Monday, May 29, 2023


Southern Arizona’s ‘best-preserved’ ghost town

This month in Ghost Town Trails we will travel to Ruby, Arizona. Ruby is another private ghost town located in southern Arizona, as was last month’s featured ghost town of Castle Dome, AZ. Snowbirds wintering in the Tucson area may want to pay it a visit before heading home this spring. Since it has been privately cared for since its demise in the early 1940s, there is much to see and is well worth a visit. 

“Ruby is the best of the hundreds of Arizona ghost towns or at least the best-preserved of the many in Southern Arizona”—per the Southern Arizona Guide.

Ruby, Arizona – History

The following was condensed from the history page of the Ruby website.

Spanish prospectors first came to the area around 1740 and named the region Oro Blanco (white gold) because the gold they found contained a high silver content giving the gold a whitish color. The Spanish, then Mexicans after winning their independence from Spain in 1821, worked the gold mines of Oro Blanco for many years.

After the Gadsden Purchase from Mexico in 1853 (which included the Oro Blanco region), prospectors from the United States started mining in Oro Blanco. Americans first recorded a claim for the Montana gold and silver mine in 1877.

The Montana mine differed from the other mines in the Oro Blanco Mining District. Gold and silver were less prevalent in the mine’s ore than lead and zinc. While early prospectors originally found the gold and silver on or close to the surface, the minerals in the Montana Mine ran much deeper. This required significantly more miners to extract the ore. The new camp to house the miners became known as Montana Camp.

From 1877 to 1912, the Montana Mine produced mostly gold and silver, but was not among the most successful gold and silver mines in the Oro Blanco Mining District. Montana Camp’s population during that period never exceeded 50 people. When Arizona became a state in 1912, Montana camp opened the “Ruby” post office, named for the postmaster’s wife. Gradually the entire camp became known as Ruby.

Montana Mine began producing lead and zinc

During the years 1912–1926, the Montana Mine successfully transitioned from producing silver and gold to producing lead and zinc. In 1917/1918 the Goldfield Consolidated Mining Company accomplished the first significant mining of lead and zinc at the Montana. The company produced $202,000 worth of ore during one year of operation. Most of the adobe buildings that stand today were built during this time.

In 1926, under the Eagle-Picher Lead Company, the Montana mine began its most productive period. By the mid-1930s, 350 men worked at the mine, in three shifts per day. The mine shaft dropped to 750 feet below the surface with six principal working levels extending thousands of feet along the ore vein. In the late 1930s, the Montana Mine produced more lead and zinc than any other mine in Arizona.

Ruby reached its peak in 1938

Ruby reached its peak in 1938, with 1,200 residents. More than 150 children went to the school featuring eight grades and four teachers. Ruby had a confectionary, a pool hall, a jail, a nine-bed hospital and the infamous Ruby mercantile, where in the early 1920s two double murders shocked southern Arizona. For recreation, Ruby had a baseball team and a rifle team. Living accommodations included a few adobe and wood-frame houses, two bunkhouses, a couple of boarding houses, and a plethora of temporary housing in the form of wood-foundation tents.

The Montana Mine closed in 1940 when the ore gave out. Estimates of total Eagle-Picher production value range up to $10,000,000.

Those interested in the double murders and Mexican bandits terrorizing Ruby, Arizona, can learn more here.

Ruby, Arizona – Our visit

School Ruby Arizona
The old school house – Photo by author

Our visit occurred many years ago while staying with family during Christmas in the Tucson area with our RV. I knew of Ruby from my Ghost Towns of the West book. With a little research (pre-internet), I discovered visitation was allowed with advance reservations. Leaving a phone message with the caretaker, we soon received permission to tour the ghost town the following day. Given the town has been off limit to visitors for decades I could hardly wait to visit.

The caretaker let us in the gate and provided us with an overview of the townsite. We wandered in and around the numerous structures, many losing their stucco and exposing the century-old adobe bricks lying beneath. The old schoolhouse was of particular interest, especially when the caretaker pointed out the names of the final class of students written on a door from 1940. As we were the only ones visiting that day, the caretaker asked if we would like a tour of the mine. After a resounding “Yes” from myself, we soon found ourselves underground for a private tour of the more accessible portions of the Montana Mine.

Montana Mine Ruby Arizona
Author and caretaker look down a winze in the Montana Mine – Photo by Cheri Helgeson

Thankfully, since our visit, Ruby has received grant money from Arizona State Parks and others to preserve and stabilize some of the buildings, allowing future generations to enjoy the townsite.

Ruby, Arizona – When to visit and getting there

Ruby is open every day but Christmas. However, be sure to check road conditions before heading there as the dirt roads to Ruby may become impassable after a heavy rain.

Permission is still required to visit Ruby, Arizona. Nowadays you can obtain a permit online here.

Suburbs of Ruby
Many standing buildings still remain – Photo by author

Driving instructions: From Tucson: Take I-19 south to exit 48 (Amado). Follow Arivaca Rd. (paved) 22 miles west to Arivaca. Once in Arivaca, follow the sign to Ruby (south) passing Arivaca Lake on a paved road to the Santa Cruz County line where the pavement ends. Continue on the dirt road 6 miles to the Ruby access road.

From Nogales: Take Ruby Road (SR289) past Pena Blanca Lake. From Pena Blanca Lake, take Forest Service Road 39 (Ruby Road) to Ruby

Those navigating by coordinates will find the gate/cattle guard on the Ruby access road at N31° 27.869 W111° 14.305

Click here for hours and other useful information via the official Ruby website.

Ruby, Arizona – Camping

  • Onsite camping for RVs and tents is allowed in the townsite. You can reserve a non-hookup campsite here.
  • Campground with facilities: The nearest developed campground is La Siesta Campgrounds in Arivaca.
  • Dry Camping: Arivaca Lake Campground is accessed off the road to Ruby via a side road. There is no fee to camp.
  • Boondocking (aka dispersed camping). Dispersed camping is permitted in the nearby Coronado National Forest. Per Campendium, one such location close to Ruby can be found at N31° 29.268 W111° 16.669


Dave Helgeson
Dave Helgeson
Dave Helgeson has been around travel trailers his entire life. His grandparents and father owned an RV dealership long before the term “RV” had been coined. He has served in every position of an RV dealership with the exception of bookkeeping. Dave served as President of a local chapter of the RVDA (Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association), was on the board of advisors for the RV Technician Program of a local technical college and was a board member of the Manufactured Home and RV Association. He and his wife Cheri operated their own RV dealership for many years and for the past 29 years have managed RV shows. Dave presents seminars at RV shows across the country and was referred to as "The foremost expert on boondocking" by the late Gary Bunzer, "The RV Doctor". Dave and his wife are currently on their fifth travel trailer with Dave doing all the service, repair and modifications on his own unit.


5 3 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe to comments
Notify of

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

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Ival Secrest
3 months ago

An interesting place to visit but you may not want to travel to Ruby, AZ the same day you purchased a new car unless you want to know to test its ability to hold up after several miles on a pothole road or a dirt road that has not been graded for several months. My advice is to travel slowly and be prepared for those who were able to cross the border undetected. You will probably not see the undetected border crosser but they will likely see you.

Neal Davis
3 months ago

Cool. Fascinating. The three double murders were tragic and the second especially horrible. Apparently 4 miles from Mexico was an extremely dangerous place in the 1920s.

3 months ago

on type in sightseeing sally. She has abandoned towns on her YouTube site.

Sign up for the

RVtravel Newsletter

Sign up and receive 3 FREE RV Checklists: Set-Up, Take-Down and Packing List.