Goldfield Ghost Town: Gold & The Supes.

Isolated in the middle of the desert, the rough and tumble Wild West town of Goldfield was the happenin’ 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 entire mine. As what typically happened when old western mines closed, all Goldfield residents left within 24 hours, with the post office following a year later in 1898, officially dooming Goldfield to the fate of “ghost town”. Much later in the 1980’s, the EPA made the decision final by officially declaring that they could not suck out the water.

Shot of Goldfield and the Superstition Mountains from the back, on the train ride we took around the town.
Goldfield Church at the Mount.

It’s a shame, because Goldfield was the place to be in its heyday. 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, and was strongly considered for the state capital of Arizona. However, when an old west town goes ghost, it happens QUICK, almost instantaneously, as life was rough with zero time to waste. Unfortunately for Goldfield, it went from hero to zero almost overnight when the mines flooded.

A view of Main Street, looking up.
The view looking down.
The Bordello in the background.

Others did attempt to reopen Goldfield, as a mine and a town, 13 years later in 1910, when 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 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 Goldfield again and restored it to its former Wild West mining glory – as an attraction.

Located right at the base of the infamous Superstition Mountains, 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.

One of the original buckets the miners would use to move the gold.

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 and so much more. Unfortunately, the mine used for tours is a complete reconstruction and NOT a real mine (remember, those all majorly 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, from the former, real mines. I will touch on the mine tour in more detail in just a bit.

The 19th-century “tower” used in the Goldfield mine.

Some of the authentic mining equipment still at Goldfield includes 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 so much more.

The “Graveyard”.

There are also many attractions and things to do, and some 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 (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, 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.

The 19th-century Mercantile building.

Mine Tour

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 meant 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.

Our guide explaining where and how the miners would attach the dynamite.

I enjoyed the mine tour, as 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 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 for them.

Our guide turned off the lights for a few seconds and it was a level of black one rarely experiences. Since we were “underground”, there was zero outside light coming in. I quickly snapped this pic to show.

In fact, the miners were so concerned with preserving their candles, that they would use the bathroom in a pooping wagon in the complete darkness, right next to where they were working and in front of everyone. The job of the “poop man” 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 of the excrement multiple times a day… by hand… with only a small scoop that looked like a soup ladle. Nonetheless, apparently this was a coveted job 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 double poop bucket. This is an original, once used, genuine, late 1800’s poop bucket and an example of how much light they would have with a single candle lit.

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.

Mystery Shack

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!

Water flowing “uphill”.
The infamous “broom standing up by itself” trick.

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!

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.

An entrance to a mine. Visitors are not allowed in this area, so I’m unsure if it’s an actual, real mine entrance or just for show. We saw this on the train tour, which takes you around the edge of Goldfield.

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