored the area in the 16th century.
Things didn’t really take off for the mines around Jerome until the early 1880s, but when they did, blossoming operations catapulted the hillside camp into one of Arizona’s largest towns.
Life in Jerome was fraught with peril: mining made the ground unstable, fires ran rampant in the late 19th century, and the market for copper swung wildly year to year. But the town managed to stick around well in the 20th century, and in the 1930s, Jerome had some of the nicest mining town amenities in Arizona, including a modern hospital and well-appointed digs, including the Jerome Grand Hotel. William Andrews Clark, owner of United Verde Copper Company, was for a brief time the richest man in the world because of the amount of ore his mines produced.
In the early 1900s, it was also one of the few mining camps that relied on electricity and railways to transport ore, making it one of the more efficient operations in the Territory. At one point, the Verde Mining District employed more than 800 men and was the largest copper producer in Arizona.
Mining wrapped up in the 1950s, but the dwindling population was rekindled by the same Western nostalgia that brought tourists to towns like Bisbee and Tombstone. In Jerome, visitors flocked to the “sliding” buildings that moved due to dynamite explosions over the years, and today many of these old buildings are found many yards from where they were originally built.
Like many mining camps, Jerome had its seedy underbelly, and in fact, there was a “tenderloin district” where brothels and madams prospered. The most famous of these was “Belgian” Jennie Bauters, who was shot by a jealous lover on September 3, 1905.
Legend has it that Jennie was the richest woman in the Arizona Territory at the time of her death, and today you can still visit Jennie’s Place in Jerome, one of the few historical buildings that survived the fires that plagued the town in the late 19th century.
Related read: 8 Interesting Facts About the Arizona Rangers
6. Tip Top
In 1875, two prospectors working on Cottonwood Creek in the Bradshaw Mountains established the Tip Top silver mine, and for a few years it was a bustling camp in Yavapai County.
“On my arrival at the Tip-top mine, I found the liveliest mining camp in Arizona, with Gen. Gillette in command,” wrote C.E. Hitchcock in a 1877 edition of The Weekly Arizona Miner.
A post office opened there in 1879, and at its peak Tip Top housed between 200 and 500 residents, six saloons, a hotel, restaurant, a number of merchants, and even a school. Ore was first processed at nearby Gillett, but a stamp mill and assay office were eventually founded on-site.
Unlike some of the more rowdy mining camps in Arizona, Tip Top was relatively low key, but did have its moments of violence. In 1879, James Miles, a Tip Top resident, was arrested for the murder of a man named Shannon, a Texan working in the area.
“Yesterday being pay-day he visited Tip Top, partook rather freely of the flowing bowl, met Miles at the saloon of Johnny Bostwick, had trouble with him, and finally struck him in the face with his hand when Miles pulled a revolver and Shannon was shot through the breast killing him almost instantly,” reported The Weekly Arizona Miner.
Tip Top stuck around until 1895, when the post office closed and the mine played out. Today, there are ruins and foundations around the mine, but as of 2020, the road to Tip Top was closed to the public.
7. Vulture City
When 44-year-old, Austrian-born Henry Wickenburg staked his claim for the Vulture Mine in 1863, he likely didn’t know it’d go down as the “Comstock of Arizona,” and the richest gold mine in Arizona history.
Wickenburg supposedly discovered the quartz ledge when he was out looking for his lost burro, and spotted a vulture circling overhead. When he got to the bird, he looked down and to his amazement, spotted gold right on the ground.
“Nuggets of all sizes littered the desert next to the quartz outcrop,” wrote Kent J. Keller in a 1991 issue of True West magazine. “In about an hour, Wickenburg, picked up nearly a flour-sack full of gold nuggets.”
From 1863 to 1867, the Vulture Mine produced more than $20 million in gold and silver, and grew Vulture City — about 14 miles south of Wickenburg — into a raucous mining camp. At one point, it was home to 1,500 miners and their families.
In its heyday, the mine was a popular spot for local prospectors, even attracting Jacob Waltz, the “Lost Dutchman” to its operations. Some theorize that the gold Waltz “found” in the Superstitions was actually ore taken from his time at the Vulture Mine.
Vulture City and nearby Wickenburg both grew into sizable communities, but by the 1880s, the Vulture Mine played out and was sold to a New York-based mining company. They continued working the mines, while Wickenburg farmed and ranched on the nearby Hassayampa River.
