The Living Ghost Town – Castle Dome City Museum, KOFA AZ
Back in her heyday she was larger than Yuma, a bustling, wild-west mining town with ~300 mines and ~3,000 people sweating out the intense heat of the Arizona summers in the elusive hope of striking it rich. Here it was silver that drew and folks would come from all over, often squatting for months while waiting for claims or jobs. When work was short, whisky and women were abundant and ever-ready to pass the time and sweep up the meager earnings of their inhabitants. Conditions were primitive and incredibly harsh, and tempers were often short. Most arguments were resolved by gunfire.
This story could describe just about every town back in the heyday of the wild west. Some towns were more dangerous than others (Bodie, my most favorite ghost town ever, comes to mind), but they were all crazy, mostly lawless places filled with desperate men (and women) seduced by the glitter of gold or silver. Some did get rich (especially those clever enough to supply the miners), that’s what kept ’em coming after all, but most did not and many died from sheer exhaustion and physical hardship. It must have been a strange and difficult life….and it totally fascinates me!
Darn it, I just love old ghost towns!
Much of the modern West, as we see it today, comes from mining history. The Spanish knew of gold in the area as far back as the 1600’s, but the big “mining boom” didn’t start until around mid 1800’s. That’s when the gold was first “discovered” in California and the first huge migration of hopefuls (the “Forty Niners”) began. The silver-galena ore near Castle Dome sprung up in 1864 and became one of the longest working mines in Arizona, subsisting on and off until as late as 1979 when the price of silver plummeted to where it was no longer profitable to extract it. The harsh, dry desert, the same cruel master that took so many lives back in the day, preserved the history in almost pristine condition allowing us to relive it today.
In our travels I’ve always been intrigued by ghost towns, especially since the stories there are so intensely rich. These are places my very active imagination can go wild, eagerly helped along by old remnants of houses, pieces of mines and relics of the past. As an RVer they are great destination targets and a fascinating way to travel around the West.
And they’re not hard to find either. Websites like ghosttowns.com and ghosttownaz.info provide a great resource to finding your next piece of deadly history, with the possibility of a little haunting to go with it. For those who love this kind of thing you could even plan your entire winter travels going from one ghostly town to the next. OOoooooooooo
But let’s get back to the blog post. Castle Dome Mine Museum had been on my “list” for years, but I’d just never made it out here mostly because it’s a tad too far off the beaten track….and it doesn’t allow dogs. We don’t like leaving doggie longer than a few hours, so when we go sightseeing without her that naturally limits how far we can drive. Our spot at KOFA put us within 35 minutes of the museum, a totally manageable distance even for sightseeing drive-o-phobes such as ourselves. It’s 10 miles off Hwy 95 to get there (~6 of these are graded dirt road), and $10/person to get in (cash only), but it is totally worth it. The family who owns the area has put years into re-creating the town and filling it with historic relics found on site in the area. It is one of the nicest and most “living” restorations I’ve seen.
Within the museum a large area covers ~50 buildings and countless mine shafts (some many hundreds of feet deep), plus there is a separate walking tour on the other side of the road. It’s somewhat “staged”, but the interior of the buildings is fascinating and the history and contents (all original) could take you several weeks to get through. Plus the entire town is backed by the red-orange beauty of Castle Dome Peak, a rather dramatic and pretty backdrop.
Paul I went early AM and spent a few hours perusing the town and coming up with stories for their inhabitants. We both decided he would have been a bank owner (naturally) while I would likely have been the local town version of Calamity Jane. We even managed to capture a ghostly (but rather pink) presence in one of the saloon mirrors (a loose lady of the night perhaps?). By around noon it was way too hot to stay and with doggie pining for us at home we split and motored back home. Overall a very worthy ghost town that makes my top 10 “deadly” list. If you’re in the area definitely plan to go!
Note/ NO doggies allowed inside the museum unfortunately. Cost is $10 per adult, $5 per kid age 7 and older. 6 and under are free. Bring CASH! Museum is open daily in winter from 10-5.
Believe it or not this brings us to the end of our boondocking winter sojurn in the desert, at least for the near future. We’re going to overnight somewhere on our way to San Diego (a brew pub might be involved), but our time in the boonies is nigh. After many months in the wilds it’s going to feel ultra-weird to be in an RV park again, but I’m looking forward to beach and (especially) FOOOOooooooood.
