Vulture Mine is an easy hour and a half drive from Phoenix and once off the interstate, you begin to feel like an early pioneer from the mid 1800's. We took exit 103 off I-10 north on 339th avenue and were thrust into stunning desert wilderness.
Saguaro cactus, rocky hills, cattle crossings, and blue sky as far as the eye can see. As we drove further into the hills and cacti, I began to wonder how prospectors like Henry Wickenburg thought, "Yeah, I think I'll look for gold right about here."
Lucky for Wickenburg he did because he found the vein that would not only become one of the biggest gold strikes in Arizona istory, but also helped to kickstart the growth of a little trading post into a major city by the name of Phoenix.
Henry Wickenburg was not a man that liked to get his hands dirty. As soon as he was able, he hired men to do the mining for him. It only took a few years before Wickenburg got tired of the mining scene and sold 80% of the company to a Benjamin Phelps so he could pursue cattle farming. Before long, it was found that some of the workers were stealing gold from the mine and, as the story goes, 18 of the workers were hung from a tree in front of Wickenburg's home for their crimes.
Vulture City grew up around the mine and contained a post office, barracks for the workers, a brothel, a blacksmith, and many other buildings to keep the mine functioning. It's estimated that the town housed 5,000 people at its height. The mine operated from the 1860's until the early 1940's when President Roosevelt shut down all mines not producing ore needed for the war effort.
Even though the mine was doing well at the turn of the century Mr. Wickenburg was not. The cattle life didn't work out for him either and he committed suicide leaving his land to the local population. The town of Wickenburg was founded on land that used to be Henrys cattle farm.
The ghost town is privately owned today and many of the buildings are in the process of being renovated. The tour is self-guided, and entry is $15 per adult. Visitors follow a path through the buildings to a cul-de-sac and back to the beginning. Along the way, there are many original machines and mining tools all identified with plaques explaining what the item was used for. We spent an hour and a half wandering around taking pictures and exploring the buildings as they are all open to investigate. The infamous hanging tree is at the back of the property and has a rather creepy noose still hanging from it. While walking around the property, you can feel the history living through the old machines and skillfully renovated buildings. Vulture mine is also dog friendly and the owners ask that pooches are kept on leashes and that they are picked up after.
Vulture mine is well worth the trip. It is not a touristy location at all. It's a very no-frills type of experience but this is also what makes it as cool as it is. After exploring the mine, be sure to head north and stop off in the town of Wickenburg. There are many antique stores, bars, and restaurants in its lovely small downtown. Here as well, there are many statues and historical plaques that tell the story of the town.
North of the town are three more locations that have ruins from the mining heyday but those will be a topic of another Ghost Town Hunters adventure.
For more information on visiting Vulture Mine, click here.