By Dave Helgeson
As we say goodbye to 2020 and look ahead to 2021, we are all wishing the pandemic would be a distant memory seen through our rearview mirror. Unfortunately, even with the vaccine, it looks like the end of the pandemic will be slow to arrive.
With the continuation of the pandemic and efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus, visitor centers, museums, amusement parks, etc., will continue to be closed. Even if open, they’ll be less than a desirable place to visit as masks and social distancing will still be required.
What’s an RVer to safely see and do as the pandemic wanes?
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could escape to a town where there is no COVID virus and walk freely down the streets, entering buildings at will without wearing a mask? There are thousands of such places located across North America found in the form of abandoned ghost towns and mining camps.
Now when some hear the term “ghost town” they think of touristy places like Virginia City (Montana and Nevada), Calico, California, and Tombstone, Arizona. These are shadows of what they once were but hardly a true ghost town devoid of people. I am referring to abandoned places like Candelaria, Nevada, Comet, Montana, and Riceville, Maine, that have no current residents or services.
Exploring ghost towns will be a natural for RVers who already enjoy history and/or photography. There is always an interesting story involving how the town came into existence and its eventual demise, along with photogenic ruins to photograph.
Many types of ghost towns can be found across North America. Following are some examples:
- Towns that relied on the extraction of natural resources such as mining, logging, oil and gas, fishing, water power/irrigation, etc.
- Locations that served as transportation points: railroad stops, seaports, Pony Express Stations, etc.
- Towns that served farming and ranching areas
- Military installations
There is a myriad of reasons once thriving communities became ghost towns, the number one being the sole industry supporting the town failed. Once the source of income was gone the residents packed up and left town – abandoning homes and businesses never to return.
Besides lack of COVID, another attractive benefit to RVers is that these abandoned towns are typically located in less popular isolated areas. This equates to less pressure on campgrounds and RV parks. Plus, dispersed camping (boondocking) is often allowed on surrounding public land for those that like camping off the grid.
There are even ghost towns where you can actually camp in town, like my wife and I once did in Candelaria, Nevada. A paved road delivered us right to the edge of town. Being BLM land open to dispersed camping, we camped at a spot just down from the old Wells Fargo Express office. We would have parked at the Walmart had there been such a business in the late 1800s! After dinner we took a walk down to the cemetery to visit the former residents.
As mentioned above, there are some ghost towns with vehicle access suitable for RVs. Others are best suited to be visited via your tow vehicle or dinghy. Those that travel with their off-road toys like ATVs and dual sport motorcycles will find that many ghost towns and mining camps provide a great destination for a pandemic-free day of riding.
Getting started: Where to find the location of ghost towns?
There are many resources to find the location of ghost towns and mining camps. Visitor information websites for each state can provide you with valuable information. Some have lists of ghost towns while others, Montana for instance, have them designated on their official state tourism maps.
Ghosttowns.com lists ghost towns and mining camps across North America. There will typically be a short history of the site, photos of past and present structures, as well as location.
Another option is to do an online search using the state and “ghost towns” or “mining camps.” It’s worth noting that many mining camps rivaled nearby towns in size and population. The only reason they were never considered “towns” was lack of being granted a post office.
If your travels take you to Montana this summer, here is the first installment of a 70-mile ghost town loop series I wrote detailing ghost towns along the route and camping options.
Make 2021 the year you discover a new pastime allowing you to stroll about interesting towns without worrying about the pandemic and contracting COVID. The former residents socially distant in the cemetery will appreciate the visit!