Photographing Four Ghost Towns in Arizona

Arizona is a large and geographically diverse state. Arizona Highways has put out a book with 50 of the state’s best ghost towns – most were built around the mining of gold, silver, copper, and other minerals. We have also photographed terrific ghost towns in California and Colorado, so have some experience with judging quality. After seeing about a dozen ghost towns, here are four of the best in Arizona.

In the east, Castle Dome is an excellent example of a preserved old mining town. It is half way between Yuma and Quartzsite, about 1:15 from either town. There is a bit of a drive on a dirt road, but it is smooth and graded and fine for passenger cars.

There are numerous in-tact buildings and everything you would need in a small town – school, church, general store, hotel, jail, doctor’s office and a workshop. I would plan to spend 2 hours here, easily. Everything is pretty close to each other so there is not a lot of space or walking between the buildings.

Vulture City is also an old mining town that actually has a working mine next to it still in operation. This is a sprawling property with work and mine buildings like a garage and tool shop, and a small town with a bank and bunkhouse and a brothel. It has newer owners that are investing in the site and restoring buildings and adding furnishings. It is also a concert, party, and wedding venue now, too. It is 1:30 from Phoenix, near the town of Wickenburg.

The Gold King Mine is probably the most commercial of these towns. It is owned by a family that has added a lot of old cars and trucks and other detritus. This site is in the town of Jerome, which is itself a charming tourist destination in Northern Arizona and is 30 minutes from Cottonwood and two hours from Phoenix. I would highly recommend a long weekend in Cottonwood for food, wine, antiquing, and site seeing.

Finally, if you are in Southern Arizona, a good day trip would be a visit to the Ruby Ghost Town and lunch or dinner in Tubac. Ruby is 90 minutes from Tucson and then an hour back to Tubac for lunch or dinner, and an hour back to Tucson from Tubac. Ruby is definitely the most remote of these four and a high clearance vehicle is recommended. You also should make a reservation on-line to visit. There is overnight camping and fishing here and a mine with a few old buildings. There is a nice little museum in the “school house.” It’s a long way to go for a sixty minute shooting session, but I think worth it, if you are into old mining towns.

Some of these locations have a lot of walking and some hills, as well as some limit on backpacks, so I try to travel light. Equipment wise, I highly recommend a tripod. Many of the most interesting subjects are inside old dark buildings with only window lighting. To stay light, I just use my Fujinon 18-135 mm lens on my Fujifilm X-T5.

Here is a link to the book we have been using to explore Arizona Ghost Towns.

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  1. Anonymous

    I feel like I was there! All the photos are lovely but I have to say, the doll creeped me out a little. Love seeing your. Maritza

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