10 American Ghost Towns You Can Visit

A street in Bodie, California
A street in Bodie, California
iStock.com/Richard Vinson

Towns populated with actual people are so overrated. Why elbow your way through crowded hotels and restaurants when you can stroll through eerie ruins and have the place all to yourself—except for maybe a few spirits? The 19th century saw hundreds of resource-based towns spring up across the American West, many of which died when the resources dried up. Others emptied out after natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes, never to be rebuilt. And while there are ghost towns all over the world (Japan’s Battleship Island was once the site of a vast coal mining facility; the diamond mining town of Kolmanskop, Namibia, was full of grand buildings before the desert started swallowing it up), the ghost towns of America have a special flavor. Here are 10 you can (safely) visit, as long as you don’t mind a few spooks.

1. Bodie, California

Founded during the Gold Rush by prospector W.S. Body, who discovered deposits of the precious metal in 1859 in nearby hills, Bodie is a ghost town preserved in a state of “arrested decay.” At its peak, this Wild West boomtown had a population of 10,000 people. Mining activities started to decline during the early 20th century, before shutting down completely by the 1940s. Today, Bodie (the spelling change apparently came from a painter’s mistake) is a State Historic Park, with more than 100 deserted buildings. Interiors are left just as they were when it became a historical landmark in 1962, and while you can’t go inside the buildings, you can peer through the windows of the still-stocked stores to see products your grandparents might have used. But watch out: Legend has it that anyone who takes an artifact from the town will be visited by a curse—though that might just be a sly preservation strategy.

2. Dunton Hot Springs, Colorado

Want to rent an entire ghost town for a wedding or corporate retreat? You're in luck. This former mining camp, whose population peaked at a few hundred people around 1905, once comprised about a mile of log structures along the West Dolores River. The mines were exhausted around 1918, when most people left the town, but two residents purchased the whole thing a few years later and began operating it as a cattle ranch. In the mid-20th century the place became a dude ranch for tourists, before being purchased by German investors in the 1990s and undergoing a major renovation. The new owners describe it as a “perfectly restored ghost town” where you can enjoy some rustic, old-fashioned ambiance alongside your meals, massages, and high-speed internet (but no cell phones, please).

3. Thurmond, West Virginia

The old depot in Thurmond, West Virginia
The old depot in Thurmond, West Virginia.
Brian M. Powell, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Back in the days when America ran on coal, Thurmond thrived as a classic Appalachian boomtown. Area coal fields brought in more revenue than anywhere else on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, and local bank accounts bulged. At its height, during the early decades of the 20th century, Thurmond boasted two hotels, two banks, restaurants, a movie theater, and plenty of stores. But when coal usage declined and diesel took over, the town slipped into a decline. At the last census, the population was listed at 5. Today the National Park Service owns much of Thurmond, and has been repairing and stabilizing the abandoned buildings; they restored the local train depot as a visitor center in the 1990s.

4. Kennecott, Alaska

The Kennicott copper mine complex
The Kennicott copper mine complex

The abandoned buildings of the Kennecott mining town are nestled in America's biggest national park, Wrangell–St. Elias (at 13.2 million acres, it's bigger than Switzerland). During its boom years at the beginning of the 20th century, the mine produced about $200 million worth of copper ore, and the town had its own hospital, school, and skating rink, among other structures. Declining profits forced the mine to close in the late 1930s, and it decayed for decades, until the National Park Service bought it in 1998. The park service is now stabilizing the buildings, and runs a visitors center in the old general store.

5. St. Elmo, Colorado

A scene in the ghost town of St. Elmo
A scene in the ghost town of St. Elmo
Rolf Blauert/Dk4hb, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Once home to almost 2000 people lured by the area's gold and silver mines, St. Elmo was founded in 1880 but abandoned in the 1920s. Locals say the residents left on the last train out of town, and never came back. The place used to be home to dance halls, a school, hotels, and even a telegraph office, but is now mostly picturesque-looking dilapidated wooden structures. However, you can shop in the general store in the summer, rent ATVs, and stay in one local “semi-rustic” cabin.

