Arizona Ghost Towns & Secret Saloons

Ariana CervantesOctober 1, 2018
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If you were to judge by TripAdvisor reviews, visiting a ghost town is a lot of “nothing to do” and “just old buildings on the side of a road.” Well, of course. That’s why it’s called a ghost town. It’s been abandoned, and all that remains is the crumbling detritus of the past. The stories of how, why and who are where things get interesting.

In Arizona, many of our ghost towns were once mining camps built in the 1800s by fortune hunters who sought the state’s most remote outposts at which to pick and ax their way to riches. Other ghost towns are faded relics of Route 66 tourist attractions, left and forgotten as motorists opted for faster, more convenient byways.

In this salute to Arizona’s bonanza of abandoned places, we’ll introduce you to the dark, the dangerous, the charming, the odd and the once vibrant spots whose borders and buildings hold the secret history of our state’s hardscrabble past.


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Generally, preservationists use the following terms to classify ghost towns:

Site no longer exists in any tangible way, with the possible exception of hidden foundations and footings.

Little more than rubble remains, and sometimes dilapidated, roofless buildings.

May have standing houses or buildings, but all or most are abandoned; no population.

Building or houses are still standing, and a few residents may remain.

Largely functioning structures, some or all of which have been converted into museums or tourist attractions; has a full-time population, but much smaller than in peak years of operation.


Approximate number of places in Arizona that meet the minimum criteria for a ghost town in Arizona.

Most Remote:
Located at 7,200 feet in the Huachuca Mountains near the Mexican border, it requires a hairy drive on a one-lane switchback. But you can camp in the ruins.

Best Preserved:
Not every ghost town has its own website and caretaker, but with 25 buildings, the Santa Cruz County town gives ruin-porn addicts much to admire

Best location:
It’s not terribly remote, but the excitingly craggy Dragoon Mountains are nearby, along with the many wonderful wineries of the Sulphur Springs Valley.

Which barely hanging on Arizona towns are most likely to join the ranks of ghost towns in the next 50 years?

population: 38
Originally settled by Spanish Basque immigrants, this micro-settlement north of Show Low is one stiff recession or non-procreating only child away from winking out of existence.
Odds of survival: 6-1

population: 68
A single family, the Griggs, kept this Northern Arizona town upright through six generations of mining collapse and freeway bypassing. Now it boasts a single general store. Can Mother Road-loving Euros keep it going?
Odds of survival: 3-1

population: 133
If you’ve driven to Las Vegas from the Valley, you’ve driven through this tiny hiccup of a town on SR- 93 – and therein lies the problem. When completed, the I-11 freeway connecting Vegas to the Valley will bypass Wikieup. Burp.
Odds of survival: 2-1

population: ?
It might already be a ghost town. Marooned on the far side of the Santa Catalinas opposite Tucson, this blink-and-you-miss-it farming village sported “only a few inhabited adobe homes” a decade ago, according to
Odds of survival: 100-1

population: ?
Only a handful of families – and a rattlesnake products store – remain in this one-time copper boomtown east of Tombstone on the slopes of the Dragoon Mountains.
Odds of survival: 25-1

population: 5
Located up-mountain of Portal in the Coronado National Forest near the New Mexico border, this one-time mining town survived both the collapse of its mining industry and the 2011 Horseshoe2 Fire. But will it survive the 2020s?
Odds of survival: 50-1

We see a fine but important distinction between bona fide ghost towns and “ghost towns.” The former applies strictly to abandoned settlements, while the latter includes well-trafficked towns that make PR hay from haunted hotel rooms and other tourist-pleasing conceits. Both are great, but we’re biasing the following pages in favor of real ghost towns. For ghost towns in quotation marks, see next page.

