Ghost Town or Tourist Trap? The Story of Goldfield, Arizona
Is a Trip to Goldfield Worth it?
In short, yes. As one of the only ghost towns in the Southwest, Goldfield is worth the visit. Read on to discover why.
Goldfield - A Mining Town of the Old Wild West
Back in the time of the Wild West, a prospector found gold in the Superstition Mountains. It was a very high-grade ore. More people came into the area, and they opened Mammoth Mine. Around it, a new settlement was born.
The new mine added to the legend of the Lost Dutchman's gold mine that had been circulating in the media. The story brought more settlers, especially miners, into town. Goldfield soon grew from a tiny settlement to a town with a population of over a thousand. It officially became a town when it got its own post office in 1893. The settlers built a church, a schoolhouse, a general store, and a meat market. A blacksmith came to town and opened shop. A brewery, a few saloons, a boarding house, and even a hotel followed. The town and population continued growing until the gold vein started to dry up. As the mines closed, the town declined, until the last of its population left. In 1898, just five years after it became a town, Goldfield was abandoned. It became a ghost town, with the wind blowing through its buildings.
Some prospectors still stayed, trying to find the legendary lost Dutchman's mine. Others tried to reopen the old mine. Although they did find some gold, it wasn't enough to live off of.
Then, in the early 1900s, a wealthy prospector named George Young brought in more modern mining equipment and was able to reopen the mines. The town was revived in 1921 and renamed Youngsberg. However, it lasted no longer than the first, and five years later it became a ghost town once more.
Goldfield Today - A Tourist Attraction
Many years later, Goldfield reopened as a tourist attraction.
In 1966, ghost town and mining enthusiast Robert Schoose and his wife moved into the area. They visited Goldfield, where they found some foundations and a few shacks left of the town. They also found the location of Goldfield Mill. They bought the mill and the surrounding area and decided to rebuild the town. It was a lot of work and it took them over twenty years, but they did it. First, they reconstructed the mining tunnel, then the buildings in town. Finally, they opened it up for business as a ghost town attraction in 1988.
Today, Goldfield is one of the main tourist attractions around Phoenix. The old buildings host tourist shops, a few cafes, and an ice cream shop. Visitors can pan for gold, take a narrow gauge train ride to the mines, and even take a zip-line ride.
One of the main attractions is a show in the middle of the road, every weekend, repeated each hour. Actors dressed in old Western clothes, replay a gunfight in the center of Main Street.
During the days on weekends, the town seems as busy as it must have been in its heyday. Parking lots are full, families stroll through the town and stop at the various shops. The train is full as it leaves the station; people are standing in line to pan for gold.
The recreated brothel, the Bordello, houses various shops that sell tourist souvenirs. Another old building is home to a bakery and cafe. You can stop at a leatherworks shop, a jail, livery, and other stores that cater to tourists.
The newest attraction in town is the zip-line. It takes you on a ride overlooking the Superstitions and the town.
Goldfield mine tours are another attraction. The underground guided tour takes about 25 minutes.
The Superstition Narrow Gauge Railroad takes about 20 minutes to circle the town. While on board, visitors are entertained by the conductor, who talks about Goldfield and the surrounding area.
Horseback rides, as well as carriage rides, are available through the livery. The reptile museum behind the bordello is also worth a quick stop.
Those interested in the history of the town would enjoy a visit to the Goldfield Superstition Museum. The exhibits relate to the mines, the town, and the surrounding mountains nearby. The most popular one is about the Lost Dutchman gold mine.
The Legend of the Lost Dutchman
The legend of the Lost Dutchman is known to most locals of Arizona. How much of it is fiction, as opposed to reality, is hard to tell.
Though the Dutchman was a real person, he wasn't Dutch at all. A German prospector, he came to the Superstitions to search for gold, like many others. According to the legend, he actually did find an ore but kept its location a secret. Did he, really? Or was it wishful thinking from those who heard of him? Or an opportunity for a good story?
Living in the area, I heard many different versions of this legend. Jacob Waltz, the German known as the "Dutchman" immigrated to America in the 1830s. A plausible explanation of people thinking him as Dutch might come from linguistics. Germans call themselves Deutsch. With the wrong pronunciation, this could sound like "Dutch".
Once in America, this Deutsch-man, Jacob, dedicated his life to searching gold. He traveled through the country, staying for short times in different places. He didn't find enough gold anywhere to live off of. Then, in the 1860s he came to Arizona. He finally found enough gold in the Superstition Mountains to realize his dream. He opened a small mine and was able to live off of it for the rest of his life. But he kept the mine's location hidden. He only told his caregiver about it on his deathbed. He left clues about its location, but they proved unreliable time after time. Believe it or not, some hikers still hope to find the mine in the mountains.
Another version of this legend includes Apaches. They lived in the area and knew about a place with a lot of gold. But since they considered it a sacred place, they kept it a secret. Not only that, but they prevented anyone who traveled in the area from finding it. At some point, a Mexican family, the Peraltas, stumbled upon it and started mining the gold. The Apaches killed them to protect the sacred place, but one descendant still knew about the mine. When Jacob Waltz, the Dutchman, came into the area, this Mexican told him about it. Waltz used the mine but managed to keep its location secret.
Some versions of this legend place another German in the story, as Waltz's partner. He helps Waltz mine gold, but later gets killed either by the Apaches or by Waltz himself. On his deathbed, Waltz tells his caretaker about the location of his mine. Since he can't go there himself, he leaves clues or a map, but nothing leads to a mine.
All versions agree that the lost mine is never found again. It is either cursed or protected by guardians who keep its location a secret. Only one person, this Dutchman was ever able to find it. For some reason, he was allowed to use it, as long as he kept its location a secret.
What is true and what is fiction in this story is hard to tell. In fact, the making of the legend was most likely due to the media.
There were rumors of thousands of "lost gold mines" through the Wild West. This was one of them and it would have remained an anecdote, like the rest, except for the death of another prospector, Adolph Ruth, during his search for this particular "lost mine". The story of his death got picked up by the media of the time. The media, being what it still is, made a huge deal out of it. Though it was never proven that Ruth was killed, his story became a sensation, which started a new flood of adventurers and gold seekers. None of those who went off into the Superstition Mountains to search for the mine, have ever been heard of again. They found some of them dead, others just disappeared.
To this day, some people believe the story about a hidden gold mine that surpasses anyone's expectation, even though geologists proved that there is no gold in the Superstitions.
Some historians believe that the Lost Dutchman's mine fits the description of the one found in Goldfield, the mine that brought the town to life.
How much is true of it, we might never know. But the legend still lives, and it is a great addition to the Arizona lore.
How to get to Goldfield, AZ
One of the only ghost towns in the Southwest, Goldfield is worth the visit. Tour an old gold mine, take a train or stroll through the old town.
Goldfield is situated on the Apache Trail, in Apache junction, off the US 60 Superstition Freeway.
From Phoenix, it is really fast and easy to get there. Either take US 101 to 60, or 51 to 202 to 60.
Once on the Superstition Freeway (I-60) East, go to Exit 196 - Idaho Rd/AZ-88 East
Turn left on Idaho Rd, drive 2.3 miles
Turn right at North Apache Trail, and drive 4 miles.
Goldfield Ghost Town is on your left.