A Visual Trip Through The World's Mining Ghost Towns

Tyler Durden's picture

As each of the following seven towns from history around the world boomed on the back of resource-hungry bubbles, no one could have foreseen (or even believed) that it would ever end... but as the following dismal images show - end it did. Is this the future for North Dakota or Texas? or Silicon Valley? (of course not stupid... it's different this time).


Via The Wall Street Journal,

Although many small mining towns survive commodity-market downturns, some simply fold up when prices fall or their resources are exhausted. A few of the world's best-known mining ghost towns:

KOLMANSKOP, Sperrgebiet, Namibia

German migrants built stately homes, a casino and Africa's first tram after diamonds were discovered in 1908 in this part of the Namib desert. By the 1950s, discoveries dried up and the town was abandoned. Photo: A view from the town hospital.

BODIE, California, U.S.

This town grew to as many as 10,000 residents after gold was discovered in 1859, and at its peak it reportedly had 65 saloons. Reserves dwindled and the town was nearly deserted by 1915. It was designated a state park in the 1950s; some houses remained with their furniture kept in place. Photo: The Swazey Hotel at Bodie State Historical Park.

SEWELL, Cachapoal Province, Chile

Sewell was built high in the Andes mountains in 1905 to house workers at El Teniente, at one point the world's largest underground copper mine. In the 1960s, the town had about 15,000 people, but they eventually left due to the difficult terrain. Abandoned in 1980, Sewell is now a Unesco World Heritage site. Photo: Sewell and El Teniente.

HASHIMA ISLAND, Nagasaki prefecture, Japan

Nicknamed 'Gunkanjima' (Battleship Island), this coal-mining center, established in the 1880s, was once said to be the most densely populated place on Earth. But after peaking at more than 5,000 in 1959, its population declined in the 1960s as investors lost interest in coal. The mine closed in the 1970s but reopened in 2009 for tours—and inspired scenes in the James Bond film 'Skyfall.' Photo: Ruins of the general office.

SILVERTON, New South Wales, Australia

Set in a deposit of silver, zinc and lead, Silverton took root in 1883 when a post office was built. Soon the population was about 3,000—but before the 1880s were out residents were already leaving to mine larger deposits nearby. Silverton even lost some of its buildings, moved by donkeys or camels. Today there are just a handful of structures left, along with about 50 residents. Photo: An old church at Silverton.

GILMAN, Colorado, U.S.

Sitting atop the Eagle Mine, where gold and silver were discovered in the late 1870s, followed by lead and zinc, Gilman was abandoned in the 1980s due to weak metal prices. The area was designated a Superfund clean-up site by the Environmental Protection Agency for the dangerous tailings left by the mining operations.

BARKERVILLE, British Columbia, Canada

A town rapidly sprouted here in the 1860s after a gold discovery, but after peaking at 4,600 in the middle of that decade, the population slowly declined as easy-to-find deposits were depleted. After another minor boom in the 1930s that lasted until World War II, the decline resumed, and in 1958 Barkerville was designated a heritage site, complete with people in period costumes demonstrating the history to visitors.

*  *  *

Booms inevitably lead to busts... especially in an entirely centrally planned world in which we live...  As Taleb noted,

It is both mis-guided and dangerous to push unobserved risks further into the statistical tails of the probability distribution of outcomes and allow these high-impact, low-probability “tail risks” to disappear from policymakers’ fields of observation.


What the world [will inevitably] witness is simply what happens when highly constrained systems explode.


As Jean-Jacques Rousseau put it, “A little bit of agitation gives motivation to the soul, and what really makes the species prosper is not peace so much as freedom.” With freedom comes some unpredictable fluctuation. This is one of life’s packages: there is no freedom without noise—and no stability without volatility.

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knukles's picture

Where be da souf Bronx?  My toof hurths.

RevRex's picture

You spelled toofus wrong......

kaiserhoff's picture

DC and Brussels?

Mining ze taxpayers.

0b1knob's picture

Some of the platinum mines in South Africa are flooding due to lack of maintenance during the strike.   Once they flood reopening them could be nearly impossible. 

