Ghosts You Can See

I remember as a young girl growing up, I discovered the only author of Western novellas I’ve ever really loved: Louis L’amour. I think perhaps I tried to read Zane Grey somewhere along the way, but in my opinion, Zane couldn’t hold a candle to Louis L’amour’s writing skills. In the summer of 2003, I moved to California and never once thought Hey I’m moving closer to Hollywood! In fact, I often forgot that Hollywood was in the same state that I was moving to. No, the one thought that came to me over and over during my drive out there and occasionally once I’d settled in was, I’m living in the West! The West that I read so much about. It was Louis L’amour’s West.

As my solitary journey took me west from New Orleans, I passed the edges of Cajun country and crossed the breadth of Texas. When I crossed the state line into New Mexico, I visited the Tourist Information Centre and picked up a state map. After scurrying back to my car (in an attempt to avoid rattlesnakes and scorpions – which I’ve been reminded was a futile endeavour because both are nocturnal [don’t laugh at me!!]), I unfolded the map and scanned the route I’d already planned: I-10 straight through. Lo and behold there was one called Steins that was right at the I-10 just before the state line with Arizona. A convenient off and on situation, but unfortunately I didn’t stop. To this day I don’t know why I didn’t and have regretted it ever since.

Once I got settled in California, I decided to look up ghost towns and see what information was out there. Since California was in the heart of the West, I hoped that there might be ghost towns nearby that I might visit. I found a wonderful little gem of a website, Ghost Towns and History of the American West, which I spent hours upon hours pouring over. I read all I could about nearly every single listing for the western most states of the country. The website is so incredibly detailed, it’s amazing. In some cases there’s little information, but the majority of the sites listed will tell you how to get to each town – whether a regular car is acceptable or a 4-WD is needed or even if you can drive only part of the way and have to hike the rest – and when the best time is to visit.

It has occurred to me in the years since that there is a different, more physical side to the paranormal that people often over look. Granted, most people who are interested in ghost towns are generally historians, but in a small number of cases, one can visit a ghost town and the buildings look as though the people living there simply got up and walked away. Clothing is still evident as is food. It is a glimpse into the past that we can still see and touch. But in some cases, the sites listed on the website I found have nothing left; no buildings of any kind and certainly no roads. Visiting those places would truly provide a sense of otherworldliness.

The term ghost town is somewhat of a misnomer as well. There are at least a handful of towns that have people living in them year-round. Virginia City, Nevada is one of them. Yet it is still considered a ghost town. And there are a few where people have had “true” ghostly experiences; at least one I can recall (though unfortunately I don’t recall the name of it) has given visitors trouble beyond their visit if they decided to remove an item from the town.

Ghost towns are a gateway into our past, straddling the line between the living and the dead, and shouldn’t be overlooked when seeking an adventure.


3 thoughts on “Ghosts You Can See

  1. Great post and visiting these places can draw a picture of how we all got here.
    There are several places in British Columbia that can be called ghost towns. Some of them are still towns and some are small cemetarys. From these sites one can tour the mountain slopes and still some of the old mine sites.
    Barkerville is another story. Many of the origional buildings are there to view. Some of them contain businesses open to the public and some are museum pieces. There is also an interesting cemetary and extensive records.
    As for entertaining stories of the west L’Amour can’t be beaten. But after you’ve read all his, try Elmer Kelton. Or for stories from Canada’s western development, try mine.


  2. Thanks Dave. 🙂 The website I mentioned covers Canada as well as the US. Like the US, though, most of Canada’s ghost towns are in the western half of the country.

    I’ll certainly give your books a try, too. 🙂


  3. Amazing post, Skatha. My grandfather lives in Arizona where there are many of the tourist ghost towns. However, like you, he prefers the ones that are off the beaten path and truly have that sense of “what happened here?” Especially the ones where there is evidence of people literally getting up and walking away. What made them do that? And yes, the pictures I have seen where there is nothing left are a blank canvas for the mind to imagine what was there before.


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