On May 14, 1905, Wickenburg was found shot to death, likely by suicide, though some suspected he was murdered. The Vulture Mine was finally closed in 1942 when the government enforced a moratorium on gold mining in order to focus on war efforts.
Today, you can tour the remains of Vulture City, where you’ll see a handful of buildings, as well as the “Hanging Tree,” an ironwood tree 18 men were allegedly hung from over the years for “high grading,” or stealing gold ore from the mine.
Related read: 15 Western-Inspired Things to do in Prescott, Arizona
In May 1901, President William McKinley visited Congress during a six-week tour of the West shortly after his second term began. It may seem a strange destination now, but at the time, Congress was touted as one of the next premier gold mines after Tombstone and other operations around the Territory had begun to falter.
McKinley’s three-hour tour included a walk into a mine shaft and a photo with Arizona’s signature saguaro cactus, then the 25th president of the U.S. headed back to Phoenix for more media opps.
Congress was established in 1884, but didn’t take off until the late ’80s, when Diamond Joe Reynolds sunk his financial resources into the area. By the time the president visited in 1900, there were 30 active mines around Congress, and the train station connecting the town to Phoenix — Congress Junction, some three miles away — had also become a popular stop in the region.
If you’ve driven from Phoenix to Prescott through Congress (instead of taking I-17), you’ve likely noticed how dry and rocky the community is. This was fine for mining operations, but living comfortably in that part of the desert was another matter. Residents back then — about 500 people in 1905 — all had to get their water from the same, small source.
“All water for the camp was obtained from a small spigot in front of the company’s store in ‘Mill Town,'” wrote James and Barbara Sherman in Ghost Towns of Arizona. “Each family had a fifty-gallon whisky barrel which could be rolled up the hill to the faucet, filled with water, then allowed to roll down the hill by its own weight.”
The mines — which would produce more than $8 million in gold — and post office all closed by the 1930s, and Congress Junction, the town’s railroad stop, became what is now known as Congress, where a handful of businesses and residents still remain.
Ghost Towns in Northern Arizona
Named after Olive Oatman, the young woman kidnapped by Tolkepaya Yavapai in February 1851, Oatman is a former mining camp located on historic route 66 in the Black Mountains of northern Arizona.
Like Jerome and Bisbee, the town’s become a quirky stop on Western road trips: visitors come to see burros wandering the dusty streets between the few historical buildings left standing, including the Oatman Hotel (formerly the Durlin Hotel).
Mining in the area dates back to the 1860s, and in the early 1900s, a number of profitable mines put Oatman on the map. The region produced more than $13 million in gold in its few decades of operation.
The mines shut down in the 1920s and most folks left by the 1950s, when I-40 was routed around Oatman, cutting out most of its passing tourists. Today, resident burros outnumber the humans living here — no doubt part of its timeless appeal as a route 66 pit stop.
Arizona’s first incorporated town and oldest still-inhabited mining town is just north of Kingman, on the western flank of the Cerbat Mountains. It’s a small, kitschy road stop now, but beginning in the 1860s, it was a profitable mining district that produced silver — including silver chloride, the town’s namesake mineral — zinc, lead, gold and turquoise.
Their post office opened in 1871 and is the oldest operating P.O. in Arizona, though there aren’t a whole lot of people around to send letters these days. At its peak, Chloride had about 75 nearby mines and was home to an estimated 2,000 to 5,000 people, but like most boomtowns, the mines played out within a few decades.
In the 1920s, famous Western author Louis L’Amour sought work at the Tennessee Mine, one of Chloride’s best producers up until the 1940s. But while he was in town, a fire ripped through the main drag.
“We had come over, thinking of trying for a job at the Tennessee Mine, but the town caught fire and I found myself sloshing water over some very hot roofs,” L’Amour wrote in his memoir, Education of a Wandering Man. “The water was passed up to me from below, and taken from barrels kept for the purpose along the streets. There weren’t enough barrels and we lost a good fight.”
11. Two Guns
There’s no other way to put it: the history of Two Guns is batshit crazy, though it’s less of a ghost town than a ghost “pit stop” along I-40, about halfway between Flagstaff and Winslow.
Long before it was a midcentury tourist trap, the area around Two Guns and nearby Canyon Diablo was home to various indigenous groups, including Navajo and Apache, who would often skirmish in the region that bordered both tribes’ homelands.
