Shannon Across America: Calico Ghost Town

Is a ghost town truly a ghost town if people still remain to call it that?

This is part of a series of posts chronicling my travels across the western United States over the course of several weeks, living on the road and randomly visiting places along the way. You can start reading about the journey from the beginning.

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After stopping for gas and a rest break during my travels through the Mojave Desert, I spotted a location called Calico Ghost Town on the map. My curiosity was piqued and it didn’t seem like it was very far from the highway, so I decided to stop in. Going simply off the name, in my mind I imagined something derelict and rundown, the type of quiet, unassuming hidden gem that photographers love to walk around and explore.

But as I came over the horizon, I saw not a dead town but one haunted with cars and school buses behind a ticket gate. Somehow I got the feeling that I wasn’t going to be needing my hiking gear for this one.

7V1B0351The history of Calico is interesting: once a silver mining town during the late 19th century, the price of silver being driven down by the Sherman Silver Purchase Act made the town economically unviable and was all but abandoned by the turn of the century. The land was purchased in the 1950s and most of the buildings were restored based on old photographs; later the whole area was donated to the county and eventually became a landmark and a part of the park system.

Calico is very much a tourist attraction and is a hint of Six Flags and the St. Louis Zoo or Grants Farm, at least on a much smaller scale. Not that everything is souvenir, candy and ice cream stores: there are opportunities to climb around and explore the remains of stone buildings and equipment. Much of it has a wild west motif and it can be a little hard to tell the difference between what’s contrived and what’s based on history. I’d say the main outdoor highlight is the replica of the original schoolhouse that existed when the town was still alive. The view of the desert from the town’s location is pretty good, and if you’re so inclined, there are tours of the mines available.

I’m not ragging on Calico Ghost Town; my experience was just an amusing anecdote and arguably not a shred of it would even remain had it not been for restoration efforts in the 20th century. The place knows what it is, and I would recommend it as a good attraction for school field trips or families traveling between Vegas and Los Angeles.

It was a decent way to kill a few hours during a daylight period not normally optimal for photography, and I would get more of the authentic dead town experiences ahead in my California travels.

Next time: Arriving at the coast

Patrick Shannon

About Patrick Shannon

A creative professional, photographer and design+technology advocate based in St. Louis, I have worked with a number of businesses, agencies and clients on design, production and marketing for everyday brands. In my spare time, I enjoy woodworking and am still attempting to build a life-sized replica of Optimus Prime out of wood.