Back in the day, Arizona represented the raggedy edge of the frontier. Communities sprang up for a variety of reasons but not all survived. Ghost towns dot the Arizona landscape. They come in varying stages of decline, but each has its own story.
Here are some of the best ghost towns in Arizona. Enjoy these time capsules but tread respectfully. Leave them exactly as you found them for the next visitor.
Southern Arizona Ghost Towns
While Tombstone survived its rowdy mining days to grow into an international travel destination, neighboring towns were not so fortunate. Just outside of Tombstone a lonely dirt road weaves through desert scrub and links three former mining communities. Gleeson, Courtland and Pearce are strung along the length of Arizona’s Ghost Town Trail.
Located 16 miles east of Tombstone, Gleeson boomed for a few decades with the discovery of a large copper deposit. A 1912 fire consumed 28 buildings, but the town was rebuilt. The mines played out in the 1930s. Along with some ramshackle structures, the 1910 jail has been restored as a museum and is open to the public the first Saturday of every month.
Sitting just a few miles down the road, Courtland burned brightly for a decade. Copper was discovered in 1909 and four large companies sank shafts. The population swelled to 2,000 and the town supported a newspaper, movie theater and auto dealership. The mines closed in 1920 and the desert has reclaimed most of the town, with only scattered foundations and crumbling ruins remaining. The good news is that for the first time since the 1970s, Courtland has a resident again and he’s offering daily tours, and rock hounding experiences.
Nearby Pearce replaced Tombstone as the local Wild West town. When gold was discovered in 1896, many families and businesses relocated from fast-fading Tombstone, where the mines had flooded. The Alvord-Stiles gang, responsible for numerous robberies and shootings, operated out of Pearce. The town prospered into the 1930s before emptying. Yet sitting on U.S. 191, Pearce still survives with several historic buildings and a couple of shops.
Another Cochise County gem, Fairbank proved to be a crucial transportation hub as the nearest rail stop to Tombstone during its boom years. Nestled on the banks of the San Pedro River, Fairbank is a ghost town with meat on its bones. A half dozen structures including a large mercantile building, a schoolhouse and a few homes, huddle amid mesquite groves.
Fairbank defied the boom/bust cycle of neighboring towns and hung on for nearly a century. But by the mid-1970s, the last resident packed up. The Bureau of Land Management restored the schoolhouse and stabilized other buildings. The Fairbank Historic Townsite, 10 miles west of Tombstone on Arizona 82, is open daily for self-guided tours. Trails lead to the river and a hilltop cemetery. The schoolhouse, serving as museum and visitor center, is open Fri.-Sun. 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and manned by knowledgeable volunteers from Friends of the San Pedro River.
Route 66 Ghost Town
Perched on the high plains, 30 miles east of Flagstaff, Two Guns survived for decades as a tourist stop on Route 66. Picturesque ruins teeter on the rocky edge of Canyon Diablo. The hollowed-out remains of trading posts, gas stations, restaurants, and a roadside zoo are scattered across the grasslands, along with an abandoned KOA Campground and a Luten arch bridge dating back to 1915.
Don’t be surprised if you detect an eerie presence here. Tragedy always stalked Two Guns. Peer over the canyon rim at the site of the “death cave,” where 42 Apaches were killed by their Navajo enemies in 1878. Harry Miller, the man responsible for the community’s colorful name, gunned down his unarmed landlord in a property dispute but was mysteriously acquitted. Miller was later mauled by a mountain lion from his roadside zoo. Twice! A devastating fire in 1971 destroyed the remaining buildings. That, along with the completion of the interstate, finished off Two Guns for good. Take Exit 230 off I-40, 3 miles west of Meteor Crater.
Ghost Towns Near Phoenix
You don’t have to travel far to step into the past. West of Superior lies the remains of Pinal City, including the cemetery where Mattie Blaylock, common-law wife of Wyatt Earp, is buried. Virtually nothing remains of the town itself, which boasted a population of more than 2,000 residents in its heyday. From the 1870s through late 1880s, Pinal was the milling town for nearby Silver King, about five miles away. Production at the mine fell off just as the silver market crashed, and the town was quickly abandoned.
Located 12 miles outside of Wickenburg is the site of one of Arizona’s most productive gold mines at Vulture City. Walk the graveled half-mile path to see the collection of weathered historic buildings surrounded by old mining equipment such as the stamp mill and headframe. Open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Guided tours are offered in cooler months at 10 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.