Top 5 Saloons
The dusty, out-of-the-way saloon is a critical part of the ghost town mystique – an amiable, anonymous place to hunker down over a frosty brew. Our five favorites:

1. Crown King Saloon, Crown King
Raise a glass in the Bradshaw Mountains, where this 112-year-old bar is perched. Open daily. 7219 Main St., 928-632-7053,

2. Judy’s Saloon, Oatman
Only beer and wine – no hard stuff – served. Probably a wise idea, since the only way out of town is via the hairpin turns of Oatman Highway. Open daily. 260 Main St., 928-768-4463

3. Nellie E Saloon aka The Desert Bar, Parker
This multi-building saloon is a sprawling compound on the site of an old mining town. Open October to April. Sa-Su only. 5 miles north of Parker off AZ-95 at Cienega Springs Road,

4. Oxbow Inn and Saloon, Payson
This 1930s-era establishment stands out for the 1800s attire the bartenders sport. Open Th-Su. 607 W. Main St., 928-474-4261

5. World Famous Sultana Bar, Williams
More than 100 years of history are baked into the walls, including notoriety as the holder of Arizona’s longest continuous liquor license. Open daily. 301 Historic Route 66, 928-635-2021


Carved into a loamy hillside in Yavapai County, this ex-mining hot spot (estimated population: 500) is the king of hospitality hauntings, boasting four hotels with ghost narratives: the Connor Hotel (objects allegedly move by themselves in rooms 1, 2 and 4), Mile High Grill & Inn (a former brothel), Ghost City Inn (need we say more?) and Jerome Grand Hotel, which has the best narrative of all as a one-time frontier hospital haunted by dead miners.

Another former-mining-town-turned-art-colony, Bisbee’s ghost town cred is boosted by two haunted hotels: the Bisbee Grand Hotel and the Copper Queen Hotel, reputedly patrolled by an undeterred 19th-century prostitute.

The Yavapai County city’s emergence as an artisan beverage hot spot and addiction-recovery capital makes it harder than ever to think of it as a ghost town, but it does have the famously haunted Hassayampa Inn, along with a spooky subterranean cave network left over from Prohibition.

Not a ghost town by any stretch, with its thriving campus culture and flocks of second-home-seeking city folk, but Flag does have the Weatherford Hotel (haunted by newlyweds murdered in the 1930s) and the Hotel Monte Vista (infernal bellhop).

With roughly 130 residents holed up in the Black Mountains outside Bullhead City, Oatman gets by on its cheeky sense of humor – annual events include the Oatman Sidewalk Egg Fry and the Great Oatman Bed Race – and Route 66 history. It also has the Oatman Hotel and its resident poltergeist, Oatie.



The disuse and isolation of old Arizona has provided many a backdrop for Hollywood movie crews, including these notable productions.

Paul Newman plays an Apache-raised white man in the critically acclaimed 1967 movie Hombre. The flick was filmed in the ghost town of Total Wreck, with the Coronado National Forest south of Tucson serving as backdrop. If you visit, stop off at nearby Charron Vineyards (

Hollywood loves Monument Valley. Though not populated by ghost towns, its grandeur and beauty symbolizes the mysticism and magic of the Wild West. Famous movies shot here include John Ford’s The Searchers, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Easy Rider, Forrest Gump, Thelma & Louise, and recently, the HBO show Westworld.

Everybody has heard of Old Tucson Studios, but the nearby and little-known faux Western town of Mescal has enjoyed its share of movie fame, too. Notable Westerns The Quick and the Dead and Tombstone were filmed here.



In the high desert east of Flagstaff, a loose board on a vacant store creaks in the wind. An empty swimming pool is covered in graffiti, some of it impressive, like the Day of the Dead mermaid painted in the pool’s deep end. Nearby in the scrub grass lays a single shoe.

The remnants of Two Guns – a former trading post turned Route 66 tourist trap – give no hint of its tortured past of deception, greed and murder. It started in 1878. Apache raiders attacked a Navajo village and then hid in an underground cave near Canyon Diablo, which is where the Navajo found them. Burning sagebrush, the Navajo trapped the Apaches inside with smoke from the fire,
killing all 42 Apache men. Legend has it that no Apache or Navajo has entered the cave since, believing it to be cursed.

