This Arizona 'Ghost Town' Pretends Wild West Reverie Is High Art
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because this kitschy roadside attraction is worth that long dusty drive.
By Nick Fouriezos
Strange things happen when the sun sets in Arizona. As the temperature drops, cacti turn into specters, coyotes wail like shipwrecked lovers and the stars look down like a thousand eerie eyes. The desert night is perfect for spookiness and haunted talk.
But there are some places where ghosts don’t need darkness to dance. Where, in the middle of the day, the wind whistles through wood slats and gusts from abandoned mine shafts sweep down to swat bar doors open and shut. Where dusty lanterns hang in a ranchy replica town square, replete with an antique playhouse, saloon, doctor’s office and coffinmaker’s shop. Where the quiet is filled by tingles of overactive imaginations. This is the scene in the city of Chloride, in the somewhere-in-the-middle-of-nowhere highway expanse between Phoenix and Las Vegas.
Once home to some 75 (mostly) silver mines and a few thousand residents, Chloride boomed in 1862 and then went bust by 1940, shifting from a place to strike it rich to a place to race from the past: a ghost town. The difference in Chloride, though, is that its 20-odd households have leaned in, turning nostalgia into curiosity and, as such, attraction.
Mock gunfights break out at the Cyanide Springs town square every Saturday at “high noon.”
The residents, mostly retired folks enjoying their islands of misfit toys, fill their yards with quirky junk art and maintain ancient buildings, from the old jail to the post office — which has run continuously since 1893, making it one of the oldest active post offices statewide. Mock gunfights break out at the Cyanide Springs town square every Saturday at “high noon,” to the hoots and hollers of children. And other kitschy attractions await.
Chloridians know that their Wild West reverie isn’t high-end entertainment — they just choose to pretend otherwise. Their confidence works — the end result is a slightly creepy, and cheap, tourist trap hoping to enthrall lovers of roadside noir. “Everyone in this town works to make it what it is,” says Jake Turner, a 33-year-old former health care worker who recently moved to the area from North Carolina. His family owns the downtown restaurant, and they recently added a karaoke night to drum up business.
For some, these small pleasures may not be worth the three-and-a-half-hour trek from Phoenix, or even the 90-minute route down from Las Vegas. And, sure, the gas-tank flamingos, blue-hatted tin men and telephone-topped cemeteries are certainly not high art.
But there are some rewards. Driving a mile and a half up the surrounding foothills reveals another treasure: the murals of Roy Purcell, a local prospector who, in the ’60s, spent four months painting the canyon walls. The exercise emerged from his “subconscious,” the now octogenarian says today. He insists he wasn’t on drugs while creating The Journey, his 2,000-square-foot amateur opus that includes a yin-yang symbol, a fertility goddess and a giant red snake — drawing obvious inspiration from hippie culture, Native American lore and Buddhist symbolism. After four decades Purcell returned to repaint the fading work of art, and it now remains a vibrant craigy spectacle.
As darkness approaches from these painted rocks, you can jump back into your car and head off into the glorious sunset, knowing that sometimes the best ghost stories can be experienced in broad daylight.
How to get there: Chloride Ghost Town
From Kingman, Arizona, travel northwest on U.S. Route 93 for approximately 20 miles. Between mile markers 52 and 53, follow the signs to turn toward Chloride, which is three miles east. For the murals, follow the town markers up a dirt path that’s probably best traversed in a four-wheel-drive vehicle.