Thursday, December 12, 2013

Photo Essay: Calico Ghost Town



Calico was probably the first California ghost town I'd ever heard of, but for years I'd chosen not to go, rebuking its cheesiness and overt commercialism and historical reenactments.

But once I'd already done Pioneertown and Bodie - no more "legit" on the ghost town tourism scale - then, eventually, I felt I must do Calico.

After all, I kept driving by it, on my way to and from Vegas.



Nestled in the Calico Mountains, it looms above fellow ghost towns Daggett (a.k.a. Calico Junction) and Yermo. (Actually, technically, Calico is in Yermo.)



And on a freezing cold, windy December day, it was pretty quiet, despite a busload of Japanese tourists arriving at the same time as I did.



Part of the largest silver strike in California, the town itself isn't huge, and most of it isn't original. Only five original buildings remain, the rest having perished in fire.



There's the park office...



...the Lane House & Museum, restored in 1979 and named after Lucy Bell Lane, Calico's most distinguished and long-term resident.



Across the street, the Lane grocery store...



...and up the street, the saloon...



...and the Zenda Mining Company -



...all original structures distinguishable by their "rammed earth" architectural style, which is much more fireproof than wooden structures.



The Zenda Mining Company was the last owner of Calico as a mining town, until they sold it to Walter Knott of Knott's Berry Farm fame.



Some historical ruins like those of the Chinese mining camps have been preserved...



...but Knott rebuilt other iconic structures, supposedly to their original specs...



...ironically, one of them being a garage to house a historic fire truck.



Because the rebuild - intended to attract tourists to Calico as a newly developed theme park - happened over 50 years ago...



...there are plenty of unstable structures to delight visitors.



There are also plenty of individually themed buildings and attractions...



...like the bottle house...



...currently known as the Dog House...



...a purveyor of pet supplies and treats.



There's also the Mystery Shack...



...a crooked house full of optical illusions...



...not recommended for those who are pregnant, with heart conditions or back problems, or experience vertigo.



I went in anyway to experience it for myself, where walking uphill is easier than downhill, water runs upside down, billiard balls escape to unpredictable pockets...



...and brooms can stand on end on their own.



No former silver mining town would be complete without a walk-through mine attraction (though there are actually several open mine shafts up in the mountains which protect endangered species of bats and are illegal to enter). In Calico, there is Maggie Mine...



...once a working mine in the 1880s, and now the only mine onsite that's safe for guests to enter.



During the 1000 foot tour, you get to experience what life was like for the silver miners...



...and witness key locations inside the mine, like the "Glory Hole."



But for me, the real appeal of Calico is outside, atop the rock formations above the mine...



...under the big sky, looking down upon the town, a mere thumbprint on the map. It's real and it's not. It's a shadow of its former self, even after Knott took over.



The one "ride" they have - the Calico & Odessa Railroad train - hasn't worked in months, indefinitely "closed for repairs." (I might have to go back when it reopens.)

The period costumed cowboys sat, feet-up in their corrals, waiting for someone to pay $25 for a horseback ride. (I almost did.)

The shopkeepers raised their eyes upon my entry, as though waking from a nap. (I bought a tiny souvenir bell to hang on my Christmas tree.)

But I was happy to wander on my own, for a good two hours, in a quiet little town that felt just ghostly enough (in spite of some epic booms coming from Fort Irwin next door).

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Route 66's Daggett, From Silver to Solar
Photo Essay: The Living Ghost of Yermo