Cut to 1925. Harry Miller leases the land near “Apache Death Cave” from a couple operating a trading post on-site. To take advantage of tourist traffic from the National Trails Highway (which became Route 66 the next year), Miller built a zoo with mountain lions and Gila monsters. He grew his dark hair long, called himself Chief Crazy Thunder and claimed to be full-blooded Apache. He built fake Indian ruins and dug up the skulls of the dead Apaches to sell as souvenirs. He added a soda shop and gave tours of the cave, and debuted Two Guns.

Many blame the curse of Apache Death Cave for the events that plagued Two Guns. After suffering two attacks by his zoo-kept mountain lions and a violent dispute in which he killed his landlord, Miller soon left town. A fire in 1929 destroyed the store, and despite attempts to reinvent the place over the next 40 years, another devastating fire in 1971 led to Two Guns’ ultimate demise.
Today you can explore several intact structures, the (defunct) zoo and fake Indian ruins. To see Apache Death Cave – although we don’t recommend entering (you know, the curse and all) – head to the fake ruin with the red door.

How to Get There
From the I-40, take Exit 230. Follow the dirt road south to see the store and pool. To access the zoo, cave and faux ruins, after exiting I-40, follow the dirt road east.

Where to Stay
Pitch a tent at Homolovi State Park, which offers picnic tables, bathrooms and big, starry skies. Off I-40, take Exit 257, drive north on Highway 87 for 1.5 miles. Sites run $18-$30 per night, 928-289-4106,

Where to Eat & Drink
Guest rooms book up months in advance at La Posada Hotel in Winslow, as do reservations for a table at the hotel’s famed Turquoise Room restaurant. But! You can nosh on the five-star eats in the first-come, first-served cocktail bar. 303 E. Second St., 928-289-2888,

But Wait, There’s More
When the railway trestle over Canyon Diablo was constructed in the 1880s, workers set up a camp that quickly morphed into a lawless settlement of drifters, gamblers and thieves. The latter robbed a train and fled with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, silver, gold and jewelry. When police caught the bandits, they had none of the stolen goods, later claiming they stashed the loot in the canyon near the site of what became Two Guns. No one has yet to find the treasure.

Photo by Michael Woodall; models: Xavier Pierson; Gabrielle Helms; historic photo courtesy Arizona Historical Society
Historic photo courtesy Arizona Historical Society

SANTA CLAUS (Near Kingman)

Irony or holiday nostalgia or perhaps a bit of both prompted 1930s real estate agent Nina Talbot to build a Christmas-themed town in the middle of the desert in northwest Arizona. She had purchased 80 acres and planned to sell off the parcels. But first she needed to entice buyers – so in 1937, Talbot opened Santa Claus.

The alpine-style buildings housed a toy workshop, store and restaurant. Children could meet Santa year-round, ride a “North Pole train” and receive letters from St. Nicholas postmarked “Santa Claus.” The town’s proximity to Route 66 ensured its popularity as a tourist hub in the 1940s and ’50s. Celebrities visited and food critic Duncan Hines (yes, that Duncan Hines) wrote a glowing review of the restaurant.

But as Route 66 traffic waned, so did traffic to Santa Claus. Talbot’s grand plan for real estate success never took off, and she eventually sold the property. By the 1970s, Santa Claus had become a shadow of its former self, falling into eerie disrepair by the early ’80s.

Now boarded up, laced with barbed wire and littered with trash, Santa Claus is a vandalized tenement on a desolate road. The sun has bleached the striped peppermint paint on the remaining structures, and a wishing well clings to life in the weeds. An advertisement for ornaments leans against a wall, obscured by an overgrown bush. When the wind blows, faded tinsel catches in its branches. Is this what happens when you stop believing in Santa Claus?

How to Get There
From I-40 West, take U.S. Route 93 about 14 miles north of Kingman. The town straddles the highway.