According to legend, in one 1878 battle, a group of Apache raiders on the run from Navajo holed up in a cave in Canyon Diablo. Upon discovering the Apache, the Navajo group trapped their enemies in the cave, blocking the entrances and lighting desert brush on fire to suffocate the warriors inside. Apache who attempted to flee were shot down on sight.
“In a wild rage the Navajos poured a stream of bullets into the cave mouth but of course hit no enemy,” wrote Gladwell Richardson in Two Guns, Arizona. “Again the passageway was refurbished with flammable material and kept burning furiously like the pits of hell. At first not too much smoke poured up through the cracks but finally it drifted against the starlit sky unabated. The last desperate measure of the Apaches to escape death by asphyxiation had failed.”
In the early 1880s, the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad came through just north of Two Guns, in Canyon Diablo, and for a time the railroad workers created a makeshift town that was just as wild and murderous as anywhere else on the frontier. Railroad workers waiting for the line to reorganize its financing had plenty of entertainment in the desert, including 14 saloons and a number of brothels and gambling halls.
In the 1920s, the spot now known as Two Guns was purchased by Earle and Louise Cundiff, who built a store, restaurant and gas station right off the highway. A few years later, the Cundiffs leased some of the land to Harry E. Miller, who had even more ambitious plans for the highway stop. Among other ventures, Miller built a zoo, complete with mountain lions and Gila monsters.
“He has a Gila monster farm, an interesting and rapidly growing zoo of southwestern animal and reptile life, and plans soon to put in a moving picture plant, to show along with the movies, slides advertising the more scenic points around Flagstaff,” reported The Coconino Sun in March 1925.
The following year, Miller and Earle Cundiff got into an argument over the terms of their lease, and Miller shot and killed Cundiff. Miller was acquitted and moved on, and Louise Cundiff would later open a new, improved gas station and zoo.
Strange but true.
For a few decades small roadside businesses lingered at Two Guns, but by the 1960s there weren’t enough tourists stopping to support the Cundiffs’ grand vision. A fire in 1971 destroyed the service station, and today there’s all sorts of wild graffiti on the ruins of the nearby KOA and other buildings.
If you have the time, it’s well worth reading Richardson’s full account of Two Guns, especially if you’re heading out to the area on a classic route 66 road trip.
Just a few miles north of Oatman on historic route 66 lies Goldroad, a low-grade gold mine that produced more than $7 million in the early 1900s. Gold mining in the area dates back to the 1860s, but it wasn’t until prospector Jose Jerez went out looking for his burro — much like Henry Wickenburg — that he stumbled upon the claim that would become Goldroad Mine, around 1899.
At its peak, Goldroad was home to about 400 residents, mostly miners housed near the mines. Today, there are numerous mines throughout the area, and one recent visitor said he stopped at the main Goldroad Mine, which is still in production, to take photos. “Just drive safe throughout his road. It has a huge history of lives lost along the stretch from the mine all the way to Cool Springs Station.”
If you’re on that stretch of historic route 66, you can stop at Sitgreaves Pass View Point just before Goldroad for sweeping views of the surrounding desert.
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References & Further Reading
OldWest.org strives to use accurate sources and references in its research, and to include materials from multiple viewpoints and angles when possible.
- Austin, N. (2020). Arizona Ghost Towns: 50 of the State’s Best Places to Get a Glimpse of the Old West. Arizona Highways Books.
- Heatwole, T. (1991). Ghost Towns and Historical Haunts in Arizona. American Traveler Press.
- Hinckley, J., & James, K. (2010). Ghost Towns of the Southwest: Your Guide to the Historic Mining Camps and Ghost Towns of Arizona and New Mexico. Voyageur Press.
- Richardson, G. (1968). Two Guns, Arizona. Blue Feather Press.
- Sherman, J. E., & co-author, S. B. H. (1988). Ghost Towns of Arizona. University of Oklahoma Press.
- Tatterson, S. (2018). Abandoned Arizona: Ghost Towns and Legends. Arcadia Publishing.
- Varney, P. (2010). Arizona Ghost Towns and Mining Camps: A Travel Guide to History. Arizona Highways Books.
D.T. Christensen is the founder of OldWest.org, a history website committed to sharing and preserving stories of the American West. He was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, studied journalism at Northern Arizona University, and also writes for Territory Supply and True Crime Time.