Also this has been one of the hotter winters in Arizona with most of our days hovering around 80 degrees. No complaints from me, but it does mean the desert critters are going to start coming out early and I’d rather be gone by the time they do. So, adios to the wilds and hello to civilization, at least for a while. See you in the Big City!
- The Biggest Baddest Ghost Town Of The West – Bodie, CA
- Back in Time To the Heyday Of Gold – Hedges/Tumco Ghost Town
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in this blog post may be affiliate links, so, if you click on the link and make a purchase, I will receive a commission. Amazon, the Amazon logo, AmazonSupply, and the AmazonSupply logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. WheelingIt is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
John and Pam Wright says
Our one day visit to Kofa wasn’t enough:( We must return and boondock for a few days, at least. I really wanted to see the ghost town. Oh, well, something for another visit:)
Have fun in San Diego!! We love our bay front site with all the water fowl and gorgeous sunsets.
This place is so huge it’s tough to see everything in one visit. KOFA definitely deserves several tours.
Love it… my kind of place. Those folks sure had to be hearty back then. Thanks for the tour 🙂
Definitely. The preservation in this town was excellent. Really a great place to “relive” the period.
Another spot to see for us also. Thanks.
What type of desert critters don’t you like, rattlesnakes?
We hope you enjoy civilization.
Rattlesnakes and scorpions…and mostly because of our pets. We found a scorpion in Paul’s shoe yesterday AM and we’ve started to hear stories about the rattlers coming out early this year. It’s not a huge deal (a few basic precautions will keep your pets safe), but we prefer to avoid them when we can.
Scary thought about the scorpion in the shoe… So, was the shoe inside or outside the RV when the scorpion found its way in?
It was outside. We’ve never had a scorpion inside the RV.
Lisa W says
Kofa is definitely on our list of places to visit once we get on the road. We are also expecting the snakes early this year in SE Arizona, the winter has been so warm. We were hoping you might have made it back to Whitewater Draw this year – we would have left you alone. 😉
We would love to go back to Whitewater (such a great place), but sadly not this year. We’re feeling the draw to the beach and where “the beast” pulls we must go….
Betty Shea says
Geeze,that ghost town looks cool,..I never knew about it !!!
Thanks! Enjoy the big city!!
It’s a bit of a hidden gem. They used to have a website, but it seems to have been taken down, so now the only references are on Yelp and other sightseeing sites.
Pat & Bill says
Very cool indeed! Not so crazy about your rattlesnake/scorpion tales but I’ll guess we’ll have to find that out on our own! Thanks for the tour!
Mostly there’s very few issues with critters in the desert, especially
during winter, but you do get more action in spring. Rattlesnakes hibernate when it’s cold, but when it’s hot they’ll start coming out. Also the babies start hatching and since they don’t have rattles yet they are easy to miss (and their venom is still pretty strong).
As long as you practice some basic safety -> don’t go into thick brush, don’t stick your hands where you can’t see (rocks, ledges) etc. you are fine. Encounters are rare and rattlers only really attack if cornered or provoked, so if you leave them alone they’ll leave you alone. I’ve hiked in the desert for many years and only seen a few. The ones I did see I gave a wide berth, and all was fine.
Your pets are more of a potential issue especially if they go off leash, and/or like to stick their nose in places. So, mostly for their sake, when I hear about rattlers starting to come out we usually try to head to cooler climes.
P.S. For scorpions just remember to shake out your shoes in the morning before you put them on. They like to crawl into hiding spots 🙂
did you ever had one of those in your RV? I already wandered what one does about the desert “inhabitans” if they start sneaking in ones living area. Doesn’t they also hide under your “carpet” you put infront of your RV?
Never had a scorpion or snake inside the RV, although I’ve heard stories from others that have encountered them. We have had stuff under the matt so we do check and shake it out before bringing it in. The only invasive critters we’ve had were mice. That was a story:
Steve and Gari says
Hi Paul & Nina,
We have been following your adventure for 4 or 5 years and have learned so much from you. We are also in the Yuma area and would love to meet and personally and thank you. We are staying in the Fortuna Foothills where Gari’s dad has been wintering for 25 years from Yakima. We were out at Castle Dome last week and saw a Rattlesnake :-0. We are planning a short hike up Palm Canyon next week, would you all be interested?
