There are two kinds of ghost towns, those whose occupants have long ago left the confines of their flesh behind, and those whose occupants are still warm and visible.
One thing that all ghost towns with living occupants have in common, an invisible sign that flashes “Approach with Caution”.
What makes someone give up all of the creature comforts that support a thriving community for one that is remote, desolate, and usually in a harsh and unforgiving environment, is also what makes them volatile and downright cranky, but also delightfully quirky and interesting.
And so the love/hate relationship is born between the ghost town inhabitant and the tourist he/she depends on to eke out a living. Whether it be donning a cowboy persona to fake a gunfight or sourcing the souvenirs made in China, the Ghosties (yep that’s what I call ‘em) depend on the dollar you and I bring to be entertained by that town’s history.
For some unknown reason…I am drawn to both kinds of ghost towns like a moth to the flame. I am not one that sees dead people (thank you for that God), but I can give those intrepid forefathers (and mothers) new life by learning of their rise and fall, and caring that they were there at all (I kind of rapped that last bit, did you notice?). As for the Ghosties…we tolerate each other.
With one exception.
Dave and Dory of Digger Dave’s in Chloride Arizona are the most welcoming and accommodating Ghosties there ever were or will be (and I have been around enough to be discriminating here). They and the town they represent are some of the most colorful and interesting you will find in an already colorful and interesting genre.
Dave and Dory are what make this ghost town stand out above all others.
Digger Dave’s bar and diner are alone worth the drive. Just like any other saloon sitting in a 150 year old ghost town, its décor is wonderfully unique and kitsch.
As an added plus, entertainment is provided by locals (this one a snow bird) on weekends.
My favorite is the women’s restroom though (notice the Donny Osmond album cover on the back of the door). Thank you Dory.
Before I began my love affair with Chloride though, we were run out of town years earlier by a crusty old storekeeper when our daughter was still a little thing.
Let me elaborate (you knew I would).
What put this little town on our bucket list was not just its typical “Gold/Silver Rush of the American West” that a connoisseur of ghost towns comes to expect, but a more recent (relatively) oddity known as the “ Roy E. Purcell Chloride Murals”.
Since this was before the availability of the information highway known as the internet, we learned of the murals (more on the murals in a minute) on the thinly printed back of a hotel “things to do” brochure while staying at the Grand Canyon.
As if the Grand Canyon couldn’t keep you busy for basically the rest of your natural life.
So we kept this very close to the top of our bucket list and soon ventured out to discover what Chloride had to offer with very little expectation in 1998.
How wrong we were to expect little from Chloride.
We stopped in the general store (mostly souvenirs} to get our 5 year old niece and daughter post cards to mail from the oldest still operating post office in Arizona (Chloride in case you forgot where we were ‘cause I almost did).
The post office now resides in the old billiards hall building after the town fire at around the turn of the century.
We have very timid and polite children so weren’t we surprised when we were run out of the store for apparently no reason? I swore I’d never go back to the town because of his bad mojo.
But I did about 17 years later, and boy am I glad I did because Dave and Dory more than make up for the crusty old man who by the way, is still there in the same general store.
Dave and Dory filled us in on why….he just doesn’t like kids no matter how well behaved they are. Now you see what I mean about some Ghosties? Volatile as heck and find no need to apologize for less than genteel behavior. You stand warned.
Built in 1860, Chloride is the oldest continually inhabited mining town in the state of Arizona. That’s a whole lot of Ghosties that have come and gone. Well maybe not gone.
At its height of silver chloride prosperity (hence the name) and many other precious minerals extracted from 75 mines between 1900 and 1920, this little town boasted a population of 5,000 (according to Wikipedia), and was the county seat. In 1921 the population dropped to 2,000 where it stayed until 1944 when most of the mines that were left closed. Today the population is roughly 150, with numbers swelling to 250 with the onset of “Snow Birds” in winter.
What’s unexpected in a ghost town that never dies is that some things are exactly as they were when abandoned. The Santa Fe train station was shut down in 1935, but its main building along with outbuildings are still intact with its doors appearing closed for just the night.
