Booming City Turned Ghost Town



The Abandoned City: Castle Dome Museum

Featuring A Tour Of The Once Booming Castle Dome City Turned Ghost Town, Along With A Self-Guided Walking Tour Through The Mining District

Castle Dome City [Courtesy/TZFromAZ-CC]

Surrounded by tumbleweeds, rocky mountains and not much else, the ghost town of Castle Dome City near Yuma, Arizona invites visitors to step into its pioneer past. 

 In 1864, Jacob Snively found a vein of high-grade silver galena near Castle Dome, a distinctive peak and high point of the Castle Dome Mountains. A town sprang up and prospectors flocked to the region. Although rich in history, the last mine finally closed in 1979.

During its heyday, the population of Castle Dome City exceeded that of Yuma, with 3,000 residents sweating out the boiling summers in hopes of striking it rich. Shootings, stabbings and barroom brawls were common.

Allen and Stephanie Armstrong bought Castle Dome City in 1993, an abandoned town surrounded by 700,000 acres of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, something Allen had dreamed of since he was a child on a visit to Virginia City, Nevada. Soon after they bought the town, refuge officials announced plans to clear away all remnants of the vast mining district that included towns, scattered equipment and over 300 mine shafts gouged into the landscape.

“I was a stone mason and went on to build log cabins using found material," Allen Armstrong explains. "We had a homestead in Washington where we did everything by hand. So it was all pretty good practice for this place."

School In Castle Dome City [Courtesy/Castle Dome Museum]
Western Saloon [Courtesy/TZFromAZ-CC]
The Cantina Bar [Courtesy/TZFromAZ-CC]

 Allen offered to remove as much as he could. For three years, he gathered everything possible, transporting it to his property. Buildings were hauled in from the outlying mines and others were constructed using salvaged materials. He began rappelling into the dark shafts to recover equipment and materials that were exquisitely preserved by the right mixture of temperature and humidity.

“We went into one drift where it looked like the miners might be back any minute,” Armstrong said. “Dynamite was still in the holes, fuses were there, and blasting caps. They were all set to fire off another round. In addition, on the floor was a newspaper with the headline, ‘Bulgaria Surrenders. Hostilities End.’ It was the end of World War I. I could just envision the foreman coming down and telling everyone it was their last day of work and they just walked away.”

During both world wars, millions of pounds of lead were extracted to make bullets. Armstrong has recovered miner’s equipment, documents, bottles, tobacco cans, dynamite boxes, canned goods, century-old matches that still light, hats and clothing, including a pair of Levi’s dating to 1890.

Castle Dome isn't hard to reach but is just isolated enough to stay off the radar of most tourists. Otherwise, this remarkable place would be teeming with visitors. Nestled at the foot of craggy mountains patrolled by desert bighorn, Castle Dome offers an unforgettable blend of scenery and history. The Armstrongs – Stephanie is a former teacher- research their finds and document the stories. Every building bristles with rich details of the lives led -- and lost -- at Castle Dome.

The Church [Courtesy/TZFromAZ-CC]
Mining In Castle Dome City [Photo Credit:Paddrick]
Mine Entrance [Photo Credit:Paddrick]

Today, visitors can prowl through 50 buildings, including a hotel, doctor’s office, church (with functional bell tower), blacksmith shop, assay office, sheriff’s office, jail and several saloons. Volunteers- many who stay in their RV’s – work at the ghost town in the winter reenacting scenes from the heyday of the town.

The museum is divided into two sections. The main part consists of the ghost town where most of the buildings are clustered. The second half is a self-guided walking tour through the mining district. A sandy path leads past a mill, bunkhouse, cookhouse, cabins, graveyard and the entrances of several mines, including Spanish workings dating to the 1600s.

The mines shut down for good in 1979 because of the falling price of silver. Residents drifted away, and buildings deteriorated in the harsh desert climate.

"One of the things that make this place special is that, despite the longevity, not all that much changed," Allen Armstrong said. "They were still hand-drilling during World War I. So it's really retained the flavor of the past. That's what we're trying to preserve."

The old town is well off the beaten path – but a gem that will take you back in time.

Candice Reed

A graduate of Kelsey-Jenny College in Communications as well as a certified grant writer, Candice has written for The Los Angeles Times & The New York Times. She loves entertaining and all things French.

Skp Kofa Co Op Retreat

Make Sure To Stay At:

Skp Kofa Co Op Retreat, situated just south of the city of Yuma where the desert beauty can be fully enjoyed while being close to shopping, top medical facilities, amazing attractions, beautiful sunshine and of course, Mexico shopping and entertainment.

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