Steve and Gari says
Hey guys, I just realized this may not be a good hiking spot for you. My friend sent a pic of the trail head sign and it said No Dogs! 🙁 I am now embarrassed that I sent such a discriminating invitation; sorry Polly!
Interesting. We actually did that hike with Polly a few years back. Wonder if the rules have changed? It’s a lovely little hike though. Well worth it and you get some lovely views from the top.
Steve and Gari says
We are looking forward to the scenery, will send pics 🙂
Ah, so sorry guys. We’ve already left the area and are currently overnighting at a Casino outside of San Diego. Next stop for us is the big city itself. Enjoy your time in the area! Sorry we couldn’t meet up!
Steve and Gari says
You all enjoy SD and we will see ya down the road 🙂
Gail Docter says
Hey there! I don’t know how to tell you on Instagram, but you and Paul should follow Alesmithbrewing so you don’t miss out on special announcements. They just posted one there and on Facebook, so GO! 🙂
Hi Nina & Paul,
Gina & I live in Poway, CA and motor in our Winnebago. I just returned on a solo trip a few weeks ago from KOFA (elegant and ominous in its beauty and barrenness), Senator Wash BLM (near Mittry Lake), and Borrego Clark Valley (hiked to the snake and mountain biked way, way up the remote Glorietta canyon but still ran into some Canadian snow birds camping up there, wouldn’t ya know it…).
A MUST SEE while you’re in SD: You will love a morning walk through the Self Realization Fellowship (SRF) ashram Gardens in Encinitas for fabulous photo ops and meditation time!!! You will probably be drawn to stay a very long time. It overlooks the famous Swami’s surfing beach with the smooth point breaks rolling in. I love going here and being surrounded by the exquisite, peaceful gardens and forever views over the Pacific.
Just down the road at 2655 S Coast Hwy 101 is Las Olas Mexican Restaurant for us ‘locals.’ Go there or be square. 😉 Enjoy the margaritas and Mexican dining while looking across 101 to the ocean and then walking the miles of beach.
Knowing your typical good planning you are probably set on where to go; however, here are three nice Campgrounds to consider:
1. Campland on the Bay
On Mission Bay in the center of San Diego coastal activity – excellent bike riding areas and close by eateries. Check out the Boat House Restaurant (http://www.boathouserestaurant.com/) on Harbor Island for awesome dinner specials on Mon, Wed and Fri evenings and with views of San Diego Bay.
2. San Elijo State Beach
PRIMO camping overlooking the Pacific ocean on Hwy 101 in Cardiff just north of San Diego. Near the SRF.
Excellent for cruising nearby SD north coast beach towns. You can probably reserve during the weekdays but weekends are reserved 6+ months out. If reserving, list your RV as less that 35′. I’ve seen mega coaches in there and have talked with the camp host who say they have no problem letting in the ‘beasts.’ The host’s and many other coaches I’ve seen there far exceed the posted limit and easily fit in most of the sites.
3. Vail Lake RV Resort
This one is a real GEM tucked away in the oaks just north of SD (about 60 miles) and just east of Temecula (about 7 miles). We like their scenic, upper Arroyo Seco area which has the higher sites on a plateau with full hookups (doggies ok). It is in very nice So Cal back country surrounded with 9,000 acres of open countryside. Temecula has winery’s to explore and horse back winery tours. Historic Old Town Temecula is a very neat area.
Let us know when you’re planning your SD visit and maybe we can hook up.
Tom & Gina
Cheers for the list. Always good to have extra recommendations. We actually lived in San Diego before we went on the road (we lived just south of San Elijo and hubby worked over in Poway) so I’m very familiar with all of those areas you listed. Have also spent several winters there since we got the RV (lots of blog posts on the blog), mostly between Santee Lakes and Mission Bay. We’re looking forward to going back for a month 🙂
Ed @ Chasing Sunrises and Sunsets says
Great photos! Really like the outdoor “Blacksmith” building with mountain backdrop. And LOVE the interior shot of the bar with the “Madam” portrait behind the bar. Oh no, that’s a mirror. Sorry. 🙂
Are you sure it’s just a mirror? I certainly didn’t notice the ghost until I looked at my pics after I downloaded them to the computer. Hmmmm….
