10 American Ghost Towns You Can Visit

A street in Bodie, California
A street in Bodie, California
iStock.com/Richard Vinson

Towns populated with actual people are so overrated. Why elbow your way through crowded hotels and restaurants when you can stroll through eerie ruins and have the place all to yourself—except for maybe a few spirits? The 19th century saw hundreds of resource-based towns spring up across the American West, many of which died when the resources dried up. Others emptied out after natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes, never to be rebuilt. And while there are ghost towns all over the world (Japan’s Battleship Island was once the site of a vast coal mining facility; the diamond mining town of Kolmanskop, Namibia, was full of grand buildings before the desert started swallowing it up), the ghost towns of America have a special flavor. Here are 10 you can (safely) visit, as long as you don’t mind a few spooks.

1. Bodie, California

Founded during the Gold Rush by prospector W.S. Body, who discovered deposits of the precious metal in 1859 in nearby hills, Bodie is a ghost town preserved in a state of “arrested decay.” At its peak, this Wild West boomtown had a population of 10,000 people. Mining activities started to decline during the early 20th century, before shutting down completely by the 1940s. Today, Bodie (the spelling change apparently came from a painter’s mistake) is a State Historic Park, with more than 100 deserted buildings. Interiors are left just as they were when it became a historical landmark in 1962, and while you can’t go inside the buildings, you can peer through the windows of the still-stocked stores to see products your grandparents might have used. But watch out: Legend has it that anyone who takes an artifact from the town will be visited by a curse—though that might just be a sly preservation strategy.

2. Dunton Hot Springs, Colorado

Want to rent an entire ghost town for a wedding or corporate retreat? You're in luck. This former mining camp, whose population peaked at a few hundred people around 1905, once comprised about a mile of log structures along the West Dolores River. The mines were exhausted around 1918, when most people left the town, but two residents purchased the whole thing a few years later and began operating it as a cattle ranch. In the mid-20th century the place became a dude ranch for tourists, before being purchased by German investors in the 1990s and undergoing a major renovation. The new owners describe it as a “perfectly restored ghost town” where you can enjoy some rustic, old-fashioned ambiance alongside your meals, massages, and high-speed internet (but no cell phones, please).

3. Thurmond, West Virginia

The old depot in Thurmond, West Virginia
The old depot in Thurmond, West Virginia.
Brian M. Powell, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Back in the days when America ran on coal, Thurmond thrived as a classic Appalachian boomtown. Area coal fields brought in more revenue than anywhere else on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, and local bank accounts bulged. At its height, during the early decades of the 20th century, Thurmond boasted two hotels, two banks, restaurants, a movie theater, and plenty of stores. But when coal usage declined and diesel took over, the town slipped into a decline. At the last census, the population was listed at 5. Today the National Park Service owns much of Thurmond, and has been repairing and stabilizing the abandoned buildings; they restored the local train depot as a visitor center in the 1990s.

4. Kennecott, Alaska

The Kennicott copper mine complex
The Kennicott copper mine complex

The abandoned buildings of the Kennecott mining town are nestled in America's biggest national park, Wrangell–St. Elias (at 13.2 million acres, it's bigger than Switzerland). During its boom years at the beginning of the 20th century, the mine produced about $200 million worth of copper ore, and the town had its own hospital, school, and skating rink, among other structures. Declining profits forced the mine to close in the late 1930s, and it decayed for decades, until the National Park Service bought it in 1998. The park service is now stabilizing the buildings, and runs a visitors center in the old general store.

5. St. Elmo, Colorado

A scene in the ghost town of St. Elmo
A scene in the ghost town of St. Elmo
Rolf Blauert/Dk4hb, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Once home to almost 2000 people lured by the area's gold and silver mines, St. Elmo was founded in 1880 but abandoned in the 1920s. Locals say the residents left on the last train out of town, and never came back. The place used to be home to dance halls, a school, hotels, and even a telegraph office, but is now mostly picturesque-looking dilapidated wooden structures. However, you can shop in the general store in the summer, rent ATVs, and stay in one local “semi-rustic” cabin.

