Ghost towns and Arizona ghost towns in particular have been a source of fascination for almost as long as I can remember. Shortly after moving to the Grand Canyon state in the summer of ’66 places once only read about became a tangible link to the history in my books
It is with clarity that I remember our first visit to Oatman, Arizona. It was a hot summer day but the oppressive heat could not detract from my excitement as we climbed ever higher into the Black Mountains on an alignment of Route 66 bypassed in 1953.
At that point in time this section of Route 66 was merely an old road and the ruins of Goldroad as well as the empty buildings in Oatman were simply there. For a young boy enamored with the tales of Stevens as he trekked through the jungles in search of lost cities or the stories of Carter’s discovery of the boy kings tomb in Egypt these were magical places where the imagination could be given free reign.
In the years that followed I sought these empty places for their solitude, for the love of mystery, and for the sheer adventure of discovering vestiges of a lost civilization. I explored the dusty streets and the empty halls of their hotels with reverence.
Many who sought them out did so in a quest for lost treasure or even as a source for cheap building materials. Others came to preserve what remained with canvas and paints or film and camera.
Time and the harsh desert winds, vandals and souvenir hunters have decimated most of these places that were once so full of hope and promise. Many of these ghost towns are now little more than rubble piles, foundations, and a notation on a map.
I made my first trip to Cerbat, once the county seat for Mohave County, in a battered old 1942 Chevrolet pick up truck that was really little more than a search and rescue vehicle (every time you leave town there is a chance some one will have to search for you and rescue your sorry butt). Vestiges from almost a century of mining were everywhere.
Cabins and buildings built of stone still had roofs, the monuments in the cemetery were easily found, and at many of the mines a great deal of vintage equipment could still be seen. My dearest friend and I paid a visit to Cerbat to take advantage of an unusually warm winters day in January and found only the faintest traces of stone walls to mark the site of this once bustling community that held such promise for immigrants to the Territory of Arizona.
Laws that penalized mining companies for not razing structures has also played a role in the demise of the Arizona ghost town. Ironically the resurgence of mining has also played havoc with many of these historic frontier communities.
For me visiting ghost towns has always had a therapeutic effect. They serve as an important anchor for life and help keep my perspective focused on the priorities rather than those things that seem so full of promise today but are mere ruins tomorrow.
As you may have guessed after almost a half century of exploration I have found numerous lost treasures, at least they were treasures for those who lost them. On one trek into the Cerbat Mountains, I did find a 1921 silver dollar in a rusty can under what had once been a porch where a tired rancher or miner rested and watched the evening shadows creep across the Sacramento Valley far below and as the sun sank behind the Black Mountains on the horizon.
Quite by accident I found a 1936 silver half dollar once. I was sitting on a rock savoring the desert solitude when I noticed the remains of coin purse at my feet. All that remained was a small piece of dried leather, the rusted metal of the frame and this shiny half dollar.
Perhaps the greatest treasure found on these many exploits are the memories. I have been privileged to see some of these towns before they vanished and I have been able to share these special places with my dearest friend.
If you seek the road less traveled and the towns now abandoned at their end, please take nothing but photos and leave nothing but foot prints. Save something for those yet born so they too may have treasures that are the memories of special places.

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