Where to Stay
The Route 66-themed Ramada hotel by Wyndham in Kingman gives you a peek at what it was like to motor along the Mother Road visiting Christmas-themed towns in the desert. From $76 a night. 3100 E. Andy Devine Ave., 928-753-6262,

Where to Eat & Drink
The Sundowner Saloon is a cool bar in a hot town. If you visit on a Friday, go for the fish fry and shake it on the dance floor with the locals. Liking country music is not a requirement, although it helps. 4400 Stockton Hill Rd., Kingman, 928-529-5499

But Wait, There’s More
After eating at The Christmas Inn in Santa Claus, sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein featured the town in his 1950 short story Cliff and the Calories, in which a character based on a real person in Santa Claus serves up a belly-busting meal.

CHLORIDE (Near Kingman)

Photos by Elizabeth Marie

Narrow your eyes a bit and listen closely as you approach the boarded-up old train depot sitting on the outskirts of Mohave County’s “living ghost town” of Chloride, about 20 miles north of Kingman. It doesn’t take much of a leap to imagine the hopeful 19th-century miners disembarking the train, clutching their silver-riches claims, shouting above the roar of the locomotive as they set out to one of 75 working mines in the area.

Today, the train depot on Schuylkill Avenue appears desolate – patched up with rusty sheets of corrugated metal – but its pitched roof and fading station signs are instantly evocative of an earlier age. The same is true for much of Chloride. Once a booming town of more than 2,000 people, it declined dramatically after the mines began closing in the 1940s.

Alongside the 200 or so current residents are numerous remains of Chloride’s earlier bustle – an 1870s-era post office, among Arizona’s oldest; the original two-cell jail; and several vintage gas stations.

How to Get There
From Phoenix, take U.S. 60 north to U.S. 93 and continue on for 102 miles. Merge onto I-40 West then take exit 48 onto U.S. 93 toward Las Vegas. After 18.6 miles, head east onto SR-125 for 3.8 miles to Chloride.

Where to Stay
Within a 45-minute drive of the dusty streets of Chloride lies a desert anomaly: rustic cabins overlooking startling blue waters. The Temple Bar Marina offers a boating and fishing haven along the Arizona side of Lake Mead. Accommodations include four homey fishing cabins, kitchenette suites and a motel, all overlooking the lake. RV spaces are also available, as are boat rentals. 31409 N. Temple Bar Rd., Lake Mead, 928-767-3211,

Where to Eat & Drink
Walk up to The Prospector in Chloride, and you will be greeted by old-timers whiling away the day on the shady porch. Inside is a bar and restaurant serving “cowboy caviar” – a citrusy mix of black beans, corn, diced tomatoes, onions and cilantro served with tortilla chips – and hefty portions of golden catfish fillets alongside zesty coleslaw, among other western-style offerings.
4962 Tennessee Ave., 928-565-3283

But wait, there’s more
The hills around Chloride are riddled with old mines, and a number of mining-camp remains are listed as true ghost towns. Among them is Cyclopic, a village that once housed workers in the nearby mine. A caveat: The roads leading to Cyclopic are fairly rough and washed out, and they pass through isolated desert terrain. To get to Cyclopic, take Highway 93 to Pierce Ferry Road for about 17 miles, and then take a left on the dirt road between mile-marker 17 and 18. A high-clearance vehicle is recommended.

Photos by Elizabeth Marie


The ribbon of leafy, green cottonwood trees along Yavapai County’s Ash Creek must have seemed the friendliest of spots to 1880s settlers looking for a plot of land to launch a waystation for travelers. They called the spot Hecla, after a nearby gold mine.

For more than a decade, the site (now known as the Old Stone Corral) served just that purpose. But in a classic bait and switch, the bucolic setting turned on its inhabitants. In 1898, a wall of Ash Creek floodwater crashed into town, forever washing away the dreams of would-be Heclans.

Still, the appeal of those shady old trees and stone-wall ruins lingers, drawing in the adventurous in search of Arizona’s pioneering spirit. Located between the I-17 and Prescott, Hecla functions not only as a little-told chapter of Arizona history, but as a nice workout – getting there requires a hearty 2.6-mile in-and-out hike. Expect vivid green in the summer and gold in the fall, as the trees dance against granite outcroppings, scrubby manzanita and an occasional lone piñon pine.