A rail car storage outbuilding. The rail ties are still visible where I am standing.
Some rails are still intact after nearly 150 years.
The desert may be harsh, but it preserves its history better than any other environment.
The jail is also intact with beds in the two cells, and in between them a sheriffs desk and chair with a wood burning stove. It is accessible to anyone, but enter at your own risk. The last time I was there this year, I noticed a used hypodermic syringe and needle littering the floor. Is the jail still being inhabited by those in chains of their own making? It would appear so.
Now to the murals.
In 1966, Roy E. Purcell took a break from pursuing a Master’s degree in Fine Arts at Utah State University to labor as a miner in the Cerbat Mountains near Chloride, Arizona. While he was there, and with the support of local residents (hippies), he painted “The Journey,” a 2000-square-foot set of murals on some boulders about a mile and a half outside of town. His work, executed in the abstract Modernism tradition, led to early world-wide recognition for Purcell and helped launch him on a professional career that continues today.
These murals were very recently restored by Roy Purcell and volunteers to their original brilliant color. They are truly one of a kind and should not be missed, but be prepared to travel a primitive dirt road to get there (the way to the murals are well marked). I took these just this week under cloudy skies.
Dirt road to murals.
There are ancient Native American petroglyphs all around the murals, rather the murals were painted amidst them. I have to assume the hallucinogens of Timothy Leary’s time made one indiscriminant of historical sites. You post baby boomers will have to Google him.
These petroglyphs are across from the murals.
The murals offer an excellent view of the town of Chloride below.
The town still plays host to artistic Ghosties that a short walk around the small town makes one feel as though they have been treated to an outdoor art festival, but without Sedona’s superciliousness.
There is a fine line between kitsch and art, but I love them both for they are Americana. This is just a tiny example of what Chloride offers with regard to individual expression of junk art. Most of it found in the desert in and around town.
For sale by owner…
The Chloride Historical Society has built a “mock” old western town tourist area with many of the original local furnishings. And the best part…not crowded like Oatman! We had the place to ourselves this day.
A land/money/mine register in one of the buildings (housing a museum) is original and priceless to someone like me. It is by far the best and most accessible of any re-creation of settler life I have ever seen.
And by accessible, I mean you can play the antique piano in the Dead Ass Saloon and belly up to the bar. The whiskey bottles are empty though I’m afraid.
Here’s a couple of dead asses now. Just kidding, that’s my hubby and a friend.
There are many original homes that are unique to rustic America. How many people can boast a vintage gas station AND railroad tracks running under her porch and in her front yard? I’ve seen the resident sitting and reading in this chair. I reckon it doesn’t get any better than that.
One of the oldest buildings in the town was built by an ex Naval officer who left the sea because of recurring nightmares of drowning. The windows are still visible resembling port holes. His name has been lost to time, but not his sad end. He drowned in either his mine after slipping and falling or in a flash flood. The actual cause of drowning is also lost to time, but the irony is not.
His house was then used as a brothel known as the “House of Soiled Doves”. Residents say there is still an eeriness about it that keeps most away. Maybe it was the grey skies, but I felt uneasy when I took these photos.
Once again I am stricken by how especially harsh life must have been for women back then. Long skirts in the summer heat of the desert? No running water or fans for hot homes (especially while cooking on wood burning stoves)? While having to worry about Indian invasions? I shall never complain again. Or at least for the rest of the day.
Pioneer women must have been deeply in love or indebted to follow their men to this place.
But who am I to talk? I keep coming back.
As if all of this is not enough…there are the abandoned mines that still have their chutes full of rock, as if the miners are only away for lunch. Maybe they are.
There is also a 40 acre cemetery with some very old graves. One is of an Indian Chief who recently got a large head stone carved in his likeness.
But you already know I don’t take photos of graveyards so you will have to go see that for yourself.
If you go, stop by and say hi to Dave and Dory at Digger Dave’s. Tell ‘em Chris sent you.
Until next time Dear Diary.