Guide to the Southern Arizona Ghost Town Road Trip (Day Two)

Made with Google Maps
Made with Google Maps

On December 1st, Nightborn Travel posted about Day One of our Southern Arizona Ghost Town Roadtrip, and this post will finish our guide to this journey through some of Arizona’s (sort of) abandoned and historic towns, including our stay in Tombstone, and our visits to Charleston and Fairbank. This area has a somewhat shared history, as Tombstone was once home to the silver mine that provided ore to the mills of Charleston and Fairbanks, which processed the ore into metallic bars that could be more easily transported for sale and refinement.

Tombstone Bordello (c) K. Arrington 2016
Tombstone Bordello (c) K. Arrington 2016

After deciding that Gleeson wouldn’t appreciate us snooping around, we drove the short 30 min road to Tombstone, where we were spending the night in the Tombstone Bordello. We wanted to stay in a hotel with some history, and the Bordello certainly has that because it was originally the home of Big Nose Kate. For those of you not familiar with Tombstone’s cast of characters, Kate is primarily known for her relationship to the infamous Doc Holliday, as well as her work in the “world’s oldest profession.” Although she is well known for her illicit activities, I think it is well worth noting that Kate made her way in the world in a time when options for women were extremely limited, and she was an legitimate entrepreneur as much as she took advantage of businesses that some would consider less legitimate. We enjoyed our time in the Bordello. The people working there were friendly, the rooms were very cozy, and the included breakfast was delicious.

Big Nose Kate's Saloon in Tombstone (c) ABR 2016
Big Nose Kate’s Saloon in Tombstone (c) ABR 2016

Our experience of Tombstone itself was less pleasant, so I will preface this short review of the town by saying that many people do enjoy it, so doing some of your own research on the location and what it has to offer would be good. Tombstone has been very transformed by tourism in both good and bad ways. Tourism has allowed this historic town to persist in fairly good health into the modern era, which is wonderful, but it has commidified nearly everything there. There are some spots, like Boothill Graveyard, which are not too expensive, as they only request a donation for entry, but just about everything else has a price tag. The food options in the main tourist area are also subpar in terms of cost, service, and taste. The cool thing about stopping here is that if you walk down Allen Street, it is easy to imagine that you are in a western movie. The buildings are classic, and if you don’t mind spending some money, there are some interesting spots, like the Bird Cage Theater, which I hear is haunted.

Remnants of Charleston (c) K. Arrington 2016
Remnants of Charleston (c) K. Arrington 2016

Charleston was our first stop on Day Two, once we had packed up and left Tombstone and the lovely Bordello behind. It was actually quite hard to find, because it has been all but destroyed. This is due to the fact that Charleston’s abandonment after Tombstone’s mines began closing was exasperated by an earthquake in 1887, and the remnants of the ghost town were further decimated when the US army used the site to train for urban warfare during WWII. All that we managed to find were the foundations of some of the town’s buildings, and our guide was not specific enough about how to find the site. So, here are some updated directions: If you are traveling from Tombstone, take Charleston Road for 8.3-8.5 miles. Look for a fire danger sign on the right side of the road, and turn onto the dirt road on the same side that is just behind the sign (this will also be before the bridge that crosses over the San Pedro River). You will pass a trailhead there, but we suggest driving a little further past the bathroom and parking at the second trailhead. There are signs there for the Millville petroglyph discovery trail. Take this for a short ways, and then turn left down a small side trail after a warning sign about used munitions in the area. PLEASE HEED THE SIGN! If you want to visit Charleston, you should keep your eyes peeled for anything potentially dangerous left behind from military testing there.

Bridge over the San Pedro (c) K. Arrington 2016
Bridge over the San Pedro (c) K. Arrington 2016

After we snapped a few pictures of Charleston, we also took this opportunity to visit the San Pedro River near the bridge. I would definitely suggest doing the same, and if you are a hiker, you might consider setting aside enough time to hike up to Millville (which we were unable to do). This trail also connects to Fairbanks, but unless you want to hike all day, and/or have a shuttle up there, I wouldn’t suggest it just due to time constraints.

Post office in Fairbank (c) K. Arrington 2016
Post office in Fairbank (c) K. Arrington 2016

Finally, when we were done in finding Charleston, we drove to Fairbank, which is a ghost town that is now maintained for visitors by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and is free to visit. Due to the fact that Fairbank’s historic nature has been maintained, and is set aside for people to come and experience, it was my favorite ghost town of the entire trip. It was much more comfortable to wander around in than the towns where people still lived, and it lacked the tourist flavor of Tombstone. While many of the buildings here have not been restored to the point that visitors can enter them, the schoolhouse has been renovated and also serves as a museum and visitor’s center. The people working here were extremely friendly and knew all about the history of the town, as well as the wildlife and trails of the area. Besides the town itself, there is a nice loop trail that you can take to the Fairbank graveyard (home to many unmarked graves belonging to people murdered in Charleston and tossed in the river, coincidentally), as well as what is left of the mill that sustained the town in the past. The hike up this trail was beautiful, and overall, Fairbank offered me the best window into this region’s past.

Fairbank's graveyard (c) ABR 2016
Fairbank’s graveyard (c) ABR 2016

We would appreciate any comments that you have on this post! What do you think about ghost towns? Have you visited any that are discussed here? What was your experience? Also, please feel free to ask us any questions about the trip, as we would be happy to help anyone looking to explore these locations. Finally, come back on the 20th to learn about Katie’s journey to Red Rock Canyon and Zion National Park in Utah.

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29 thoughts on “Guide to the Southern Arizona Ghost Town Road Trip (Day Two)

  1. lex

    yes amber, its quite neat and trust me theres that feeling one gets that doesnt come all the time when we see loads of old buildings along/around.. awesome post with awesome images to back up.

    1. Old buildings are really fascinating, but there is a certain creepiness to it, depending! I really loved Fairbank due to the fact that it felt like a great place to just reconnect with the past and explore. Glad you guys enjoyed the post!

  2. InMomMode

    How fun! I love looking at old towns like these. It’s very interesting to see how things were set up and also a bit sad to see empty spaces where people once lived and worked.

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