How to Get There
From the I-17 North, exit left onto AZ-169 South. Drive 8.7 miles to the trailhead on the right just before the 8-mile marker from the west. On foot, follow General Crook Trail (Trail 64) for 0.7 miles, turn left at the sign for Trail 64. Follow a series of rock cairns for 0.6 miles to the grove of cottonwoods at Ash Creek. The stone corral is located to the left immediately after crossing the creek bed.

Where to Stay
For a sample of the rustic lifestyle, the nearby Cherry Creek Bed & Breakfast (11015 W. Cherry Creek Rd., Dewey, 928-632-5390, offers a cottage hidden among the pines of the lush little hamlet of Cherry. The two-person cottage is available from May to October. For a wider selection of historic accommodations, head to downtown Prescott.

Where to Eat & Drink
Locals flock to Leff-T’s Steakhouse & Grill (150 S. SR-69, Dewey, 928-632-1388, off Highway 69, for the western atmosphere, the beer, and the famous steaks and mesquite-smoked chicken and ribs. Or for a deli sandwich, fresh sweet corn, or a pumpkin or two, Mortimer Farms (12907 E. State Rt. 169, 928-830-1116, tenders a taste of farm life at the corner of highways 69 and 169.

But Wait, There’s More
Army Gen. George Crook loomed large in Arizona in the 1870s, and traces of his military supply road connecting Prescott with the White Mountains remain. Use the General Crook Trail (Trail 64) to access Hecla (see below) and stop at Ash Creek Station – a natural overnight stopping spot for yesteryear soldiers and travelers with its year-round cool water source.

Photos by Blake Bonillas; models: Ashley Habermel; David Thompson; historic photo courtesy Arizona Historical Society
Photos by Blake Bonillas; models: Ashley Habermel; David Thompson; historic photo courtesy Arizona Historical Society

VULTURE CITY (Near Wickenburg)

The road to the well-preserved mining enclave of Vulture City is almost as wondrous as the ghost town itself. The highway curves and dips and rises, and with each turn a new vista opens before you. Imagine taking this route – remote, difficult, breathtaking – in the 1860s, when prospector Henry Wickenburg discovered gold in a quartz outcropping and opened Vulture Mine.

In operation from 1863 to 1942, Vulture was the most productive gold mine in Arizona’s history. Nearly 5,000 souls inhabited the town at the peak of production. When the U.S. entered World War II, Vulture Mine closed as resources were redirected to the war effort.

Today, Vulture City is a snapshot of life in a mining town, complete with fully restored buildings, from a mess hall and brothel to the warped floorboards of the assay lab where gold was carefully measured and converted into bars. It’s part theme park, part mining-town-in-amber.

You’ll see cupboards with tins of freeze-dried ham, weathered buttons, broken dishware and books with cracking spines. You’ll see rusty machinery. You’ll step inside Henry Wickenburg’s house and see math formulas penciled on the walls of the lab. And you’ll see the hanging tree, where 18 men swung to their death for crimes now unknown.

How to Get There
From Wickenburg, take Highway 60/Wickenburg Way west to Vulture Mine Road. Turn left and follow the road south for 12 miles. Vulture City is on the right. Self-guided tours available year-round, guided tours October–May. Admission fee for a 2-hour guided tour is $15, 36610 N. 355th Ave., Wickenburg,

Where to Stay
Rancho de Los Caballeros offers a Western experience like none other. Plan to spend a few days to enjoy the horseback riding, skeet shooting and cowboy cookouts. $195-$345 per night. 1551 S. Vulture Mine Rd., Wickenburg, 928-684-5484,

Where to Eat & Drink
For strong drinks in a cheerful bar, head to La Cabaña Saloon (132 E. Wickenburg Way, 928-684-7671). But don’t imbibe on an empty stomach. Stop at The Local Press Sandwich Bar first for the Mojo Cubano – marinated pork loin, capicola, white cheddar, pickled onions and housemade mojo sauce, Cuba’s garlicky, citrusy signature condiment. 69 N. Frontier St., 928-684-8955,