6. Bannack State Park, Montana

Hotel Meade in Bannack, Montana
Hotel Meade in Bannack, Montana
U.S. Department of the Interior - Scenic Montana, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 2.0

Bannack was named the first Territorial Capital of Montana in 1864, two years after a prospector named John White struck gold on Grasshopper Creek. (Bannack didn’t stay the capital for long, however—that title was transferred to Virginia City, Montana, shortly after gold was found there too.) Mining continued at Bannack in fits and starts until the 1930s, although the town wasn't entirely abandoned until the 1950s. It's now a well-maintained state park with more than 60 structures, many of which you can explore—a rare opportunity for a state-run ghost town.

7. Rhyolite, Nevada

The abandoned General Store in Rhyolite, Nevada
The abandoned General Store in Rhyolite, Nevada
Pierre Camateros, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

This town on the way to Death Valley was named for a local pinkish volcanic rock, but it was gold that drove its brief boom—and subsequent bust. Thousands flocked to Rhyolite after prospecting discoveries in the early 1900s, and no less than Charles M. Schwab invested in infrastructure that brought the town water, electricity, and the railroad. By 1907, locals even had an opera house. But local mines were quickly exhausted, and after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and the financial panic of 1907, most of the miners and their families decamped for greener (or golder) pastures. Rhyolite managed to stage a second act as a movie set for "Old West" pictures in the 1920s, and today there's an outdoor sculpture park, the Goldwell Open Air Museum, near the entrance to the town.

8. Cahawba, Alabama

A building in Cahawba, Alabama
A building in Cahawba, Alabama

toml1959, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

People once had big plans for Cahawba (also spelled Cahaba), Alabama’s first permanent capital, but its location on the confluence of two major rivers made it a major flood hazard. The town lost its capital status in 1826, but briefly rallied as a distribution point for cotton and the site of a prison for Union soldiers. After the Civil War, it became a popular community for freed slaves. But floods continued to bedevil the area, and by the early 20th century most of the buildings were abandoned. Today it’s Alabama’s best-known ghost town and an archeological park where visitors can see the abandoned streets, cemeteries, and other historic ruins.

9. Garnet, Montana

A miner's cabins in the ghost town of Garnet, Montana
A miner's cabins in the ghost town of Garnet, Montana

About a thousand people called Garnet home around the turn of the last century, but by 1905 the gold was running out. A massive fire in 1912 didn't help matters. Some of the population hung on until after World War II, but today the town is owned by the Bureau of Land Management, which works to stabilize the remaining two dozen buildings. The place is said to be Montana's most intact ghost town. In 2015, the BLM issued a call for live-in summer volunteers, but were so flooded with applicants they had to stop taking inquiries almost immediately.

10. Calico, California

Calico had a brief but shining heyday as a silver mining town in the 1880s and 1890s, with over 500 mines and $20 million of silver ore produced in 12 years. But when silver lost value in the 1890s, Calico lost its residents. In the 1950s, Walter Knott—of Knott's Berry Farm fame—bought the town and restored many of the buildings to their 1880s glory. It's now a major tourist attraction. In 2005, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proclaimed it "California's Silver Rush Ghost Town." (Not to be outdone, Bodie, California, was recognized as the state's “Official Gold Rush Town.”) There's a museum, a mine tour, a historic train tour, gold panning, and something called a "mystery shack," which promises to amaze and confuse with its optical illusions. This list was republished in 2019.

This Smart Accessory Converts Your Instant Pot Into an Air Fryer

Amazon
Amazon

If you can make a recipe in a slow cooker, Dutch oven, or rice cooker, you can likely adapt it for an Instant Pot. Now, this all-in-one cooker can be converted into an air fryer with one handy accessory.

This Instant Pot air fryer lid—currently available on Amazon for $80—adds six new cooking functions to your 6-quart Instant Pot. You can select the air fry setting to get food hot and crispy fast, using as little as 2 tablespoons of oil. Other options include roast, bake, broil, dehydrate, and reheat.

Many dishes you would prepare in the oven or on the stovetop can be made in your Instant Pot when you switch out the lids. Chicken wings, French fries, and onion rings are just a few of the possibilities mentioned in the product description. And if you're used to frying being a hot, arduous process, this lid works without consuming a ton of energy or heating up your kitchen.

The lid comes with a multi-level air fry basket, a broiling and dehydrating tray, and a protective pad and storage cover. Check it out on Amazon.

For more clever ways to use your Instant Pot, take a look at these recipes.

