To begin this series on exploring ghost towns of the Old West, we traveled to Nevada, which boasts more than 600 known ghost towns and mining camps. With the idea that most families will be looking at weekend outings, we've broken each trip into areas with several town sites that can easily be visited and explored over the course of a few days. This month, we'll be starting in Esmeralda County.
This first trail adventure will take you to the old town sites of Klondyke, Alkali Springs, Columbia, Diamondfield, and Goldfield. The last place to get supplies and fill the gas tank before venturing off-road is Tonopah. So this is where we will stage and begin our explorations.
Situated at the junction of U.S. 6 and U.S. 95, Tonopah is about halfway between Reno and Las Vegas. Fuel and lodging are readily available here, making it a good location to stage from. It is also rich in history of its own. Silver was discovered in Tonopah in 1900 and the town was born. Over the years, it has changed sizes many times and has been home to many industries, but it has yet to go the way of the ghost town.
After topping off the tank and loading up supplies, we started our adventure by heading south on U.S. 95, 10 miles toward the town of Goldfield. At the 10-mile point (37o 56' 03"N/117o 14' 40"W) turn left onto old U.S. 95. It will take you back north and has signs informing you that it is a non-maintained road. Travel north on this road for approximately 1 mile, then turn right onto the first dirt road you come to. Travel southeast on this dirt road approximately 2.28 miles (37o 55' 10"N and 117o 12' 42"W).
This trail will require some minor 'wheeling to get through the deep road ruts, washouts, and loose sand and gravel. Once you arrive at the above coordinates, you should see signs warning of abandoned mines in the area. This is the beginning of the town of Klondyke. The old town sites of Divide and Gold Reef are located just to the north.
Klondyke was founded in March 1899 when both gold and silver were discovered. Its life as a town was typical of mining camps of this era; it only lasted six years. From 1901 to 1903, it had a post office located in the main town. Remains of the post office, rock foundations, and rock walls can still be seen. With the discovery of larger silver veins in Tonapah in 1900, Klondyke's population began to decline. By 1903, it had become a ghost town and has remained so ever since.
Today, all that is left of the original town are several wooden buildings in various states of decay. There are also several mining holes and wooden head structures scattered around this area. Some are marked, some aren't. Watch your kids carefully at this site if you get out to do some hiking.
Most of these mines go straight down for several hundred feet. To get to the main town site, travel 0.24 miles from the beginning of the town site, staying on the main dirt trail. Then turn right, traveling downhill on the first dirt trail you come to. It will take you past several old mines and then into the main town site. You can also explore several trails around this area and find old mines and wooden buildings.
After exploring the area for awhile, it's time to travel to the next site. Reverse your route and 'wheel back to U.S. 95, then go south toward Goldfield. Drive for 0.75 mile, then turn right onto a gravel road (37o 54' 43"N/117o 14' 41"W). It will be marked Alkali/Silver Peak Road. Head southwest on this gravel road approximately 7 miles to the junction of Alkali/Silver Peak Road and Goldfield Road (37o 49' 26"N/117o 20' 02"W).
At this junction you will see an old Fifties dump truck and a concrete building. About 25 feet west of this building you will find a dirt trail. Turn onto this trail and drive for approximately 0.5 mile to the remains of Alkali Springs.
Alkali Springs was a resort founded in the early 1900s. Miners and families from the surrounding area would come here for picnics, parties, and dances. By 1918, the resort had outlived its usefulness and was abandoned.
Today, all that is left of the original resort is the concrete foundation and a pool. After exploring the old remains, travel back to the Alkali/Silver Peak junction with Goldfield Road. It's now time to travel to the next site. From this junction, head east on Goldfield Road toward the town of Goldfield.
This road is also called Silver Peak Road. Travel 7 miles on this gravel road until you reach U.S. 95 again. Then go south on U.S. 95 for approximately 4 miles. One mile north of Goldfield, turn east onto a dirt trail just before the Gemstone sign (37o 45' 00"N/117o 14' 34"W). Follow this rutted trail up into the mountains behind the town of Goldfield for approximately 1 mile (37o 42' 25"N/117o 12' 55"W). This will land you in the general area of Columbia.