6. Bannack State Park, Montana

Hotel Meade in Bannack, Montana
Hotel Meade in Bannack, Montana
U.S. Department of the Interior - Scenic Montana, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 2.0

Bannack was named the first Territorial Capital of Montana in 1864, two years after a prospector named John White struck gold on Grasshopper Creek. (Bannack didn’t stay the capital for long, however—that title was transferred to Virginia City, Montana, shortly after gold was found there too.) Mining continued at Bannack in fits and starts until the 1930s, although the town wasn't entirely abandoned until the 1950s. It's now a well-maintained state park with more than 60 structures, many of which you can explore—a rare opportunity for a state-run ghost town.

7. Rhyolite, Nevada

The abandoned General Store in Rhyolite, Nevada
The abandoned General Store in Rhyolite, Nevada
Pierre Camateros, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

This town on the way to Death Valley was named for a local pinkish volcanic rock, but it was gold that drove its brief boom—and subsequent bust. Thousands flocked to Rhyolite after prospecting discoveries in the early 1900s, and no less than Charles M. Schwab invested in infrastructure that brought the town water, electricity, and the railroad. By 1907, locals even had an opera house. But local mines were quickly exhausted, and after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and the financial panic of 1907, most of the miners and their families decamped for greener (or golder) pastures. Rhyolite managed to stage a second act as a movie set for "Old West" pictures in the 1920s, and today there's an outdoor sculpture park, the Goldwell Open Air Museum, near the entrance to the town.

8. Cahawba, Alabama

A building in Cahawba, Alabama
A building in Cahawba, Alabama

toml1959, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

People once had big plans for Cahawba (also spelled Cahaba), Alabama’s first permanent capital, but its location on the confluence of two major rivers made it a major flood hazard. The town lost its capital status in 1826, but briefly rallied as a distribution point for cotton and the site of a prison for Union soldiers. After the Civil War, it became a popular community for freed slaves. But floods continued to bedevil the area, and by the early 20th century most of the buildings were abandoned. Today it’s Alabama’s best-known ghost town and an archeological park where visitors can see the abandoned streets, cemeteries, and other historic ruins.

9. Garnet, Montana

A miner's cabins in the ghost town of Garnet, Montana
A miner's cabins in the ghost town of Garnet, Montana

About a thousand people called Garnet home around the turn of the last century, but by 1905 the gold was running out. A massive fire in 1912 didn't help matters. Some of the population hung on until after World War II, but today the town is owned by the Bureau of Land Management, which works to stabilize the remaining two dozen buildings. The place is said to be Montana's most intact ghost town. In 2015, the BLM issued a call for live-in summer volunteers, but were so flooded with applicants they had to stop taking inquiries almost immediately.

10. Calico, California

Calico had a brief but shining heyday as a silver mining town in the 1880s and 1890s, with over 500 mines and $20 million of silver ore produced in 12 years. But when silver lost value in the 1890s, Calico lost its residents. In the 1950s, Walter Knott—of Knott's Berry Farm fame—bought the town and restored many of the buildings to their 1880s glory. It's now a major tourist attraction. In 2005, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proclaimed it "California's Silver Rush Ghost Town." (Not to be outdone, Bodie, California, was recognized as the state's “Official Gold Rush Town.”) There's a museum, a mine tour, a historic train tour, gold panning, and something called a "mystery shack," which promises to amaze and confuse with its optical illusions. This list was republished in 2019.

12 Strange-But-Real Ice Cream Flavors

ipekata/iStock via Getty Images
ipekata/iStock via Getty Images

I scream, you scream, we all scream for … horse flesh ice cream? Okay, so maybe “we all" don’t. But some people do. A lot of people, in fact. Lobster, foie gras, and ghost pepper, too. Next time you’re craving an ice-cold cone, why not step out of your vanilla/chocolate comfort zone to try one of these 12 strange-but-real ice cream flavors.

