The gambling capital of the country, millions come to Nevada each year in the hopes of striking it rich. Largely desert and covered mostly by the Great Basin, the name Nevada means “snowy” after the snow capped mountains the Spanish encountered in its north. However, cool temperatures is not exactly the state’s most famous trait. Lenient laws and instant wealth have long been the two biggest draws to this state - even before the first casino went up on the Vegas Strip.
Nevada has always attracted those wanting to get rich quick, whether that be from mining the ore found throughout the state, banking on the need for water in its dry climate or tricking others out of their hard earned cash. Many of the ghost towns and lost cities found ruined throughout the state are testaments to those who came here in the hopes of finding their fortunes, and, despite the ruins they left behind, occasionally succeeding. From native peoples to religious hopefuls to cowboys to day laborers to prospectors,profiteers, shysters, hucksters, charlatans and thieves, ghost towns set the stage for some of the Silver State’s most colorful characters.
As a result, many towns across the state may seem like ghost towns despite the fact they have thriving communities by Great Plains standards. However, there are towns that have disappeared back into the prairies and rolling hills. Forts along the frontier aided white settlers in westward expansion while native peoples attempted to regain their land. Early black homesteaders managed to eke out a community of their own on the prairies. French, German, and Bohemian settlers made their mark on early communities while industries like potash, silica mining, and the railroads created others. Mormons and Catholics searched for religious freedom west of the Missouri. All of these stories can be told through the ghost towns of Nebraska.
Much of what made Montana what it is today can be found in its forgotten places, in the abandoned communities that thrived and then died in this rough and tumble state. Old mining towns and stagecoach stops harken back to the days when going west was synonymous with getting rich - and occasionally dying trying. Cowboys, calamities and sinners converged on outposts each in the running for the title of the west’s wickedest city. Soldiers worked to both keep the peace at home and abroad at towns that became their camps. Bootleg booze and fresh water made communities that came out of and disappeared back into nothingness.
By tracking down the old and forgotten places of Missouri, we can learn much more about the history of the state that served as a crossroads between east and west. A once-thriving railroad town is now known as the location of a violent typhoid outbreak. An ingredient used to make Agent Orange leads to the evacuation of an entire community. Flood waters wash away prominent transportation hubs on the state’s major rivers while healing waters attract visitors from around the country to a former resort.
One way to learn about the history of the Magnolia State is to study its lost places. From the port towns that highlight the heyday of steamship travel on the Mighty Mississippi River to the communities King Cotton helped build, these lost towns show not only the economic rise and fall of the state but how changing times and technologies affect everyday lives. Efforts to Americanize a Choctaw settlement led to the beginning of the Trail of Tears while a naval skirmish outside a small steamship port may have changed the course of the Civil War. A former mill town provided invaluable information in the fight against malaria and a farming community helped make new discoveries about yellow fever. The grounds of a NASA testing facility hide the remains of three once great logging towns, and a notorious highwayman haunts a Natchez Trace ghost town.
From a frontier outpost named after a type of wild turnip to one named after a shipwreck to a village famed for its missing postmaster, the former communities that once helped make up Minnesota help tell the story of this state. Cities gave way from Native American settlements to military towns and even county seats. River crossings, iron mines, and the lumber industry provided early and sometimes periodic economic engines for the state's cities and towns, though some were unable to survive with the changing times. Ojibwe, Dakota Sioux, French Canadian, British, and other European settlers worked together to build these Minnesota communities as well as those that still survive, proving that even a state as seemingly white bread as Minnesota can have a multicultural history.
Michigan in the present has seen the depopulation of its major cities as its reputation as a manufacturing mecca wanes. However, this is not the first time economic and cultural changes have erased communities from the state’s historical record. Towns centered around once-profitable mines and logging mills saw their populations tumble along with the surrounding industry. Disease, religious mistrust, and fire destroyed others. Some remain buried under the dunes of Michigan beaches while others have retreated into rivers and farm fields. Uncovering each also uncovers a piece of Michigan’s past.
The ninth of California’s national parks, Pinnacles is the 59th national park in the country though it is hardly the federally protected land. The area was created as Pinnacles National Monument in 1908 under the purview of President Theodore Roosevelt, the president responsible for the national park’s system as it exists today. However, it wouldn’t be for another 105 years until President Barack Obama signed into law the creation of the national monument as a park. Today, Pinnacles is just a three and a half hour drive from Yosemite, the land that began the national park movement and the nation’s second national park.
The Great Sand Dunes have been inspiring people for ages. Native peoples considered it an important scared landmark, a place of food and medicine. Explorer Zebulon Pike described the moving sands as “exactly that of the sea in a storm.” Settlers came west in order to find gold and attempt to farm this isolated area. Bing Crosby even wrote a song about the singing sands. Established as a national monument in 1932, it would take more than 70 years for this icon of Colorado to attain national park status, making it the second youngest national park in the country.
Less than 30 miles from Columbia, S.C., Congaree National Park is still a hidden gem among largely urban and suburban surroundings. One of the nation’s youngest national parks, Congaree has long served as a beacon of shelter for those facing oppression. It was here that the Congaree people, for whom the area is named, did their best to survive despite European encroachment. Slaves from South Carolina plantations used the swamplands as a refuge and a way to escape, making their own villages hidden in the forest floor. Even today, numerous threatened and endangered species find a nice, safe habitat within the bounds of the park.
Dedicated to all things travel, places I have been and places I want to go.