Columbia was founded in 1902 and was originally named Stimler. It was founded when gold was discovered in the Goldfield district. Because it was located near the mines at the base of Columbia Mountain, its name was changed to Columbia shortly after it was founded. By 1904, the town was still growing and boasted a new bank, a local paper, a post office, and a hotel. By 1907, Columbia had swelled to more than 1,500 people and had seen construction of several two-story brick and wood-framed buildings.
By 1908, because of the growth in Columbia and Goldfield, Columbia became a suburb of Goldfield. In 1918, after Columbia's last big mines folded, it faded into history.
Today, all that remains of the original town are several acres of foundations, cellars, and brick walls. There are also several mines and headstall units in the area. There is a great deal to explore at this site. However, there are still a few souls living in the area, so be sure to respect the no-trespassing signs.
To find your way to our next destination, you can choose any of several dirt trails that travel in a northeasterly direction from Columbia to Diamondfield, about 4 miles away (37o 44' 49"N/117o 11' 19"W). Mark the trail that you take into this area so that you are able to return to U.S. 95. There are so many dirt trails in this area, it would be impossible to explain which one to use. However, they all lead to the same general area.
Diamondfield is located 5 miles north-northeast of Goldfield and 4 miles northeast of Columbia. It was founded in 1903 and at its largest, in 1904, was inhabited by 300 citizens. The town had a post office, several restaurants, three saloons, two general stores, a school, a church, an assay office, a blacksmith shop, a drugstore, two hotels, and a main street lined with houses. Nonetheless, by 1907, the town was done, and it soon faded from memory.
Today, all that remains are a handful of gravel roads and the ruins of several rock walls and foundations. If you explore the trails north of the main town site, you will also find a large stone structure. There are also several rusted tin can dumps in the area, such as there are in most ghost towns. After you are done exploring this old town site, use your notes to make your way back to the original entry point on U.S. 95.
Once you hit U.S. 95, head south to the still-inhabited town of Goldfield. Here, you will find limited lodging and supplies. Be forewarned that this town's last gas station closed last year. The nearest gas is in Tonapah to the north or Beaty to the south.
If time allows and you are looking for more to explore, look to the east side of Goldfield. Even though this town is still inhabited, it is replete with interesting trails and a storied history.
Goldfield is on U.S. 95, 25 miles south of Tonapah and 182 miles northwest of Las Vegas. An Indian prospector founded the site in 1902. By 1903, news had traveled about the gold found in the area, and the town of Goldfield exploded with prospectors. Interestingly, the town's success was due largely to a massive advertising campaign about the local ore and not its actual assayed value. Other towns and mines in the area produced greater amounts of gold, but they had no marketing. So Goldfield prospered under its town fathers.The remains of several mines are still visible in the surrounding area, their massive headstall still intact.
One of the most intriguing sites is the ruins of an old 100-stamp mill, once owned by Goldfield Consolidated Mining. Situated at the north end of town, the mill was once a thriving concern but was completely abandoned in 1918.Goldfield is still inhabited today, but with the loss of its last gas station, the town could easily join the long list of others that make up Nevada's historic ghost towns.
Editor's note: Whenever traveling off-road, remember to take basic emergency supplies. Most cell phones and radios will not work in remote areas.
First aid kit
Map of the area
More Historic Ghost Towns in the Area
Phillipsburg: Approximately 5 miles west of Alkali Springs. This town only lasted a few months and was comprised mostly of tents.
Montezuma: Approximately 7 miles south of the Silver Peak-Goldfield Road. Eleven miles west of the junction with U.S. 95. This town was founded in 1867 and had its own mill by 1870. It existed as a town site until 1907.
Culprite: Approximately 1 mile east of U.S. 95, 2 miles north of the junction with S.R. 3. This was a copper mining area founded in 1902. By 1906, it was a shipping point for mines in the area. Today, all that is left are a few foundations.
Stonewall: Approximately 6 miles east of U.S. 95, 2 miles north of the town of Lida. A silver strike saw this town founded in 1904, but it never took hold. All that remains are the remnants of the mines.