Guide to the Southern Arizona Ghost Town Road Trip

Base made with Google Maps
Base made with Google Maps

Ghost towns are a part of Arizona’s unique character, and there are a few really special places that come to mind when people mention these destinations, specifically towns like Bisbee, Jerome, and Tombstone. However, none of these are true ghost towns, because they have survived into the modern era with some vitality due to tourism, and in the case of Bisbee and Jerome, also thanks to artists that have made their homes in these beautiful towns. So, we here at Nightborn Travel were excited when we saw Only In Your State’s Overnight Ghost Town Road Trip. It looked like a chance to see the real ghost towns of historic Arizona, and even though we are Arizona natives, the names of the destinations were unknown to us (besides the ubiquitous Tombstone), so it was also a chance to explore some new places. The trip was a great experience, but there are some key things that the above itinerary was missing that we think bare noting from two female travelers that made the drive.

Cochise Hotel (c) K. Arrington
Cochise Hotel with its owner, Phillip Gessert (c) K. Arrington

Our first stop, as per the itinerary linked above, was Cochise, which is a very small village just off of the I-10 south of Dragoon on the 191. Seems the census is a little confused on the size of this town, but I can say, after driving through, it feels like it has a population of no more than 50. There is a single road (Rath Ave, named after the town’s founder) that runs past the school, and post office from the 191, and which ends at Cochise Stronghold road. It is a picturesque place, tucked between the vistas of the Dragoon Mountains to the west, the Chiricahuas to the southeast, and Mt Graham to the north. Besides the Cochise Hotel, however, there is really not much to see here. Well, nothing that you can see without feeling like you are snooping, and I really must say, if you are going to go on this road trip, you need to be sensitive to that. Many of these “ghost towns” have become smaller over time, but a few still have people living in them. And as far as I am concerned, when that is the case, you need to be very careful about how you explore. Privacy is important to all of us, and the secluded character of many of these locations is something that residents cherish. Please don’t disrupt that. The Cochise Hotel, however, is open to visitors and is a very historic location. We will cover that in a separate post in the near future, because it is integral to the community and has a very interesting story.

The Prickly Pear Emporium in Pearce (c) K. Arrington
The Prickly Pear Emporium in Pearce (c) K. Arrington

Pearce was the next stop, just down the 191 from Cochise and at the head of the road so fittingly named Ghost Town Trail. Pearce reminded me of a very small artist colony, because the general store is close to a little pottery store and the Prickly Pear Emporium, which sells Arizona souvenirs rather than prickly pear products. Pearce also strikes me as being a little more interested in visitors as the general store is supposed to be a museum (although it was closed and lacked a sign when we visited), and the little historic jail which can be explored on the outside on any day, is open for visitors to see the inside on the first Saturday of every month. Anna Nickell is the local contact for events at the jail and in Pearce. She had her number posted at the site, but I’d prefer to not reveal it to the entire internet. If you would like to visit Pearce, however, please send me a message and I can give her number to you. This little town has some very cool cultural events that it would be worth visiting for.

The Courtland Jailhouse (c) K. Arrington
The Courtland Jailhouse (c) K. Arrington

Once you leave Pearce, you will take Ghost Town Trail south, and just outside of town, it will turn into a dirt road. It is a well-maintained dirt road that we found easy to navigate in a car, but you should be mentally prepared for the dust and this little bit of extra adventure. Courtland itself is down the dirt road quite a ways, tucked along the side of the road as it passes between two hills. It is really little more than a single ruined jailhouse; if there are more ruins here, we didn’t see them. The jailhouse itself is intriguing due to the fact that Courtland is a true ghost town, no one is left here, and thus, the structure that remains is truly an abandoned relic of the past. However, I would not suggest stopping by here with your kids if they are old enough to read, as this was clearly a hangout for the local middle/high schoolers and there is some vulgar graffiti here.

Gleeson mines and water tower (c) K. Arrington
Gleeson mines and water tower (c) K. Arrington

Finally, before we stopped for the night in Tombstone, was the town of Gleeson, which was just off the paved road that the Ghost Town Trail ends at. The itinerary said that people live among the ruins of this town, and to respect their privacy. After our experience there, I would say that this translates to a ghost town that is particularly hard to explore if you want to leave the local residents be. We did not find Gleeson to be a welcoming place, and without any location open to visitors, I wouldn’t suggest stopping here. Best to leave the local people in peace until/if they decide to set a spot up for people to come to without bothering anyone.

The Pearce jail (c) K. Arrington
The Pearce jail (c) K. Arrington

Come back on Dec 15th for Day Two of our adventure in Tombstone, Charleston, and my favorite ghost town, Fairbanks!



39 thoughts on “Guide to the Southern Arizona Ghost Town Road Trip

    1. I have been to Tombstone a few times over the years, and I would like that it actually does look quite the same as the last time you saw it! That being said, it is the least “ghost towny” location of the whole trip.

  1. pj

    It’s one thing seeing ghost towns in the movies and then knowing that they really exist. Felt goosebumps all over me when I read your blog post! JanD

  2. Wow what an awesome adventure. Thanks so much for sharing it with us. I’ve never been but we were looking because of the baseball camps for our sons. Now if we ever go I know where to go to give my kids a little spook Ha!

  3. Lulle.Beaumiroir

    What a fun trip that must be! A few years ago we went to Bodie in California, and it was my first experience with a ghost town. It was really eerie and left a strong impression!

  4. FUN! This is right up my alley! I’m obsessed with ghost towns. You heard of Bodey, CA? I’ve been wanting to go there so badly. Love these pics and the story about your trip. I’ll definitely be coming back for the next installment! 🙂

  5. I always found ghost towns to be so fascinating. The next time I’m back home in the United States traveling, I will have to be sure to stop in a few and explore.


  6. Huh. What an interesting kind of trip. Haha, not sure if visiting a ghost town is on my to-do list but very adventurous and creative of you! Totally seems like the way a bad SyFy movie starts out.

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