Some of the gold mines in Ghana were "temporarily" closed by strikes in the 1960s and remain closed to this day.

Anusocracy's picture

They forgot the biggest ghost town of all: Detroit.

Mined to exhaustion by the hunter-gatherers and now mostly abandoned.

jeff montanye's picture

Shelley's "Ozymandias"


I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:

'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away."


Smith's Ozymandias


In Egypt's sandy silence, all alone,

Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws

The only shadow that the Desert knows:—

"I am great OZYMANDIAS," saith the stone,

"The King of Kings; this mighty City shows

"The wonders of my hand."— The City's gone,—

Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose

The site of this forgotten Babylon.


We wonder,—and some Hunter may express

Wonder like ours, when thro' the wilderness

Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,

He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess

What powerful but unrecorded race

Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

Fish Gone Bad's picture

Bodie is so foreboding that even the termites have left.

SafelyGraze's picture


after cars were discovered there, it became a thriving boom town

with beautiful buildings

athletic teams


and then they mined all the cars, and people started leaving


random999's picture

You forgot about Boston, mining everyone and everything.

They got the MIT engineers, the Morgan stronghold and even ze FED.

NOZZLE's picture

 you spelled Tuuthus wrong as well,  its  Tuuthus's

Hulk's picture

Use a softer toof brush you wascally wabbit !!!

max2205's picture

Where Detroit......mining American taxpayers till .....everyone left

whatsinaname's picture

Several small towns in South Dakota reminded me of the old mining historic towns that just died off - Deadwood SD is a classic example.

gh0atrider's picture

It's nice to have Bitcoin now because those abandoned buildings get breezy in the winter.  Trust gh0atrider, he knows.

RevRex's picture

Do your goats ever bite you or kick you when you 'mount' them?

luckylogger's picture

Cool pictures... ghost towns are awsome, love checking out old mines.

Never know what you will find...

Tapeworm's picture

Why aren't all of the windows busted out as they would be in USA sites with "minority" populations?

Buster Cherry's picture

upvoted you for asking my question first

epicurious's picture

Surely you have not spent much time in the western states of the US. In fact one of the lovliest adventures you could plan for yourself is a trip to Virginia City Montana.  A totally restored and re-inhabited ghost town from the gold rush days.  It is very authentic and my son and I stayed in great funky old hotels played pool with some local sharks in ten gallon hats and perused old stores and livery stables complete with the goods of a century past.  After that I tracked wild mustang herds in the great basin and we found about 6 other uninhabited and very interesting towns.  So actually there are people who find historyinteresting and edifying just because you live in a slum doesn't mean the rest of the world is your mirror.

the grateful unemployed's picture

i was out to the Cartwrights, Ben Adam Hoss and Little Joe, Hop Sing whipped up some Oysters Rockefeller. then we rounded up some doggies

BlindMonkey's picture

That Hop Sing is a bitchin' chef. I saw him tear the ass out of Bobby Flay once.

cynicalskeptic's picture

Virginia City Mt IS a VERY cool place.  Hit it on the way into Yellowstone.  The river is still a mess though - piles of gravel from the hydraulic mining.

The better known Virginia City in Nevada sums it all up. Desite all the silver and gold mined out of the Comstock Lode, the REAL riches went to the bankers and stock brokers.  More moey was made on mining stock manipulation than was ever made from the actual metal mined.   

Sums up the US pretty well.  The REAL money goes to the financiers.  The mining companies loot and pillage leaving a real mess behind while the workers toil for spit and get shot if they protest (look up the Colorado Mining/Labor Wars)


Look at the huge hole in Butte - full of a toxic witches brew.  Go rafting on the Yellowstone and you'll see smears of gray on the hillsides - mining tailings dumped down the hillside.

We're doing the same today with fracking - but worse.  Pollutng groundwater for limited short term profits.

junction's picture


Nobody expected what happened, an event that left people so gobsmacked that many people still refuse to discuss the . . .