1. Horse Flesh

There are two dozen attractions within Tokyo’s indoor amusement park, Namja Town, but it would be easy to spend all of your time there pondering the many out-there flavors at Ice Cream City, where Raw Horse Flesh, Cow Tongue, Salt, Yakisoba, Octopus, and Squid are among the flavors that have tickled (or strangled) visitors' taste buds.

2. Pickled Mango

As one of the country’s most decorated ice cream makers, Jeni Britton Bauer—proprietor of Ohio-based Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams—is constantly pushing the boundaries of unique treats, as evidenced by her lineup of limited edition flavors, including last summer's Pickled Mango (a cream cheese-based ice cream with a slightly spicy mango sauce made of white balsamic vinegar, white pepper, allspice, and clove) and this year's Goat Cheese With Red Cherries.

3. Corn on the Cob

Since opening Max & Mina’s in Queens, New York in 1998, brothers/owners Bruce and Mark Becker have created more than 5000 one-of-a-kind ice cream flavors, many of them adapted from their grandfather’s original recipes. Daily flavor experiments mean that the menu is ever-changing, but Corn on the Cob (a summer favorite), Horseradish, Garlic, Pizza, Lox, and Jalapeño have all made the lineup.

4. Foie Gras

New York City's OddFellows takes the "odd" in its name seriously, and has become synonymous with experimental flavors. Since opening their doors in 2013, they've concocted more than 300 different kinds of the cold stuff—including a Foie Gras varietal.

5. Pear and Blue Cheese

“Salty-sweet” is the preferred palette at Portland, Oregon-based Salt & Straw, where sugar and spice blend together nicely with flavors like Strawberry Honey Balsamic Strawberry With Cracked Pepper and Pear With Blue Cheese, a well-balanced mix of sweet Oregon Trail Bartlett Pears mixed with crumbles of Rogue Creamery's award-winning Crater Lake Blue Cheese. Yum?

6. Ghost Pepper

“Traditional” isn’t the word you’d choose to describe any of the 100 ice cream varieties at The Ice Cream Store in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. They don’t have vanilla, they have African Vanilla or Madagascar Vanilla Bean. But things only get wilder from there, and the shop’s proprietors clearly have a penchant for the spicy stuff. In addition to their Devil's Breath Carolina Reaper Pepper Ice Cream—a bright red vanilla ice cream mixed with cinnamon and a Carolina Reaper pepper mash—there's also the classic Ghost Pepper Ice Cream, which was featured in a Ripley's Believe It or Not book in 2016. Just be warned: you'll have to sign a waiver if you plan to order either flavor.

7. Bourbon and Corn Flake

You never know exactly which flavors will appear as part of the daily-changing lineup at San Francisco’s Humphry Slocombe, but they always make room for the signature Secret Breakfast. Made with bourbon and Corn Flakes, you’d better get there early if you want to try it; it sells out quickly and on a daily basis.

8. Fig and Fresh Brown Turkey

The sweet-toothed scientists at New York City’s Il Laboratorio del Gelato have never met a flavor they didn’t like—or want to turn into an ice cream. How else would one explain the popularity of their Fig & Fresh Brown Turkey gelato, a popular selection among the hundreds flavors they have created thus far. (Beet and Cucumber are just two of their other fascinating flavors.)

9. Lobster

Don’t let the “chocolate” in the title fool you: Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium in Bar Harbor, Maine makes the most of The Pine Tree State’s most famous delicacy with its signature Lobster Ice Cream, a butter ice cream-based treat with fresh (again buttered) lobster folded into each bite.

10. Creole Tomato

The philosophy at New Orleans’ Creole Creamery is simple: “Eat ice cream. Be happy.” What’s not as easy is choosing from among their dozens of rotating ice creams, sorbets, sherbets and ices. But only the most daring of diners might want to swap out a sweet indulgence for something that sounds more like a salad, as it the case with the Creole Tomato.

