01 Bodie, California
Once upon a time, this former mining town, lying east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, attracted nearly 8,000 prospectors, lured by the discovery of gold in 1859. Saloons and shops sprang up, as did a red light district and Chinatown, though the rush was short-lived. By the end of the 1870s, most of the mines were worked out and the population dwindled.
02 Animas Forks, Colorado
It’s a tough schlep by 4WD up to this one-time boom town on the Alpine Loop. Crumbling exteriors mask surprisingly intact staircases and faded furniture. Turn back the clock to 1876 though and you’d stumble upon a dynamic mining hub with shops, saloons and local newspaper, the Animas Forks Pioneer.
03 Dooley, Montana
Much of this eerie town in northeastern Sheridan County has fallen to the ground, though the Rocky Valley Lutheran Church remains standing. The town was once a station stop on the Soo Line railroad branch line, constructed in 1913. The region was blighted by fires and infestations, and agriculture proved to be difficult; by the 1920s the town was in decline.
04 Kennecott, Alaska
This abandoned copper mining camp was a bustling hub at the turn of the 20th century, thanks to the Kennecott Copper Corporation drawing workers to this remote spot with the promise of high wages. Deserted by 1938, the camp has been hauntingly preserved and daily tours reveal the fortunes, frontiersmen and fateful endings of this ghost town.
05 St Elmo, Colorado
Legend has it more than 2,000 people lived here during the town’s heyday in the 1880s, when its mines, rich in silver, gold, copper and iron, enticed workers and their families. Saloons, dance halls and bawdy houses boomed, but the failure of numerous mines and the closure of the Alpine Tunnel railroad in 1910 signalled the gradual descent of St Elmo.
Published in the June 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)