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8 Trade Routes That Shaped World History

Tourists on a camel caravan explore he dunes around the city of Dunhuang, along the ancient Silk Road.
Tourists on a camel caravan explore he dunes around the city of Dunhuang, along the ancient Silk Road.
Tiago_Fernandez/iStock via Getty Images

Trade routes have popped up throughout ancient history, stitching places of production to places of commerce. Scarce commodities that were only available in certain locations, such as salt or spices, were the biggest driver of trade networks, but once established, these roads also facilitated cultural exchanges—including the spread of religion, ideas, knowledge, and sometimes even bacteria.

1. The Silk Road

The Silk Road is the most famous ancient trade route, linking the major ancient civilizations of China and the Roman Empire. Silk was traded from China to the Roman Empire starting in the first century BCE, in exchange for wool, silver, and gold coming from Europe. In addition to fostering trade, the Silk Road also became a vital route for the spread of knowledge, technology, religion, and the arts, with many trading centers along the route, such as Samarkand in modern-day Uzbekistan, also becoming important centers of intellectual exchange.

The Silk Road originated in Xi’an, China, and travelled alongside the Great Wall of China before crossing the Pamir Mountains into Afghanistan and on to the Levant, where goods were loaded on to ships destined for Mediterranean ports. It was rare for tradespeople to travel the full 4000 miles, so most plied their trade on sections of the route. As the Roman Empire crumbled in the fourth century CE, the Silk Road became unsafe and fell out of use until the 13th century, when it was revived under the Mongols. Italian explorer Marco Polo followed the Silk Road during the 13th century, becoming one of the first Europeans to visit China. But the famous route may have spread more than trade and cross-cultural links—some scientists think it was merchants traveling along the route who spread the plague bacteria that caused the Black Death.

2. The Spice Routes

Anonymous map c.1550 of Eastern Africa, Asia and Western Oceania.
Portugal had a significant presence in Asia and maintained a monopoly on the spice trade.

Unlike most of the other trade routes in this list, the Spice Routes were maritime paths linking the East to the West. Pepper, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg were all hugely sought-after commodities in Europe, but before the 15th century, North African and Arab middlemen controlled access to trade with the East, making such spices extremely costly and rare. With the dawning of the Age of Exploration (15th to 17th centuries), as new navigation technology made sailing long distances possible, Europeans took to the seas to forge direct trading relationships with Indonesia, China, and Japan. Some have argued it was the spice trade that fueled the development of faster boats, encouraged the discovery of new lands, and fostered new diplomatic relationships between East and West (it was partly with spices in mind that Christopher Columbus set out on his famous voyage in 1492).

The Dutch and English especially profited from the control of the spice trade in modern-day Indonesia, particularly the area known as the Moluccas, or Spice Islands, which was the only source of nutmeg and cloves at that time. Wars were fought, lands colonized, and fortunes made on the back of the spice trade, making this trade route one of the most significant in terms of globalization.

3. The Incense Route

The Incense Route developed to transport frankincense and myrrh, which are only found in the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula (modern Yemen and Oman). Frankincense and myrrh are both derived from tree sap that’s dried in the Sun; these nuggets of sap can then be burned as incense or used as perfume, and were also popular in burial rituals to aid embalming. The camel was domesticated around 1000 BCE and this development allowed the Arabs to begin transporting their valuable incense to the Mediterranean, an important trade hub. Frankincense and myrrh became a significant commodity for the Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians—it was said the Roman emperor Nero had a whole year’s harvest of frankincense burned at the funeral of his beloved mistress.

The trade flourished, and the overland route was, at its height, said to have seen 3000 tons of incense traded along its length every year. Roman historian Pliny the Elder wrote that it took 62 days to complete the route, although it’s clear that at times, the exact route shifted when greedy settlements pushed their luck and demanded taxes that were too high from the caravans coming through. By the first century CE, this ancient overland route was largely redundant, as improved boat design made sea routes more attractive.

4. The Amber Road

A piece of amber with insects inside it
A chunk of Baltic amber containing preserved insects.
Anders L. Damgaard, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Amber has been traded since about 3000 BCE, with archaeological evidence revealing amber beads from the Baltics having reached as far as Egypt. The Romans, who valued the stone for both decorative and medicinal purposes, developed an Amber Road linking the Baltics with the rest of Europe.

Large deposits of amber are found under the Baltic Sea, formed millions of years ago when forests covered the area. The amber washes ashore after storms, and can be harvested from the beaches across the Baltic, which is how many local amber traders built their business. However, during the crusades in the 12th and 13th centuries, the Baltic became an important source of income for the Teutonic Knights, who were granted control of the amber-producing region. The Knights persecuted the local Prussians brutally, and put anyone attempting to harvest or sell amber to death. Today, you can find traces of the old Amber Road in Poland, where one of the major routes is known as the “Amber Highway.”