But Wait, There’s More
For adventurers obsessed with the West, there’s the Desert Caballeros Western Museum, a renowned repository of Western art and cultural artifacts related to the history of Wickenburg. $12 admission. 21 N. Frontier St., 928-684-2272,

Phots by Nancy Wegard

AGUA CALIENTE (Near Gila Bend)

It’s so quiet in Agua Caliente you can hear even the slightest twitch of a rattlesnake’s tail. You won’t see a soul on the sun-drenched road, and you’ll be the only urban explorer this vacant resort has seen in weeks. But this wasn’t always the case.

In 1897 the exclusive, 22-room hotel and spa debuted, welcoming guests to take a dip in the soothing natural hot springs. Historically, American Indians frequented the springs, followed by travelers who stopped in to clean the dust and grit from their road-weary bodies. Even into World War II, Agua Caliente was a favored spot for soldiers looking for a brief respite.

Unfortunately, irrigation from nearby farms and ranches dried up the springs, and the hotel closed. It still stands in good condition today, despite the boarded-up windows and creepy silence that hangs over the isolated area. The former resort sits on private property and “No Trespassing” signs dot the land, so explore with caution. From the road, you can see the decaying ruins of several stone buildings (likely cabins and an old store) as well as a cracked pathway leading to the spa and pool.

How to Get There
From Gila Bend, head west on I-8. At Sentinel, take Agua Caliente Road north about 11 miles. Turn left on West Agua Caliente Road. After about a mile, the property is on your right.

Where to Stay
To spot the Best Western Space Age Lodge, just look for the giant UFO. It takes the form of a retro neon sign outside the motel, tipping you off to the 1960s space-themed kitsch that awaits. From $99 a night. 401 E. Pima St., Gila Bend, 928-683-2273,

Where to Eat & Drink
When you open the door of The Co-Op Grill, 30 miles north of Gila Bend, every person will turn to look in a “you’re not from around here” kind of way. Don’t worry, they won’t bite. Find a seat, order a drink and chat with the locals. 18300 S. Old U.S. Hwy. 80, Arlington, 623-327-2131,

But Wait, There’s More
The 1927 steel truss Gillespie Bridge spans the Gila River and was once the longest highway bridge in the state. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and, while still operational today, is more popular as a riparian habitat. Keep your eye out for the ruins of the Gillespie Dam, which collapsed during record torrential storms in 1993. From Gila Bend, take Old U.S. Highway 80 north for about 23 miles.

 Photo courtesy of Arizona Historical Society

FAIRBANK (Near Tombstone)

Save for the overgrown weeds, moldering U.S. post office and spectacular layer of rust on the underside of its vestigial rail platform, Fairbank could pass for a place of the living. Inhabited until the 1970s, when the last human remnants of the Cochise County town’s mining-and-transportation heyday finally decamped, Fairbank is well-preserved by ghost town standards. Its one-room schoolhouse looks better-funded than many inner-city schools, and the hand-drawn pumps in the town square still spit out clear groundwater. A friendly docent lives in a camper in the adjacent parking lot.

But dead it is. Settled in a lush riparian valley in 1881, Fairbank was prized for its close proximity to the San Pedro River, which powered the mills used to refine silver ore mined in nearby Tombstone. At the turn of the century, it also become a travel hub, when the El Paso and Southeastern Railroad laid track through Fairbank to connect the towns of Benson and Bisbee. Informational placards posted throughout present-day Fairbank tell of townsfolk dining on exotic, rail-borne delicacies like oysters and French cheese, and enjoying “high-quality entertainment.” (Read: dancing girls.)

The town clung to life as a roadside stop on SR-82 as the mining industry collapsed, ultimately falling into federal receivership as a historical curio on the road to Tombstone. Highlights include a short hike to the town’s super spooky hillside cemetery, and a somewhat longer hike to the broken vestiges of the Fairbank Mill on the banks of the San Pedro. Beware the fire ants.

