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!