Don't forget her sister city Detroit, Michigan. 

the grateful unemployed's picture

in a hundred years manhattan will be a dump, rising sea levels, collapsed stock market. the ground underneath will shift toppling the buildings.

cifo's picture

Too bad we won't be around to see it though....

ceilidh_trail's picture

Or, the sea level will have dropped 10 feet and Manhatten will be bigger. Either way, the buildings are all anchored in bedrock so not too likely on the tumbly down thingy... 

garypaul's picture

I guess one difference in today's world is that when a town goes bust, transfer payments can be used to keep it going (or even growing). Am I right on this?

Kprime's picture

you're not from detroit.

The Most Interesting Frog in the World's picture

Detroit's EBT cards were sent To Vladimir Putin via the Ukraine. Sorry Detroit :(

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

So I guess these towns predate Starbucks?


Hulk's picture

don't be so snarky CD, 65 saloons is a quite respectable figure !!!

Last of the Middle Class's picture

Oh My God. Nobody gets the actual metal out of the ground these days! Jeez, get into the new millenium. Now you buy a certificate. You are GUARANTEED to have the actual metal any time you want. There is no REASON to fool with actually taking possession of it. It's heavy, smelly, dangerous, and highly toxic. Actually I wouldn't touch the stuff. Get a certificate if you have concerns about the economy. At the first sign of an economic downturn or a run up in gold prices turn it in and get your metal ANYTIME or freshly minted fiat dollars. Much Much more sense economically.

Stuck on Zero's picture

Why mine anything anymore?  The Feds can just print whatever amount of $$ you'd like.


Mitch Comestein's picture

I have been to Ashcroft, CO.  It was a town of 12K at one point.  It has zero today.  I think 30 years after the silver left it had 5 residents.  It is a historical site now.  it is by Aspen if anyone has interest.  


The initial strike produced 3,000 OZ of silver a ton.  Needless, to say people heard about that and moved there right quick.  

RaceToTheBottom's picture

Now a Gold and Silver mine is a printer by Epson or HP.

Derivatives:  Criminal acts without the watered down booze and saloons

Hongcha's picture

An interesting book on the history of Nevada mining ghost towns is, "My Adventures with Your Money."  It's also a history of penny stock scamming, one hundred years ago.  Nothing new under the sun my friends.

dirty belly's picture

Ok, here is a man's man that explores abandoned mines:

Exploring Abandoned Mines in CA, NV, and AZ: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYKZObv8VH_Z2xXpftQXw3w

The first video he has showing on his YouTube channel is this one:

The Horton Mine: Encountering a Ghost in a Haunted, Abandoned Mine: http://youtu.be/ReYbrlG4BAU

If you like this kind of adventure, he's got it going on.

monad's picture

I am a fan of Mark Twain. His novel Roughing It chronicles his chautauqua through the silver rush in Utah & Nevada and the California gold rush. Reads like the .com boom and every fake bubble since. Every ghost town had to be made before it popped.

hairball48's picture

Lot's old abandoned mining towns here in western Montana. Fun places to visit. Stay out of old mine shafts as many of them are extremely treacherous, subject to collapse. Same for the old sluice runs.

I like to visit Gem Mountain, near Philipsburg, where I can  buy bags of "sapphire dirt" to wash here back home. As soon as the creeks go back down, I'll be doing a little panning for many ZHer's fave metal--Gold! :)

KrugerrandFan's picture

Not all mining is in decline.  In Devon, England they have opened the first new metal mine in over 40 years.  Guess what they are mining?  TUNGSTEN!  :-)  Big demand from Fed and BOE?


Setarcos's picture

Perhaps THE biggest boom-bust town ever was/is Coolgardie in Western Australia, where I worked in it's "ghost" back around 1978.


See also: http://www.kalgoorliehistory.org.au/coolgardie.html

natty light's picture

Williston will be awsome.

narapoiddyslexia's picture

This is the fate of the Earth. 

rsnoble's picture

I love old ghost towns and have visited, explored and spent the nights in a few of them.

And...........of course it will be the fate of these states or at least the areas benefiting from the boom. Nothing lasts forever.

The young guys could make enough to retire if they didn't have to buy $60k pickups and drop $500 in the bar every wknd.  I've seen it first hand.