Photos by Elizabeth Marie

How to Get There
From Phoenix, drive east on the I-10 to SR-90, roughly 30 miles past Tucson, and head south. Continue 18 miles to SR-82 and hang a left and drive east for 10 miles. A turnout for Fairbank is on the left.

Where to Stay
For a transportive ghost town overnighter, mosey up to the Tombstone Monument Guest Ranch in nearby Tombstone, where the guestrooms are fashioned to represent classic Wild West storefronts. It’s your big chance to “wake up in jail” without the nasty legal side effects. 895 W. Monument Rd., 520-457-7299,

Where to Eat & Drink
Brewing enthusiast Matt Brown was happy to leave Tempe six years ago and follow his attorney wife to Tombstone, where she works as a public defender. After all, it gave him an excuse to launch Tombstone Brewing Company. Celebrated among Arizona’s beer cognoscenti for its expressive IPAs and barrel-aged releases, Brown’s side hustle is a must-visit for any beer-loving day-tripper. 107 E. Toughnut St., 520-222-6781,

But Wait, There’s More
The San Pedro River is perhaps underappreciated as a natural treasure in Arizona. Originating in Sonora’s Sierra Manzanal mountains, it’s one of only a handful of north-flowing rivers in the northern hemisphere, and is the Southwest’s last remaining undammed major river. Finally, it’s a birding bonanza, hosting two-thirds of the avian diversity in the United States. Respect the Pedro.

RUBY (Near Mexico)

The former mining town of Ruby sits at the base of Montana Peak just off a pitted dirt road, steps from the Mexican border. To find it, you’ll need time, patience and a high-clearance vehicle, as the going is slow and tricky. But you’ll journey through some of the most fantastic topography in our state. This part of Arizona shows off rolling green hills with lush pastures that give way to colorfully banded mesas.

Mining started here in 1877, and the Ruby mine yielded zinc, lead and copper. At its height of production in the 1930s, the town boasted 1,200 residents. Many lived in tents on the hillside, but permanent structures included a school, mercantile, post office, hospital and jail. Despite its isolated location, Ruby experienced violent raids by robbers and bandits, especially during its early years. The mine shut down in 1940, and the last Ruby resident left in 1941.

What remains is in remarkably good shape. There are nearly 25 intact buildings, including the school and a rusted-out playground overtaken by nature’s growth. The sandlike tailings lead to a lake where tourists slip off their shoes to wade in the clear waters. In a guest house on top of the hill, an icebox lays on its side and gaping windows look out on the 700-foot-deep mine shaft.

Once you arrive, visit the caretaker to register and pay the admission fee ($12 per person). Ask for a map; it’s hand-sketched and not to scale, but still helpful.

Photos by Nancy Wegard
Photos by Nancy Wegard

How to Get There
Arivaca is the closest town to Ruby. From Phoenix, take I-10 South to I-19 South just past Tucson. Take Exit 48 and follow Arivaca Road to Arivaca. Go left on Fifth Avenue/Fraguita Road, which turns into Ruby Road. Follow this for 12 miles; Ruby is on your right. Open Th-Su, 9 a.m.-dusk, 520-744-4471,

Where to Stay
Sleep in a vintage trailer at La Siesta Campgrounds, an unassuming little gem in Arivaca. Each has been restored in period décor, and the campground offers picnic tables, fire pits, water, ice and a pond for fishing and paddleboating. Open October-May, rates vary. 16005 W. Hardscrabble Rd., 520-398-3132

Where to Eat & Drink
When it comes to java, the folks at Gadsden Coffee in Arivaca know their stuff. In addition to roasting their own beans, they offer a full espresso bar, plus breakfast and lunch. 16850 W. Arivaca Rd., 520-398-3251.

But Wait, There’s More
From May to September, a colony of 150,000 Mexican free-tailed bats live in the Ruby mine shaft. If you time your visit right, you can watch the spectacular show at dusk when they emerge in all of their dark, winged glory.


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