Isolated in the middle of the desert, the rough and tumble Wild West town of Goldfield was THE place of its day. According to our mine tour guide, Goldfield still has the most unmined gold of any mine in the entire world. If this is true, it may be because in 1897 the mine flooded, essentially forever ending mining in the area. Even though there was much gold to be mined, they couldn’t pump the water out without collapsing the mine. Had they been able to keep going, odds are they would’ve drained the mine for all it had.
Much later in the 1980’s, when people wanted to resume operation of the mine, the EPA made the decision official, by declaring that they could not suck out the water. Since there is literally no other choice, Goldfield as a gold mining town had to permanently close and take the L on all that unmined gold. As what typically happened when old western mines closed, all Goldfield residents jumped ship within 24 hours, and the post office followed a year later in 1898, officially dooming Goldfield to the fate of “ghost town”.
It’s a shame, because Goldfield was popping in its heyday. Built in 1892, at one point before 1897 the town had up to 4,000 residents and 28 buildings. Goldfield was bigger than Phoenix and Mesa combined and was strongly considered for the state capital of Arizona. But when an old west town goes ghost, it happens QUICKLY, almost instantaneously, because life was rough with zero time to waste. Unfortunately for Goldfield, it went from hero to zero almost overnight when the mines flooded with no way to pump them.
Others did attempt to reopen and rebrand Goldfield (as a mine and a town) 13 years later in 1910, after several new mines opened nearby, and 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 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 again named it Goldfield and restored it to its former Wild West mining glory (as an attraction, not an actual mining town).
Located right at the base of the infamous Superstition Mountains, near the Lost Dutchman State Park, it’s open daily from 10am to 5pm, and the address is 4650 N Mammoth Mine Rd, Apache Junction, Arizona 85119. It’s located on the outskirts of the greater Phoenix area, about 45 minutes from downtown and one hour from North Phoenix. From Mesa or Chandler, it is roughly just 35 minutes. From Tucson, it is an almost a 2-hour drive. It’s not exactly close, but nonetheless a very doable day trip. Apache Junction isn’t exactly a booming metropolitan area of the Valley of the Sun, as it’s more of a rural, deserty, horse-owning, ranching type of place. Aside from Goldfield, it’s a mecca for hikers, campers, off-roaders, and horseback riders alike.
There are many authentic pieces of equipment still at Goldfield; however, many of the buildings had to be rebuilt and refurbished (not surprising), and the mine used for tours is a complete reconstruction and NOT a real mine (as those are all majorly flooded). Even so, as per our guide, the creator of the reconstructed mine took great care in matching all the details, major and minute, from the former, real mines. I will touch on the mine tour in more detail in just a bit.
There are numerous historic structures still at Goldfield. These include a 19th-century “Tower” used at the mine, 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 Post Office, a 19th-century Mercantile building, the Mammoth Steak House and Saloon, the Goldfield Church at the Mount, the Church at the Mount Sunday School, Nursery and Fellowship Hall, the water tank, a “poop wagon” used in the mines that I’m sure has a more proper name, and finally, the Cantina/Bakery.
There are also many attractions and things to do, and these include:
- 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 ($10 adults, $9 seniors, $7 children ages 5-12, 4 and under are free)
- 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
- Superstition’s O.K. Corral Stables
- Lu Lu’s Bordello at Goldfield
- Gold Panning and Gem Sluicing at Prospector’s Palace.
So, while it’s not as big as Calico (Calico Ghost Town: Welcome to the Wild West.), there is still plenty to do at Goldfield, and it’s a lot of fun for adults and kids alike.
This is not a tour of a real mine but of a reconstructed one. You “go down” on an elevator, which is really only like 10 feet but meant to mimic going down 100’s of feet like the real miners would have. Once you make it to the “bottom”, the tour officially begins.
I enjoyed the mine tour because our guide was super knowledgeable and gave much insight into the miners’ rough lives. 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 during this time. Our guide turned off the dim lights for a few seconds and it was a level of black one rarely experiences. Since we were “underground”, there was literally zero outside light coming in. 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 for them.