5. The Tea Horse Road

This ancient route winds precipitously for more than 6000 miles, through the Hengduan Mountains—a major tea-producing area in China—and on to Tibet and India. The road also crosses numerous rivers, making it one of the most dangerous of the ancient trade routes. The main goods traveling the route were Chinese tea and Tibetan warhorses, with direct trades of tea-for-horses and vice versa being the main goal of merchants plying the route. Parts of the route were used starting c.1600 BCE, but people began using the entire path for trade from around the seventh century CE, and large-scale trade began taking place starting in the Song dynasty (960–1279).

At least one piece of research suggests that between 960–1127, some 20,000 Tibetan warhorses were traded along the route every year in exchange for an eye-watering 8000 tons of tea. As sea routes became more popular, the road’s significance lessened. But during World War II, it once again gained importance as the Japanese blocked many seaports, and the Tea Horse Road became a key route for supplies traveling between inland China and India.

6. The Salt Route

salt pans in malta
Salt pans in Malta.
foursummers, pixabay // Public Domain

Salt has long been a precious commodity—it’s been used to flavor and preserve food, and as an antiseptic, for example. But easily harvested salt was a scarce commodity in antiquity, so areas rich in the mineral became important trading centers. Routes connecting these centers to other settlements also became commonplace. Of the many such routes that sprang up, one of the most famous was the Roman Via Salaria (Salt Route), which ran from Ostia, near Rome, across Italy to the Adriatic coast. Salt was so precious, it made up a portion of a Roman soldier’s pay. It is from this that we get the word salary (from sal, the Latin word for salt) and the phrase “not worth his salt”—the latter because a soldier’s salt pay was docked if he did not work hard.

Another important salt route across Europe was the Old Salt Road. This path ran 62 miles from Lüneburg in northern Germany, which was one of the most plentiful salt sources in northern Europe, to Lübeck on the north German coast. During the Middle Ages, this route became vital for providing salt for the fishing fleets that left Germany for Scandinavia, as the crews used salt to preserve the precious herring catch. It would take a cart delivering salt some 20 days to traverse the Old Salt Road, and many towns along the way grew wealthy by levying taxes and duties on wagons as they passed through.

7. The Trans-Saharan Trade Route

The Trans-Saharan Trade Route from North Africa to West Africa was actually made up of a number of routes, creating a criss-cross of trading links across the vast expanse of desert. These trade routes first emerged in the fourth century CE. By the 11th century, caravans composed of more than a thousand camels would carry goods across the Sahara. Gold, slaves, salt, and cloth were traded along the route, as were objects like ostrich feathers and European guns.

The trade route was instrumental in the spread of Islam from the Berbers in North Africa into West Africa, and with Islam came Arabic knowledge, education, and language. The Trans-Saharan trade route also encouraged the development of monetary systems and state-building, as local rulers saw the strategic value in bringing large swathes of land, and thus their commodities, under their control. By the 16th century, as Europeans began to see the value in African goods, the Trans-Saharan trade routes became overshadowed by the European-controlled trans-Atlantic trade, and the wealth moved from inland to coastal areas, making the perilous desert route less attractive.

8. The Tin Route

An abandoned tin mine in Cornwall, England.
An abandoned tin mine in Cornwall, England.
Edmund Shaw, Geograph // CC BY-SA 2.0

From the Bronze Age to the Iron Age, the Tin Route was a major artery that provided early settlements with access to a vital ingredient for metal-making: tin. Copper must be alloyed with tin to make bronze, an advance that occurred in the Near East around 2800 BCE and created a stronger, better metal than the type used previously. This new technology created a demand for tin, and as it is not found in many places, the resource became an important item for trade.

One such tin route flourished in the 1st millennium BCE. It stretched from the tin mines in Cornwall in the far southwest of Britain, over the sea to France, and then down to Greece and beyond. Evidence for this route is provided by the many hillforts that sprung up along the way as trading posts. Historians believe trade passed both ways up and down this route, as the hillforts provide evidence of exotic artifacts, including coral and gold. No written accounts survive from this period, but the archaeological record shows technology and art traveled the route between northern Europe and the Mediterranean alongside tin—thus providing a vital link across Europe.