Just because school is now in session doesn’t mean you can’t squeeze in a day to explore some fun and history-filled Arizona treasures. In the shadow of the Superstition Mountains is a part of Arizona that still feels like the old Wild West, where mining was once king and cowboys were common.
Saloons were not just watering holes. They housed bordellos where the bad girls of the west – or painted ladies as some would call them – would brighten the evenings of lonely men. It certainly was a different time; life was hard, but times were simple – as history tells us.
What started here is not just part of Arizona’s storied past, but it helped forge the Grand Canyon state. The best part is that you can still visit today, 120 years after it all started. Established in 1893, the Goldfield Ghost Town, located 4.5 miles northeast of Apache Junction, is now a popular tourist attraction, but back in the day, it was the place to be.
Around 3,000 people lived and worked there, compared to the roughly 1,700 in the city we now call Phoenix. Fifty mines provided plenty of work for people, and miners were paid around two to three dollars an hour, which they considered a small fortune back in the day. The mines, especially Mammoth Mine, were pumping out gold by the buckets.
Today you can tour Mammoth and see where the miners spent most of their days and how they mined for gold. The work was challenging, and the conditions were grueling; miners worked 12-hour days – all of it underground – and what they couldn’t dig out, they blasted. Unlike the miners, visitors only have to spend 30 minutes below walking the cavern that produced more gold than any other while learning about life as a miner back in the 1800s.
If going deep into the ground is not your version of the golden ticket, you can check out the mine from above. This also gives a great perspective and appreciation for the equipment and the ways our forefathers mined the land. Visitors can also walk the dirt roads from one saloon to the next, shop for western knick-knacks and pan for gold.
Guests can dress up and get an antique photo taken in costumes and western wear and watch a reenactment of one of those wild west gunfights in the middle of the town. There’s a train and a walking ghost tour where visitors learn about the legends, spirits and curses that share the town with its residents to this very day.
For entertainment other than a Wild West-themed attraction, there’s the Superstition zip line that gives present-day thrills. The area itself is truly spectacular, and the views from Arizona’s only narrow gauge train are breathtaking. The desert colors create the perfect backdrop to this town.
If you ever imagined what it was like to dig for gold, be a cowboy or wear a badge, Goldfield Ghost Town is a must-see and do. Think of it as history you can see and touch. A visit here is an opportunity to take a step back in time to an era that set this state up for success.
– Host and executive producer of Arizona HighwaysTelevision, Saturdays and Sundays on CBS.