10 GREAT Ghost towns with spirit

If you re­ally want to es­cape traf­fic and crowds this year, why not va­ca­tion in a place where the pop­u­la­tion has dis­ap­peared? Ghost towns have long at­tracted vis­i­tors, fas­ci­nated by a chance to touch a piece of the past, says Philip Var­ney, co-au­thor of (

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - TRAVEL - Bodie, Calif., is kept in a state of ar­rested de­cay. Rangers don’t let build­ings col­lapse, but don’t re­store them, ei­ther. It was spring wa­ter, not min­er­als, that first brought set­tlers to tiny Shake­speare, N.M., near the Ari­zona bor­der.

SHAKE­SPEARE, N.M.

It was spring wa­ter, not min­er­als, that first brought set­tlers to this tiny spot near the Ari­zona bor­der. “It’s the most au­then­tic desert south­west­ern ghost town that I know of,” Var­ney says. “There are adobe build­ings, one even two sto­ries. It’s price­less.” As for the name, there’s noth­ing Bri­tish about the spot, once used by Apache In­di­ans. “It was named by a guy from Eng­land who wanted to give it a lit­tle bit of piz­zazz.” shake­speareghos­town.com

BANNACK, MONT.

With more than four dozen well­p­re­served struc­tures, this for­mer cop­per town is both scenic and ac­ces­si­ble. “Just turn the han­dle. You can go into vir­tu­ally every build­ing, but they ask you to shut the door,” Var­ney says. He sug­gests look­ing for ar­chi­tec­tural sur­prises like the two-story build­ing with a pub­lic school on the ground floor and a Ma­sonic lodge above. bannack.org

BEL­MONT, NEV.

While Ne­vada has hun­dreds of ghost towns, Var­ney con­sid­ers this off-the-grid set­tle­ment the state’s best. “It has a lot of brick build­ings, which makes it un­usual. There’s a two-story court­house and the ruins of a bank.” trav­el­nevada.com

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BODIE, CALIF.

This for­mer gold min­ing camp, pre­served as a state park, is a na­tional trea­sure, Var­ney says. “Bodie is the real thing. It’s the best ghost town that I’ve seen, and I’ve seen over 600.” The town is kept in a state of ar­rested de­cay, mean­ing rangers don’t let build­ings col­lapse, but don’t re­store them ei­ther. And park­ing is kept out of sight. “When you’re walk­ing around Bodie, you’re not look­ing at the 21st cen­tury.” www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=509

SIL­VER CITY, IDAHO

Although still in­hab­ited by de­scen­dants of the orig­i­nal set­tlers, this spot hasn’t been vis­i­bly mod­ern­ized, re­tain­ing the feel of a for­mer 19th-cen­tury boom town. Vis­i­tors can spend the night in a par­tially re­stored ho­tel, Var­ney says. “You may be the only per­son there, but what at­mos­phere! It’s ab­so­lutely charm­ing, with good food and a great place to have a beer at the end of the day.” vis­i­ti­daho.org

FAYETTE HIS­TORIC TOWNSITE, MICH.

You don’t have to go west to find ghost towns. This spot in Michi­gan’s Up­per Penin­sula tells a sim­i­lar tale of boom and bust. It pros­pered for sev­eral decades at the end of the 19th cen­tury as a man­u­fac­turer of pig iron. Now it’s pre­served as a state park on cliffs over­look­ing Lake Michi­gan. “It has very stout build­ings, a re­ally beau­ti­ful set­ting,” Var­ney says. michi­gan.gov/dnr

KENNECOTT MINES, ALASKA

Cop­per lured set­tlers to this iso­lated spot near the Yukon Ter­ri­tory, and soon af­ter the vein ran out in 1938, the town did, too. “It’s re­ally dra­matic, but it’s also fierce coun­try,” Var­ney says. Now a Na­tional His­toric Land­mark, it’s man­aged by Wrangell-St. Elias Na­tional Park and Pre­serve. nps.gov/wrst

SHANIKO, ORE.

Un­like most ghost towns, this set­tle­ment wasn’t tied to min­ing. For decades, it was one of the largest wool ship­ping cen­ters in the world. But over­seas com­pe­ti­tion even­tu­ally brought the op­er­a­tion to a close, and by the 1940s, the town’s rail­road ser­vice ended. Now it has a pop­u­la­tion of just a few dozen. “It’s pretty fore­bod­ing coun­try out there, but it still has a won­der­ful ho­tel and school­house,” Var­ney says. shanikoore­gon.com

ST. ELMO, COLO.

With dirt streets, wooden board­walks, and false-front build­ings, it’s hard to beat this cen­tral Colorado gold min­ing town near the town of Buena Vista. “It’s stun­ningly lovely, in some of the pret­ti­est for­est you can imag­ine, and ex­tremely pho­to­genic,” Var­ney says. bue­nav­is­ta­col­orado.org

RUBY, ARIZ.

Once closed to the pub­lic, this set­tle­ment near the Mex­ico bor­der now wel­comes vis­i­tors Thurs­days through Sun­days. The town re­mained ac­tive through the 1940s, but faces preser­va­tion chal­lenges. “Ten years from now, it won’t look like it does now,” Var­ney says. rubyaz.com

KERRICK JAMES

PHILIP VAR­NEY

Shaniko, Ore., wasn’t a min­ing town. For decades, it was one of the largest wool ship­ping cen­ters in the world.

PHILIP VAR­NEY

With dirt streets, wooden board­walks and false-front build­ings, it’s hard to beat the scenery at St. Elmo, Colo.

PHILIP VAR­NEY

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