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Last updated: December 22, 2021 • Traveling Around the World

Ghost Towns in Arizona

Arizona is the 6th largest state by surface area but 42% of it is covered by coppery sand and cacti. In fact, the four of the North American deserts spread across the state’s territory, with Sonoran desert covering most of its surface. In spite of all the dryness and heat, about 7.1 million people try to build their own oasis of wellbeing here. Over the years, though, in their perpetual search, they’ve left behind quite a few ghost towns in Arizona. 

What are ghost towns like?

What are ghost towns in Arizona like? Well, they’re really cool places to explore if you’re the kind of person who likes the thrills of eerie places. Most of the cities have the typical Old West look and feel, like the Goldfield ghost town where the stores and restaurants look as if they’re about to open. Others, like the Ruby ghost town, are completely dilapidated. You may be surprised to hear this, but some ghost towns do have a caretaker who looks after them from time to time, but in most cases, these deserted communities are unprotected and often face acts of vandalism and rebellion. However, when visiting an Arizona ghost town, be aware of uneven walking surfaces, shaky porches, rusty elements, as well as of unwanted company such as rattlesnakes, bees, wasps, spiders or scorpions. 

Arizona ghost towns are quite aplenty – over 200, according to some sources. However, since builders used to work with green building materials in the past, many of these cities have been reduced to dust in the meantime. Not all ghost towns in Arizona are completely lifeless, though. Some of them are still inhabited by resilient locals who are either too old to move or simply love their hometown too much. In most cases, these deserted settlements are old mining towns or very close to a mine. As you probably know, Arizona is famous for its copper mines and silver mines. When it comes to gold, Arizona ranks only seventh in the US and some of its gold mines have a ghost town nearby, just like Vulture City. 

What are the largest cities in Arizona?

Tucson Arizona downtown view

Let’s take a short break from the zero-inhabitants cities to find out what are the most populous cities in Arizona. If ranching and mining were the top occupations many years ago, nowadays, the largest employers are the local administration, the banking system, the Arizona State University, and the healthcare system. The city of Scottsdale is one of the best cities for job-seekers. In the Phoenix Metro area, unemployment is at its lowest levels since 2010. The aviation industry also employs thousands of people. For example, Boeing has 4,700 workers at the Mesa facility, while US Airways has over 9,000 employees. 

So, as the tertiary sector has gained more and more importance in our economy, many villagers have embraced the city life. Heavy, physical work has been replaced by more intellectual and mental work. Also, the invention of air conditioning has made life a lot easier in the arid towns of Arizona. In the early 1900s, refrigerators have also gained momentum so the quality of life has greatly improved. Since the 1940s, agriculture’s role has faded, and Phoenix turned into a metropolis. The largest cities in Arizona are Phoenix (1.4 million), Tucson (~530,000), Mesa (~484,000), Chandler (~250,000), and Scottsdale (~250,000). So, the population of Arizona is heavily concentrated around Phoenix. 

The city’s name hasn’t been randomly chosen. Historians believe that it’s been built on the remains of a native population which disappeared due to drought, replicating the legend of the Phoenix bird. The Salt River, through the Salt River Project, currently provides water to the millions of people who built a house in the Valley of the Sun. A network of canals carries fresh water to the whole area, making the land fertile. Even so, there are many ghost towns near Phoenix.

In the Maricopa county, one- or two-hour drive away from Phoenix, you may find Tortilla Flat, Coldwater, Beardsley, Union, and Sunflower. Whether you decide to visit them with kids or nephews, sometimes, the ride is the best part of the trip. Only a few abandoned towns seem to come to life for tourism, though. Arizona ghost towns are a journey to the past, in a bygone era in which precious metals were on everybody’s lips, almost literally. 

Nowadays, Arizona is the largest producer of copper, providing about 60% of the copper in the US. Morenci Copper Mine is also one of the largest in the world where the mining Caterpillers still carry loads of copper ores. Located in the Greenlee county, the mine has quite a few ghost towns around it such as Guthrie, Clifton, and Oroville, with Metcalf and Sprucedale up north. Most of them have absolutely no remains, except Clifton, where you can still visit the main street. 

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Opinions from visitors

five stars rating

While preparing this article, we met a few tourists along the way and they were very kind to share a few thoughts with us. 

Jane and John V., Portland: “We love to spend winters in the South, and this year, my husband, who is an engineer, decided to tour a few ghost towns in Arizona. Vulture City AZ was our favorite place. We went on a Saturday and at 10 o’clock in the morning, there was a guided tour. The history of that place was fascinating and John loved the old equipment that was on display there. The Vulture mine is still producing gold, today! In fact, the mining company is working on restoring the Vulture City AZ using the same building materials used by the first miners: old timber, tin, and adobe. They’re doing a great job!” 

Paul and Rudy, visiting with grandchildren: “We moved to Scottsdale as soon as we retired. We knew we wanted to grow old in Arizona because we love the weather. Unfortunately, we are quite far from our children in Boston. So, when they visit, we always plan ahead. This time, we brought them to Goldfield, Arizona and a few other ghost towns because they are old enough to understand the history behind them. They loved it! Especially the Superstition mountains in the background… Absolutely beautiful!” 

David G., ghost-hunter: “With so many bodies trapped inside, mines are probably the best place to find supernatural activity and ghosts. I usually take my EVP recorder and all the ghost-hunting equipment with me and so far, I and my friends have had pretty amazing experiences. Arizona ghost towns have never disappointed me. I always went home with the goosebumps I was expecting. I usually look for abandoned cities and ruins with free access, and that’s not something hard to come by in Arizona.”

Patricia K., architect: “Visiting Oatman Arizona, I was surprised by the well-preserved buildings and the authentic immersion in the Old West. It’s quite an interactive history class – better than anything I’ve had at school. I’m very curious about the way people used to build houses, so I was impressed by the Oatman Hotel, built in 1902, which is the oldest two-story adobe building in Mohave County. Green building materials will make a comeback, for sure!” 

Would you like to visit an Arizona ghost town, but you’re too far? We’ve met Josh. He is compiling great video tours from the places he visits and posts them on YouTube. His Oatman visit has more than 200,000 views! “For me, exploring abandoned places and buildings is a way of life. Sometimes, I do feel overwhelmed with negative feelings, especially when I visit an asylum or an abandoned hospital… But it’s part of the job. Unfortunately, my viewers don’t get the same feeling that I get when I experience everything first-hand.” Josh took his camera and jumped into the car to hit the next destination – Ruby ghost town.

Real estate advice: Can you buy a ghost town?

ghost town look

Would you like to rescue an Arizona ghost town and turn it into a new tourist destination? Well, you can buy one! However, very few of them are privately owned. Sometimes, the Bureau of Land Management may sell lots that contain former mines or ghost towns on them, but all buyers must do their homework before buying to identify the most valuable lots.

Some privately owned ghost towns have been listed for sale such as Wikieup Arizona ($100,000). However, similar listings can be found in Utah, Colorado, and Oregon. If you really know how to exploit the history of a place and market that story in a way that attracts tourists, you can become the mayor of your own ghost town! 
However, death and real estate rarely work well together. When a town dies, real estate prices plummet. The same happens when someone sells a house after the death of a loved one, though to a less extent. Homebuyers looking for silence and peace can get the ghost-town-feeling by moving near a cemetery. Those neighborhoods are great because it’s very unlikely that any further development will ever take place in the area.


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