Isolated in the middle of the Arizona desert, the rough and tumble Wild West town of Goldfield was the happenin’ place in its heyday. According to our mine tour guide, Goldfield still has the most unmined gold of any mine in the entire world. If true, it may be due to a 1897 flood, which essentially forever ended mining in the area. Even though there was much gold to be mined, they couldn’t pump the water out without collapsing the whole mine. As what typically happened when old western mines closed, all of Goldfield residents left within 24 hours, with the post office following a year later in 1898. This officially doomed Goldfield to the fate of “ghost town”. Much later in the 1980’s, the EPA made the decision final by finally officially declaring that they could not suck out the water.
Located right at the base of the infamous The Superstitions: The Most Haunted Mountain Range in America., near the Lost Dutchman State Park, at 4650 N Mammoth Mine Rd, Apache Junction, Arizona, it’s open daily from 10am to 5pm. It’s right on the outskirts of the greater Phoenix area, about 45 minutes from downtown. From Mesa or Chandler, it’s only approximately 35 minutes. It’s a very doable day trip for all of Phoenix. Apache Junction is a far more rural, deserty, ranching type of place. Aside from Goldfield, it’s a mecca for hikers, campers, off-roaders, and horseback riders.
Built in 1892, at one point the town had up to 4,000 residents and 28 buildings. At the time, Goldfield was bigger than Phoenix and Mesa combined, which is hard to imagine these days. It was even strongly considered for the state capital of Arizona. However, when an old west town goes ghost, it happens very quickly, almost instantaneously, as life was rough back then with zero time to waste. Unfortunately for Goldfield, it went from hero to zero almost overnight once the mines flooded.
13 years later, in 1910, they did attempt to reopen Goldfield, as both a mine and a town. This was after several new mines opened nearby, plus a mill and cyanide plant were built. They renamed it Youngberg after George U. Young, the secretary of Arizona and acting governor at the time. Sadly, as was the fate of the first set of mines, the new mines once again flooded, and by 1926, it was once again a ghost town. When it was bought years later by a sole individual, he renamed it back to Goldfield again and restored it to its former Wild West mining glory – but this time as an attraction.
While many of the buildings had to be rebuilt or refurbished, there are many authentic pieces of mining equipment still at Goldfield. These include a 19th-century “Tower”; the 19th century Goldfield Railroad Station; the only 3-foot narrow-gauge railroad still in operation in Arizona; a 1890 Porter 0-4-0 (locomotive); the Bordello (Brothel); a barn/stable; an abandoned Spanish-style house; the Livery; the Goldfield Museum; the water tank, a “poop wagon” used in the mines that I’m sure has a more proper name, and much more. Obviously, the mine used for tours is a complete reconstruction and NOT a real mine (as you’ll recall, those all flooded and are impossible to access). Thankfully, per our guide, the creator of the reconstructed mine took great care in matching all of the details, big and small. I will touch on the mine tour in more detail in just a bit!
There are many attractions and things to do inside Goldfield, with some including:
- The Superstition Zipline ($12 per person, $6 for a 2nd ride)
- The Superstition Scenic Narrow-Gauge Railroad ($10 adults, $9 seniors, $7 children ages 5-12, 4 and under is free)
- The Goldfield Mine Tour (priced the same as the railroad tour above)
- Goldfield Ghost Town’s Walking Ghost Tour ($25 adults, $22 seniors, $15 for kids 12 and under)
- Apache Trail Tours (via jeeps; call the office for rates and tour packages)
- Superstition Reptile Exhibit ($6 for adults, $4 for kids 17 & under, and children under 6 are free with an adult)
- Goldfield Gunfighters (free shows every hour on Sat. & Sun. from High Noon to 4pm)
- The Eagle Eye Shooting Gallery
- The Mystery Shack
- Goldfield’s Historic Museum
- Gold Panning and Gem Sluicing at Prospector’s Palace
So, as can be seen, while it’s not as big as Calico or as artsy as Jerome (Jerome, Arizona: “Too Strong to Die”.) there is still plenty to do at Goldfield, and it’s a lot of fun for adults and kids alike.
As mentioned, this is not a real mine but a reconstructed one. You “go down” on an elevator, which is really only like 10 feet but built to simulate going down 100’s of feet like the real miners would have done. Once you make it to the “bottom”, the tour officially begins.
I enjoyed the mine tour, as our guide was extremely knowledgeable and gave much insight into the miners rough lives and job. He went into detail about the conditions they endured daily just to make $1 a day. We learned that they had to mine for gold in complete darkness, for hours and hours, because electricity was just being invented at the time. The miners were given only 3 small candles per day, which were to be used only for emergencies and when they needed to attach the dynamite to the walls to blast for more gold. Other than that, it was total darkness.
In fact, the miners were so concerned with preserving their candles, that they would use the poop wagon in complete darkness too… and in front of everyone, right next to where they were working. Believe it or not, the job of the “poop man” was a coveted job, although it has to be one of the worst jobs I’ve ever heard of. Not only would he have to walk around in darkness all day, being of service to miners who needed to “go”, but he had to scoop out the excrement multiple times a day… by hand… with only a small scoop that looked like a soup ladle. Nonetheless, apparently this was a sought after gig because 1) he got paid $3 a day, and 2) he got to see sunlight multiple times a day when he exited the mine to clear the waste from the trolley.
The guide also told us the story of the first time the mine collapsed, after the “checker” came down in the morning to check how solid and supportive the beams were, and one morning his luck ran out. The beams was NOT strong and supportive, and the whole mine collapsed. The other miners immediately began to dig him out, but it was taking days. The trapped miner had a small bell that he would ring daily to let the others know he was still alive and to keep digging. One day, the bell stopped ringing, so the miners assumed he had died and they stopped digging. After returning home for a small reprieve, they came back a few days later to resume digging. That’s when they heard the bell again and as it turns out, the miner had simply fallen asleep. They eventually got him out a couple weeks later and he had lost a significant amount of weight. He said that the only reason he did not starve to death was because he slowly ate his daily allotted 3 candles.
As far as mystery shacks go, Goldfield’s is a typical one, complete with the broomstick standing straight up, a ramp that makes you feel like you’re walking “uphill” when you’re walking “downhill”, the pool balls that all go “up” into a specific hole, swinging chandeliers, and a chair you can’t get up from. It looks almost identical to the mystery shack in Calico Ghost Town: Welcome to the Wild West., both on the outside and on the inside. If you have a weak stomach or get easily dizzy, steer clear!
We went on the mystery shack tour with the exact same crowd we went through the mining tour with, due to the fact that they only offer the tours at certain times and it’s easier to just hop to the next one. Truthfully, it felt like there was probably one too many people on the tour, as the mystery shack is a bit small, and can easily feel overcrowded. Just something to keep in mind.
Even if you understand the physics behind these shacks, it’s still weird and fun to experience. Be forwarded, it can leave you feeling “off” the rest of the day, since it messes so much with your equilibrium, depth perception, and stomach. It certainly messed with mine 🤢 I felt “ugh” for the rest of the day. So again, if you’re easily affected by things that make you feel dizzy or turns your stomach, you may want to skip the Mystery Shack!
Overall, if you’re ever in Phoenix or “the Valley” area, I highly recommend a visit to Goldfield Ghost Town, either for an all-day adventure or you can split the day, also taking a hike in the Supes. You’ll still even make it back in time for dinner. Goldfield and the beautiful, mystical Supes that loom just a stones throw away make it a fun, magical place. Step on back in time and come see it for yourself!