Sunday, January 29, 2023

MENU

Ghost Town Trails: Castle Dome City, Arizona—perfect for nearby snowbirds

This month we will travel to Castle Dome City, Arizona, a more temperate place to visit this time of year than November’s featured ghost town of Silver City, Utah. I chose Castle Dome City for this month’s entry as snowbirds roosting in Yuma or Quartzsite can easily visit the site. It is a great place to visit if you are interested in Western history, ghost towns, or are a shutter bug looking for photogenic weathered old buildings to photograph.

While it is a paid attraction, Trip Advisor rates it #2 out of 43 things to do in Yuma, and it is worth the price of admission. Thankfully, it has not been all gussied up and commercialized as other “tourist” ghost towns like Tombstone, Virginia City, Calico and others.

Think of it more as an indoor/outdoor walk-through museum.

“The ability to actually walk through the buildings and see the artifacts up close is unparalleled. Unlike Bodie, where you can only peer through windows, the experience of Castle Dome is immersive. Though the settings are staged, the feel is authentic.” Per Chuck B comment on Trip Advisor

History

The history of Castle Dome City dates to the 1600s, when Spanish conquistadors discovered rich galena (silver/lead) ore in the Castle Dome Mountains. Evidence of early mining can be seen by trail blazes slashed in cacti and the excavations the Spaniards left behind. The Spanish are believed to have used Native American slave labor to mine the valuable deposits. The ore was then sacked and shipped to Europe, where it was refined. Strife and war with the Native American’s eventually forced the Spanish to abandon the mines.

In 1852, the first American miners arrived in the area, establishing Fort Yuma. The first major discovery of placer gold was made in 1858 by Col. Jacob Snively in the Gila Mountains. Gila City sprang up at the location but was soon washed away by a flood. Undeterred, Snively continued to prospect his way north of Gila City, finding high-grade galena ore in 1864. Soon a boomtown, known as Castle Dome City, named after the nearby Castle Dome Peak, sprang up near the mines. The city contained five saloons, barbershop, a mercantile, sheriff’s office, a jail, a hotel, a doctor’s office, blacksmith shop, brothels, a school and numerous residences for the miners.

Castle Dome Mercantile
Mercantile – Photo by Cheri Helgeson

Castle Dome Mine patented

In 1871, the Floral Temple mine was patented, only the second such designation in Arizona. A few years later, in 1876, the Castle Dome Mine was patented. At this point in time the mining district contained more than 300 mines. Big corporations in New York City and San Francisco supplied the investment capital. Due to the remoteness of the mines, along with a lack of a railroad to transport materials, some of the largest wagons in the world were constructed to carry supplies. The wagons had a capacity of 20 tons, requiring a team of forty horses or mules.

By 1878, Castle Dome City exceeded Yuma as the largest settlement in the area. The city consisted of 3,000 residents and regular stagecoach service to Phoenix. For the next decade the mines poured out their wealth.

Old mining relics
Old Mining Relics Abound – Photo by Cheri Helgeson

Production slows

By the turn of the century, the mines became unprofitable as the price of silver and lead declined. One by one the mines closed, causing the residents of Castle Dome City to drift in search of new jobs. However, this was not the end of the Castle Dome City mines. During both World War I and World War II, the government’s need for lead revived the mines. More than 9 million pounds of lead ore was mined out of the area. After the war, production slowed. The mines shut down for good in 1979 because of the falling price of silver. The remaining residents abandoned the city, leaving the buildings to deteriorate in the harsh desert climate.

Castle Dome City received a new lease on life in 1993 when Allen and Stephanie Armstrong purchased the remains of the city. Since then, the Armstrongs have spent their time creating an extensive museum out of the town site. The Armstrongs began with a handful of the original structures that were still standing. Additional buildings were hauled in from outlying mines, while others were recreated onsite using salvaged materials.

Our visit to Castle Dome City

My wife and I visited in early November, on a warm sunny day. After paying our admission and meeting one of the owners, Allen Armstrong, we wandered through the scores of buildings, including a hotel, assay office, doctor’s office, church, blacksmith shop, sheriff’s office, ore mill, jail and several saloons.

Even though I have explored many ghost towns and mining camps through the years, I was hard-pressed to determine which buildings were original and which had been constructed by the Armstrongs. What makes this restored ghost town so fascinating is that each building is stuffed to the ceiling with period artifacts, furniture and equipment. Every structure is a mini museum that shows what life would have been like well over one hundred years ago when the town was booming. What a dusty, hot, rough, and tough place it must have been.

Inside of mercantile
Each building is chock full of relics. Photo by Cheri Helgeson

The jail looks like the sheriff just stepped out to make his rounds; the church is ready for Sunday worshipers with Bibles in the pew racks and sheet music ready for the organist; the mercantile is still well stocked, waiting for the next customer; and tools hang in the doctor and dentist offices waiting for the next patient. The boardwalks still creak, the church bell rings out and the saloons just await their next brawl and shootout.

Authentic artifacts

Most of the artifacts on display in Castle Dome Mine Museum were recovered from surrounding mine shafts. For years, Allen Armstrong has been exploring the hundreds of shafts dug into the countryside, often rappelling up to a hundred yards into their darkness. He has descended shafts that have been closed off for a century or more, uncovering a trove of relics.

