The Undead Ghost Town

Visiting the Living Ghost Town of Randsburg

Every Halloween, the worlds of the living and the dead blur together. In the “living ghost town” of Randsburg, that condition is permanent. This strange gold-rush town near the El Paso Mountains in Kern County popped up in 1895. More than 3,500 people lived here in its thriving—and stereotypically lawless—early years. More than 20 bars lined its streets, prostitution thrived, and shootings and stabbings were common. The boom faded long ago, though enough gold and silver mining opportunities persisted to keep the town alive. Now fewer than 70 residents remain.

Many original structures also remain. Derelict miners’ cabins dot the barren hills. At night, a haunting wind howls through the more ramshackle wooden shanties, rattling their corrugated metal siding and roofs. A collapsed mine shaft exists nearby. It’s not hard to imagine the undead finding refuge in Randsburg as they did in the 1989 comedy horror flick Chopper Chicks in Zombietown, with Billy Bob Thornton in an early role.

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On the living side, many cabins have been renovated into homes of rustic charm. The town has a couple of inns and a handful of shops—most only open weekends—on its quintessentially western main street, Butte Avenue. Don’t miss the General Store. Open since the 1930s, it serves breakfast and lunch and has a vintage soda fountain over a hundred years old. Try the famous Black Bart, a banana split with ice cream and hot fudge. Or quaff a boilermaker down the street at The Joint, a bar operating since the 1950s.

Don’t forget the dead of Randsburg. At the community cemetery in nearby Johannesburg, you can see memorial stones of unusual and tragic local figures, including Emily Davidson—shot dead on Butte Avenue by her husband in 1897—and William Burro Schmidt, an eccentric miner who once dug a tunnel to nowhere.

STAY: The Cottage Hotel, formerly known as Goats Sky Ranch, has enchanting rooms, a private cottage, and desert gardens.

From Los Angeles, take CA-14 north about 17 miles beyond Mojave. At Cantil, turn right onto Redrock Randsburg Rd. Follow it for roughly 20 miles to reach Randsburg. Dog-friendly!

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