Ghost towns have an almost universal appeal. The empty storefronts and streets, sepia toned photos on the walls of the towns only cafe, and the silence broken only by the whispering winds pique the imagination. And if those ghost towns are framed by stunning Arizona backdrops they become a photographers paradise.
Fall, and winter, are ideally suited for exploration of the ghost towns in western Arizona deserts and along the Colorado River Valley. All that you need is a base camp like Crazy Horse Campground on the picturesque shores of Lake Havasu in Lake Havasu City, Arizona where you can unwind, enjoy a bit of boating, or just savor a sunset after a day of ghost town explortion.
Not all ghost towns require a Jeep or strenuous hike. There are three great ghost towns near Lake Havasu City tht only require a dependable vehicle and a sense of adventure.
Each is an opportunity for a fun filled, memory making day trip. One even provides an opportunity to enjoy a drive along iconic Route 66.
The first one is Oatman, Arizona. This is a “living ghost town.” There are still residents and operating businesses. And as it is a popular destination for Route 66 enthhusiasts, it is a stretch to call Oatman a ghost town, especially on a busy day when crowds roam the maini street (Route 66) and fill the stores.
But Oatman, just 54 scenic miles from Lake Havasu City, is less than a shadow of what it was when it was at the heart of Arizona’s largest mining boom. Oatman once boasted a wekkly newspaper, three hotels, a stock exchange, a Ford dealership, and was the headquarters for two of the largest gold mines in the country.
Today semi wild burros share the streeets and sidewalks with visitors. The Oatman Hotel, the largest and oldest adobe building in Mohave County, no longer rents rooms but cold beer is sold at the bar, and travelers are eager to try a buffalo burger in the restaurant.
The second ghost town of note is bit more difficult to access, and while four wheel drive is not needed, it is suggested that the vehicle used for the adventure has some ground clearance. Swansea, Arizona located at the end of a long dusty gravel road is a more traditional ghost town, meaning that it’s completely deserted and only has ruins of buildings and machinery preserved in an arrested state of decay.
Swansea is about 25 miles from Parker or Bouse. It was a copper mining town that boomed in the early 1900s. It had a theatre, numerous stores, a Ford dealership, garages, service station, and even a railroad depot.
The largest mining company was plagued buy financial problems that were magnified by the economic collapse of the Great Depression. Mines ceased operation in 1937, and Swansea began a precipitous decline and within a decade it was a ghost town.
You can still see the remains of the smelter, the railroad depot, the hotel, the schoolhouse and other structures. You can also learn more about the history of Swansea at the visitor center.
The third ghost town is a gem. Chloride, Arizona is another “living ghost town” with a few businesses, including a time capsule 1930s motel and the charming Yesterday’s restaurant.
Located about 80 miles from Lake Havasu City a few miles off U.S. 93, Chloride is purported to be the oldest continuously inhabited mining town in Arizona.
With the discovery of rich deposits of gold, silver, and copper in the towering Cerbat Mountains, a small tent city was thriving by the late 1860s. IN the 1890s the Arizona & Utah Railroad built a line across the Sacrament Valley to connect with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad at McConnico. The picturesque old depot still stands on a dusty side street in Chloride.
Today the town is home to about 250 residents, less than ten percent of what it was in the boom times. They keep the alive with creativity and hospitality. Popular sies to visit include the old cemetery, the jail, and the train station. And don’t miss the famous Roy Purcell murals on the rocks outside town.
So there you have it: three ghost towns near Lake Havasu City that are worth exploring. Whether you’re into history, mystery or artistry, you’ll find something to enjoy in these places. Just remember to respect the locals, the wildlife and the environment when you visit. And don’t forget to have fun!
Now, make you reservations at Crazy Horse Campground, and make some plans for memorable adventrues in western Arizona.
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America.