11. Eskimo Ice Cream

If you happen to find yourself in an ice cream shop in Juneau, remember this: Eskimo ice cream—also known as Akutag—is not the same thing as an Eskimo Pie, that chocolate-covered ice cream bar you’ll find in just about any grocery store. Though the statewide delicacy has usually got enough fresh berries mixed in to satisfy one’s sweet tooth, its base is actually animal fat (reindeer, caribou, possibly even whale).

12. Cheetos

Big Gay Ice Cream started out as an experimental ice cream truck and morphed into one of New York City’s most swoon-worthy ice cream shops, where the toppings make for an inimitable indulgence. One of their most unique culinary inventions? A Cheetos-inspired cone, where vanilla and cheese ice cream is dipped in Cheetos dust.

10 Secrets of Airbnb Hosts

iStock/Tero Vesalainen
iStock/Tero Vesalainen

Since it launched in 2008, Airbnb has grown from a scrappy tech startup to a major force in the travel industry. The website acts as a middleman between hosts with empty rooms, guest houses, and vacation homes to rent out and travelers looking for an unconventional (and often affordable) place to stay. The company reportedly recently valued itself at $38 billion.

Tech-savvy globetrotters may be familiar with Airbnb from the guest side, but being a host offers its own experiences. If they're willing to endure the occasional clueless, tardy, or rude guest, hosts often learn that meeting people from around the world can be just as rewarding as travel—and a lot more lucrative. We spoke with a few Airbnb hosts to get their perspective on what it's like to provide a temporary home away from home.

1. Airbnb will send a photographer to host homes.

Airbnb wants its listings to be successful, and they offer hosts some pretty appealing perks to make that happen—including sending a professional photographer to their space for a free photoshoot, if hosts ask for one. “The photographer made the room look really nice,” Steve Wilson, an Airbnb host who manages a listing in Austin, Texas, tells Mental Floss. “And the pictures are certified, so people know Airbnb took them and they’re not fake picture I took from the internet.” Enlisting a professional photographer pays off for both the hosts and the company: According to Airbnb, hosts with professional photos see a 40 percent increase in earnings compared to other hosts in their area.

2. Airbnb hosts know that cute pet photos can lead to bookings.

Brenda Tucker's dog, Boo.
Brenda Tucker's dog, Boo.
Brenda Tucker

Brenda Tucker first listed the spare room of her San Francisco home on Airbnb in 2009. As one of the company’s earliest hosts, she had the honor of having CEO Brian Chesky stay in her home, and he shared some useful tips. One piece of advice he gave is something dating app users may already know: Including photos of your pets is a great way to get attention. “Their data was showing that people weren’t really reading the listings, which is true of myself when I use Airbnb,” Tucker tells Mental Floss. “So I put my dog and my cat in the photos early on and that has been very, very helpful.”

3. There's a reason some Airbnb hosts greet you in person.

Some hosts have a set-up that allows them to check in guests without ever meeting them in person, but Wilson prefers to greet guests the old-fashioned way. It’s a friendlier way of doing business, but he says there’s another motivation behind the protocol. “I’ve worked in retail, and it’s like when you try to say ‘hi’ to every [customer]. It’s nice to do, but it’s also a way to reduce people shoplifting,” he says. “They might be more respectful of the space that way if they see a real person there.”

4. Sometimes Airbnb hosts get gifts.

Beyond checking in on time and being considerate, Airbnb hosts don’t expect much from their guests. But occasionally they encounter a guest who goes above and beyond to leave a good impression. Carla (not her real name), a host in Dublin, Ireland, who’s retired, recalls a woman from Belgium who expressed her gratitude by crocheting her a tea cozy. “It’s absolutely beautiful,” she tells Mental Floss. "She showed me that she used to make these, and she showed me photographs, and [then] she made me one. She was lovely."

Early in his Airbnb career, Wilson received a gift from an unexpected source. “One of my first guests was this guy, he had the worst possible photo of himself. It was weird and out-of-focus and he just looked mean and angry. I begrudgingly accepted his invite, and he turned out to be the nicest, sweetest guy. He was from Seattle and he gave me some freeze-dried salmon and a really nice note he wrote me later on a card. That taught me not to judge anybody by their picture.”