Diana and Jim says
We will put KOFA on our list, Nina. We were in Bodie 10 years ago. We definitely need to get back there! Thank you for the post, and have a blast in San Diego. Are you going to see Old Point Loma Lighthouse?
We went to Point Loma a few years back (last time we wintered in SD), but may go back to see it again. It’s a pretty area down there. Here’s my old post:
Diana and Jim says
Thanks for the link, Nina! They sure did a beautiful job on that restoration. We’ll put Point Loma on our list also!
Jenny Waters says
This looks fun. I especially like the interior shot in the saloon. I have a question that is a little off-topic, but you mentioned leaving Polly alone for a few hours to visit. Does the RV have automatic air conditioning that keeps it temperature-controlled? I am curious if that is normal, as there must be times when you can’t take the dog with you and it is possibly a bit warm. I have wondered how fast an RV would get hot inside if the AC failed. (I’m sure it’s not nearly as bad as a car?) My husband and I will need to have work appointments now and then when travelling, and the appts would be about 4-5 hours long. I am not sure if it would be best to leave the dogs in the RV with a grass box for a restroom or if we would have to get them into a doggie daycare for those times. I am curious what you do for those situations and if you are concerned about temperature fluctuations. Our dogs are two small chihuahuas and I think they would be less stressed if they could safely stay in the RV and not be around a bunch of loud, bigger dogs.
Most of the places we RV have moderate temps (we plan our travels that way), but if we are in a place that might get hot we set our air conditioner to auto-start at a preset temp and back that up with auto-start on the generator (AGS). We have it set this way even when hooked-up, just in case the power fails.
What a wonderful place to visit! thanks for taking the time to write it all up. I especially like the bar scene… and the textile display. We might have to check that one out!~
KarenInTheWoods and Steveio
(Blog) RVing: The USA Is Our Big Backyard
It’s well worth the visit. Lots of fun relics in here.
That ghost has a really cool hat. 😉
She sure does, doesn’t she? I approve of her color coordination too 🙂
Jodee Gravel says
They have done a great job with the restoration there. Is the whole “town” the museum and therefore all dog-unfriendly? Or is there a museum building? I’m sure you know that the smaller the scorpion, the more venomous they are 🙁
It seems like you just left the lighthouse! Looking forward to seeing posts from your old stomping grounds – I’m sure you’ll still find something new.
So, there are two main parts to Castle Dome. The “museum” which has the vast majority of the buildings (I’d say around 95% of them) and does *not* allow dogs at all (there are clear signs prohibiting them). Pretty much all the pics in my blog were taken in this museum portion. Then there is a short 3/4 mile “walking tour” across the road from the museum which has some old mine shaft remnants and a few buildings (maybe 3?) that didn’t have any signs prohibiting dogs that I could see.
So, I suppose it would be possible to come and just do the walking tour with doggie (assuming I’m right about the signage), but you’d miss the majority of the cool stuff. Pretty much all the good stuff is in the area that doesn’t allow dogs.
Ed Hackenbruch says
The venom in a baby rattlesnake is just as strong as in an adult. The young ones are more dangerous though because when they bite they haven’t yet learned to control the amount of venom that they pump out….they use it all at once. The adults use it in measured doses.
I’ve heard that too. I don’t like to be out with the pets when the rattler babies hatch. Most of the adults warn you with their rattlers when you disturb them (at least all the ones I’ve come across have), but the babies don’t have that ability yet, so they’re easier to “surprise”.
Tim + Denise Taylor says
We are currently camped just below Palm Canyon in Kofa and are really enjoying the area.
This is also our last day in the desert, we must head back to Ventura county and ready the rig and ourselves for the drive north.
It was great meeting you and reading your great blog this season.
Looking forward to spending more time next season in this part of the world. Hopefully our paths will cross again
You have our contacts in Alaska if you get a wild hair……..
Tim and Denise
Lovely to meet you too! Alaska is definitely in our future at some point. We backpacked there many years ago, but have yet to take the rig. It’ll happen for sure.