In fact, the miners were so concerned with preserving their candles, that they would “do their business” in the complete darkness, and right there next to where they were working and in front of everyone. Since nobody could see it happening, I guess nobody cared (the smell though…). The job of the “poop man” really makes one grateful that we live when we do, and not back in the 1800’s, because this man had one of the worst jobs I’ve ever heard of. Not only would he have to traverse the mine in darkness all day, being of service to miners who needed to “go”, but he had to scoop out of the excrement multiple times a day… by hand… with only a small scoop that looked like a soup ladle 🤢. Regardless, apparently this was a coveted job because 1) the poop man 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 poop trolley. Oh, and the poop trolley was a double seater, so the miners could poop as buddies, because of time efficiency and all.
The guide also told us a story of the first time the mine collapsed, when the “checker” (I’m sure he too had a better, more official name) came down in the morning before all the other miners, to check how solid and supportive the beams were. One morning his luck ran out, and one of the beams was NOT strong and supportive, and the whole thing 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 finally died and stopped digging. They returned to their homes for a small reprieve, coming 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 is your typical, run-of-the-mill one. In fact, it looks almost identical to the mystery shack in Calico, both on the outside and on the inside. I’m sure this has to do with the way these shacks are built to achieve the infamous optical illusions. Regardless, 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, even though we weren’t on a tour together. This was because they only offer the tours at certain times and it’s easier to just hop to the next one. I felt like there was probably one too many people on the tour with us, because the mystery shack is a bit small, and it can feel crowded.
As mentioned, it’s your typical mystery shack, complete with the broomstick standing straight up, the ramp that makes you feel like you’re walking “uphill” when you’re walking “downhill”, the pool balls that all go “uphill” into one single hole, no matter where you originally toss them, the swinging chandeliers, and the chair you can’t get up from.
Even if you understand the physics behind these shacks, it’s still weird to experience, and can leave you feeling “off” the rest of the day. Not like in a supernatural sense, but physiologically, because it messes so much with your equilibrium, mind, and stomach. It certainly messed with mine. I felt woozy for the rest of the day (nothing too extreme; just kind of “ugh”). So again, if you are easily affected by things that make you dizzy, you might want to skip the Mystery Shack!
The Superstition Mountains
I want to do a full blog on the Superstition Mountains, so I am only going to touch on them here. For those who have never heard of these mountains, you are in for a doozy once I am able to do a full blog on them. They’re called the Superstition Mountains for a reason, and people routinely lose their lives here, either while simply hiking or while looking for the infamous Lost Dutchman’s gold.
These mountains are revered by the Apache Native Americans, who believe that there is a literal hole to hell in this mountain range. It’s not a very big mountain range; in fact, it’s small enough to be basically completely encircled by 3 highways. However, while it is small-ish, it is mighty, fierce, and beautiful. It is one of my favorite mountain ranges in the world, and certainly in Arizona. Whether it’s the alleged superstition and mystical pull of the mountain, or nostalgia since this is one of the first places I ever visited in Arizona, I don’t know. Either way, I love coming here and cannot wait to hike it again. I also can’t wait to write a full blog on these mountains, because if any mountain range deserves its own blog, it’s the Superstition Mountains.
One last thing I want to point out and will probably complain about in the full blog as well, is the obvious encroachment of people on the land surrounding the mountains. I took the photo on the top (see below) in 2009, and the photo on the bottom 12 years later, in March 2021. While the growth isn’t crazily substantial, it’s there, and it’s sad. It forces me to think about what our world will look like in 20… 30… 50… years, and God forbid, 100 years. I’m not sure what the solution is, or what the future really holds, but it’s a scary thought.
So, if you’re ever in Phoenix or the surrounding areas, you must take a day trip out to Apache Junction and spend the day here. Not only is there Goldfield and the Supes, but also the Superstition Mountain – Lost Dutchman Museum. You can 100% make a fun daytrip out of it and still be back in time for dinner. Go hiking in the early morning (while it’s still cool…er), hit up the museum next (open 9am to 4pm), and then grab a late lunch at Goldfield (10am to 5pm). Or, however you choose to spend the day! Either way, again, if you’re ever in the area or moving out this way, I highly recommend coming for a visit.
(Just don’t go looking for the Dutchman’s gold unless you want to play Russian roulette with your life. Just sayin’!)