5. Not every Airbnb hosting experience is positive, however.

Even if hosts have positive feelings overall toward their experience with Airbnb, they’re bound to collect a few horror stories after working with the service long enough. One traveler Tucker hosted made herself at home by ruining the walls. “She brought her bike up 36 steps from the street, which left tire marks everywhere.” After that incident, the guest proceeded to wash her dirty clothes in the bathtub and lay it over the furniture in the shared living room to dry. “She did not expect me to come home early that day.”

Wilson recalls a guest who dealt with mosquito season by nearly setting his room on fire. “A few mosquitos had gotten in, he had basically let them in, so he kind of freaked out about it and bought all these mosquito candles and left them under the bed.” Fortunately, Wilson caught the fire hazard before it turned disastrous.

6. Hosts appreciate it when you clean up.

People who host on Airbnb know that cleaning up after guests is part of the job, but that doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate it when people go out of their way to be neat. “It’s nice when they clean up a bit,” Wilson says. “They can leave their sheets or towels wherever. I don’t care about that stuff, but it's a nice little touch when they do the dishes. It's not that big of a deal but I feel like it’s considerate.”

7. Airbnb hosts hate it when you're late.

Traveling can be stressful and unpredictable, but if you tell your Airbnb host you’ll arrive at a certain time, try your best to stick to it if you want to stay on their good side. “I don’t want to wait around for hours and hours,” Tucker says. “I understand if your flight is late and that’s something you can’t help, but there have been a few people who unfortunately think I have nothing to do on a Saturday except wait around for six hours. When people are rude or have the expectation that you are a personal concierge and you should behave as a hotel, that makes things more difficult for me.”

Wilson repeats the same sentiment, adding that updating your host if you know you’re going to be late is much better than not communicating with them at all. “I always appreciate it when people give me a decent ballpark figure of when they’re planning to get in, and if they don’t make it at that time if they could possibly give me a heads-up that they’re going to be a little later than they were expecting. I have a set check-in and check-out time, but sometimes I can give people a little more time if they need it.”

8. Airbnb hosts don’t want to give you a bad review.

Airbnb hosts know how important reviews can be, and they aren’t quick to assign negative ratings to guests. Tucker says she always tries to confront issues with her guests in person before airing out the problems online. “I try to be diplomatic. Generally I can have a discussion in person where I can feel heard and there’s some kind of understanding,” she says.

But in some cases, even diplomatic hosts may feel forced to rate guests poorly as a warning to future hosts. Tucker says, “I had a woman who was very challenging. She came too early and she seemed a little entitled. She requested a refund because she was leaving early but she hadn’t let me know. I think that was probably the most negative review I ever gave.”

9. It's hard to make a living just from Airbnb hosting.

Many hosts use Airbnb as a source of supplemental income. For her day job, Tucker is the director of arts marketing for the San Francisco Travel Association, and Wilson is a freelance writer. Both say the money they make from Airbnb is a nice cushion, but it’s not enough to make a real living. “It’s not super lucrative, it’s just a stable stream of dough. I don’t think anyone would get rich off it, especially in a place where you’re taxed and have to have a [short-term rental] license,” Wilson says. Airbnb also takes a service fee of at least 3 percent from hosts for every night they book.

For Tucker, being an Airbnb host is more about meeting new people and being exposed to different cultures than it is about making money. “That opportunity to intersect with other cultures is incredibly interesting to me, and something that has enriched my life quite a bit,” she says.

10. Sometimes hosts make lifelong friendships with guests.

The relationship between Airbnb host and guest doesn’t necessarily end at check-out time. Thanks to her hosting gig, Tucker has developed lasting friendships with former guests who are scattered around the globe. “I've made very close friends with people who’ve stayed with me. I’ve traveled with an Italian guest of mine in France and in Italy. I’ve gone to Sweden twice to see a guest I keep in touch with. Those opportunities have been pretty amazing.”

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