We visited Castle Dome in 2010 when Emmi was just a baby–took her with us and left her in the truck with the windows rolled down. As we were strolling around the buildings we began to hear this unearthly howl–yep, Emmi didn’t like being left alone, and now five years later she still doesn’t like being left alone! Enjoy San Diego!!
(we also hiked Palm Canyon with Emmi–wonder if the rules have changed??)
Awwww…even as a baby her personality was clear. Too funny!
Well you’ve made me add a few notes to my KOFA mention on my Wanderlist. Historic ghost towns like this just fascinate me. Thanks for another great post. Enjoy your journeys.
It’s a fabulous stop. Well worth it.
Nan & John says
Ghost towns call our names as we travel the west. Thanks for sharing these photos. In one photo, there are Bemis bags. Those bags were made in Indianapolis, IN many years ago. The factory burned when we were kids.
Interesting little bit of info. The bags certainly didn’t look historic, but the cast iron pans and equipment on the table right above them did.
Nina and Paul, I was looking for some advice regarding the towing of your CRV. What type of tow bar, braking system do you use? We are about to purchase our 1st Class A and likewise will be towing a CRV. Thanks.
We use a Roadmaster tow bar and US Gear braking system. I’ve got all the details in this post:
I thought I knew a lot about AZ until I started following your blog Nina. KOFA is on the list for sure…great ghost town. Safe travels to SD. See you soon! 🙂
I’m glad I can give “locals” some new tips 🙂
That one’s been on my list for this winter but with it slipping quickly past spring into summer it will have to wait. Didn’t realize it’s been renovated. Have fun in the city.
Glad you featured this place! I was fascinated by the genuine eastern side with its still-open (but well-fenced off) mining holes! It IS a great place, and we felt it was even better than Bodie, because we played hands-on with the ‘props’ in the reconstructed town side. I’d also recommend visitors try to wear Old West apparel when going there, so you can ‘take part’ and pose for selfies as we did (despite our garish 21st century clothes), in that hotel bar, at card game tables and so on, wearing the hats they have lying around!
Going there, we tried to be clever, saving mileage, by stopping by en route from Quartzsite to Yuma… What I wasn’t sure about, apart from their opening time, was whether the road would take a 30ft 5th wheel. Seeing no warning sign to the contrary, we went for it! As you said, it was 3 mls paved then 7mls corrugated road. I recalled another of your blogs (Trona Pinnacles) with someone’s theory about driving fast to “level out the bumps”, so I experimented – and, it worked, kinda! The bad bumpy rocking and jarring was replaced by a strong continuous vibration. Admittedly it’s risky with a 6-ton 5th wheel, but luckily that road had no potholes or large rocks. I got up to about 35-40mph before caution limited the right foot, but it sure saved us time. Actually we got there too early at 9.15. A guy in a golf cart met us, and said “No-one brings a rig up here!” (Well, we did!!) I was able to turn us around in the car park, empty because it was raining gently; the RV got caked with mud splashes on the way back, but hey-ho.
One other thing, if you or a relative are or were in the military, they can lend you a felt-tip pen to sign the name on a wall or ceiling of one specific old building there (if you can find room!). Kim signed for her (ex-West Point) army son!
Coincidentally, I lost my wallet there (tying in with another of your recent blogs!). We called them 2 days later, when I realized, and luckily someone had handed it in (probably dropped it during our ‘dressing up’ games!) It took a 120ml round trip from Ogilby Rd BLM to collect it (driving without a license!!!). So much for saving mileage!! But nice to get it back.
Can’t believe you took your 5th wheel the whole way there! The road is thankfully well-graded so the “speed-driving” method to get past that washboard works. Neat tip about signing the wall.
Hi I love your stories, I want to wheel it too. Trying to talk my husband into it. He is a longshoreman so he can work when he wants and we are renting right now so I think we should put everything in storage and travel for awhile , he can work for a few weeks and then hit the road for a few weeks or more. Just for a few years. It would be awesome .
Jack & Marlene Duncan says
We live just “up the road” in Havasu year ’round, intending to go there. Too busy being retired Olpharts, but we will make it. Congrats on your writing style, grammar and syntax; it’s so often a lost art these days even among college graduates. Keep on keeping on.
The owner of the museum has now gated and locked the road. No one can pass his money making business to experience the true KOFA experience. So sad. Allen Armstrong should be ashamed.