How I Relate to Ghost Towns

There’s something about ghost towns that’s very appealing to me. It has a lot to do with the hidden stories they possess. It fascinates me to think about what life was like in these places- to realize children were born here, people were married, men toiled in the mines, drama erupted in the saloons. People were carefully investing, gaining fortune and losing it, and some looked out their windows and pondered their existence and direction in life. And now it’s all forgotten, abandoned, nothing.

It’s a very humbling experience to walk around a ghost town. It reminds me of the fleeting nature of life and this world. As I was wandering around the ghost town of Hamilton in rural Nevada, I was thinking of how this was the focal point of so many people’s lives. They stepped out their doors, and this was their world. People  competed here for power and status and were so concerned with the local dealings of the mine and town, yet now it’s nothing. This all helps me refocus and consider what is most important in life. At then end of the day, my physical world, the buildings, the belongings, even the problems I get wrapped up in, may be gone and forgotten. Even my name in this world may be lost. But the one thing that stays true and eternal is the soul. If there’s anything worth investing in, it is that.

Along with that reminder of where to place life’s greatest concerns, I also relate to ghost towns on a whole different level. Imagine for a moment my mind is a giant map, and in that map there are booming cities of success and progress. These are my most recent creative ideas, endeavors, and projects in completion.  But also among those cities are ghost towns, vestiges of my past. These are the locations of dreams left abandoned and stories I never finished. As a writer there have been many writing projects I spent much time with. I built places and characters in my mind, only to move onto better ideas, leaving those places frozen in imagination, never complete, not developed any further. Bits and pieces of them melt and wear away from memory with time. And apart from writing, there are dreams for my life in which I spent so much time, putting in place the framework and foundations to make them happen, but eventually left them abandoned in time, and I moved on with life.

In a similar way, ghost towns remind me of lost friendships. Forming friendships is a lot like building houses. You create a foundation in which you form trust, from there you build walls in which to house shared memories and experiences, but as friendships fail or people leave, those buildings are left unmaintained, and memories are found littered around as rare relics or gone altogether. I suspect, that for many people, there are even those special people whom you loved deeper than others, whom you shared elaborate dreams with. You didn’t just build them houses, you built cities with them. Your dreams were expansive and seemingly so reachable, and then one day, the person who was held so dear was gone, abandoning a whole network of buildings and pathways, stories, and dreams.

Such failed relationships and abandoned dreams in life have left the map of my soul with a series of  ghost towns. Revisiting them can bring back a bit of bitter sweet nostalgia, but sometimes I suppose there is a raven up in the rafters, warning not to enter, because some places in life are just not meant to be revisited. These ghost towns, although sometimes not wise to revisit and dwell in, in the end and in the grand scope of things, are not bad. They aren’t always a part of the canyonlands, rather they are spread from the deserts up into the mountainsides, as a part of life’s upward journey to the mountaintop. You have learned from them to build better, wiser, and stronger.

When I pull open my map and see the ghost towns of life’s journey, they are reminders of progress. And despite moments of tragedy and heartache, when the thought of dreaming again seemed impossible, dreams somehow always find a way back into life.

DSC06043My journey along Highway 50 in Nevada was one of visiting ghost towns. As I left Hamilton, I drove the twelve rough miles back to Highway 50, and was relieved to get back to a paved road. Forty five miles later I rolled into the grand metropolis of Eureka, population 610. In Eureka, Highway 50 turns into Main Street, where one finds a hybrid ghost town and functioning county seat. I parked on Main Street and went for a walk. I found a brochure that led me on a self-guided tour of the downtown, taking me past the elegant Eureka Opera House, abandoned saloons, the hollow yet historic Colonnade Hotel, and other gems of the wild West.  

DSC06051I finished my stroll with a visit to a Rains Market, a small grocery store on Main Street. I stepped inside and was greeted with classic Nevada. Of course it wasn’t enough for Rain’s to just be a grocery store. It had to be a little above and beyond, in a Nevada sort of way. It had taxidermy animals all along the walls above the shelves. There were deer, mountain goat and lion, and fish. Later, when I was looking at Google Maps, I noticed the place is labeled Rains Market and Wildlife Museum. How fitting.

The end of my first full day of Highway 50 explorations ended fifty miles south of the highway beyond a dirt road in Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park. The park preserves the ghost town of Berlin, which was built around a gold and silver mine, as well as undisturbed fossil remains of an Ichthyosaur, a giant marine reptile.

Before leaving Great Basin National Park, in the morning, I was concerned I might not find a vacant campsite, but I was the only one here. I set up my tent and then went to walk around the ghost town.

DSC06084Just like in Eureka, there was a pamphlet that led me on a self guided tour, but this one was hand written and copied. It told the history and significance of each building, explained how the mining system worked, told of how many young men who came to work the mines lived in a bunk house, how at its boom it had a population of just 250, yet they still had a town prostitute. It guided me to the mine supervisor’s house, the machine shop, and a big old mill. Each building was furnished, but it an haphazard unkempt way, as if one day people got up and left, and everything was left as is and wore with time. Although the buildings were blocked off from entry, I could look inside and see the titles of books left on the shelves and read the containers of products left around. It was fascinating.

When I was on the small hill next to the machine shop, I looked behind me at the desert expanse in the near vicinity, and the tall nameless Nevada mountains in the distance warmly glowing in the evening sun. I imagined the young men who left everything, or had nothing, and came here to toil in the mines. I found the view before me beautiful, but they would have looked at it through different lenses. They probably had resentment for this landscape of inescapable deathly heat and lonely remoteness.

DSC06086There was a little pathway next to the shop that led further  up the hill. I wanted to see what I could find further up, but, as I walked, a snake slithered on the path before me. I was done. I drove back to my campsite, which was beautifully located at a hills edge, overlooking the desert valley and out to the mountains in the distance. I took a short walk from my campsite to the building housing the grand Ichthyosaur. The building was locked, but I could look inside and see the fossils. On the outside of the building, on the wall, was a large mural of an Ichthyosaur, which I took my picture with, realizing this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Where else could I get my picture with an Ichthyosaur, except in the middle of Nevada? And when would I be back?

When I walked back to my campsite, the sun was setting. I listened to the utter silence of the land. I got ready for bed, and looked up at the sky. If the aliens were going to abduct me. This would be an ideal time and location. There would be no witnesses near nor far. I climbed into my tent with my atlas, studying routes and trying to figure out exactly how my summer adventure was going to end in the short upcoming days. I had plans to go to San Francisco, but for the past few days, that plan didn’t sit well with me. I couldn’t say why exactly, but I considered other routes and places to go. As I looked over my atlas, it wasn’t long before I was sound asleep in the peace of remote Nevada..

Read the next entry, “The Plague at Lake Tahoe,” here:

Read the previous entry,  “A Raven’s Warning: Exploring the Ghost Town of Hamilton,” here:



2 thoughts on “How I Relate to Ghost Towns

  1. I really enjoyed this. – You described this experience with precision and perfection exactly the way I remember the summer working and living in Nevada. – Silverpeak, Coaldale Junction, Tonapah, and Goldfield.- (Mid 80’s)

    Thank You for the bittersweet reflection of my youth!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s