Armstrong says, “We went into one drift where it looked like the miners might be back any minute, dynamite was still in the holes, fuses were there and blasting caps. They were all set to fire off another round. And on the floor was a newspaper with the headline, ‘Bulgaria Surrenders, Hostilities End.’ It was the end of World War I. I could just envision the foreman coming down and telling everyone it was their last day of work and they just walked away.”

Armstrong has recovered miners’ equipment, documents, bottles, tobacco cans, dynamite boxes, canned goods, century-old matches that still light, hats and clothing, including a pair of Levi’s dating back to 1890. When Armstrong claims that he owns one of the oldest pair of Levi’s jeans, he’s not exaggerating. During his forays into the desert, he also has found boots and stirrups from conquistador times.

“The people left in such a hurry,” he said. “In a lot of cases, I think they planned to come back. They just didn’t make it. This is a tough place to get back to.”

Castle Dome Blacksmith
Blacksmith Shop

Getting to Castle Dome City

Castle Dome City is about 45 miles south of Quartzsite off U.S. Hwy. 95.

From the junction of Castle Dome Road and Hwy. 95 (mile marker 55), turn northeast on Castle Dome Road. Follow the signs for about 10 miles to reach Castle Dome City. The first three miles of road are paved; the next seven miles are gravel. The road is suitable for any two-wheel drive vehicle. Note: There is room to drop the RV at the junction of Hwy. 95 and Castle Dome Road and proceed to the museum in your dinghy or tow vehicle. For those navigating by GPS, you will find Castle Dome City at N33 02.747   W114 10.700.

Click here for current admission prices and hours of operation.

Camping

There are no developed campgrounds in the immediate vicinity of Castle Dome City. The nearest developed campgrounds will be to the north in Quartzsite or to the south in Yuma. The second half of the road to Castle Dome City passes through the KOFA Wildlife Refuge which permits dispersed camping.  Here is a listing for one such dispersed camping site which is just a short drive from the ghost town.

##RVT1087

 

Advertisement/Affiliate

If you value what you learn from RVtravel.com, would you please consider becoming a voluntary subscriber by pledging your support? Every contribution, no matter how modest, helps us serve you better. Thank youLearn more here.

Facebook Groups you might like
RVing with Dogs
RV Tech Tips
RV Advice
Towing Behind a Motorhome
RVing Over 70
. . . and the official RVtravel.com Facebook page

Winterizing your RV this season? Amazon has a wide choice of RV antifreeze.

Comments

5 4 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe to comments
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

12 Comments
Newest
Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Neal Davis
13 days ago

We typically don’t go for this sort of thing, but this essay piqued my interest as no other has. I have bookmarked this page and taken a screen-shot of the name and some description. I hope to visit this the next time we are in Arizona. Thank you!

Larry
13 days ago

Dave H., you would be so welcomed at my campfire/campsite. I would have so many questions…..and I am sure you would have most of the answers. Stop by, please!

Dan Bowles
14 days ago

Our motorhome, Titanic! Haven’t hit an iceberg yet!

rltwellman@gmail.com
14 days ago

Don’t know about Calico, but Tombstone and Virginia City while both were mining towns are not and never have been “ghost towns.”

Trish
14 days ago

I went to this place and it was well worth the visit. The story behind the town, the work, cost and thought it took for the owner to put this together was huge.

We also splurged and also toured the mine. While expensive and I didn’t do it for a long time. So we treated ourselves, it was worth the splurge. Interesting history info and items that were left by miners and the minerals found that illuminate in the dark were AMAZING!

The opportunity to go into a super safe deep mineshaft and experience history was fun.

Last edited 14 days ago by Trish
Tom E
15 days ago

There’s a reason there are so many “Ghost Towns” in the dry expanses of the desert SW, lack of water being at the top – after all it is a desert. You carry your water in with you or you die of thirst (if the grit don’t git yey first). What is so romantic about all those failed towns and their town folk? People trying and failing to eek out an existence over and over and over again. Little water and lost hope. So, why aren’t there any campgrounds?

I was born and raised in the SW. Some of my earliest camping memories were in the Mojave Desert with all the dirt & dry heat & sweat & sidewinders…. I look at glorifying the failures of many a poor souls the same as someone laughs at the horrific televised videos (AFV) of injured folks. Maybe not quite as bad as what the Romans did for entertainment but still some flock to these dried-up “Ghost Towns” as a form of entertainment.

Impavid
14 days ago
Reply to  Tom E

And your point is?

Paul S Goldberg
14 days ago
Reply to  Tom E

Actually the dry desert is the reason that the remains have survived, They were created solely to extract the minerals and once that played out they succumbed. Follow the gold trail in Alaska, the only surviving towns are those that a few people have chosen to continue, like Chicken or Circle. Both swelled to thousands in months and retreated to nearly empty months or a few years later.

Stephanie
13 days ago
Reply to  Dave Helgeson

Dave, I agree, the history told is important.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Every Saturday and Sunday morning. Serving RVers for more than 20 years.