My First Ghost Town Trip, Part I: The Search for Gold Acres

25 Apr

MY PASSION FOR GHOST TOWNS was sparked in my college American History class. My professor, a quirky 1970’s holdover that had a knack for storytelling, told the class about a ghost town he’d found somewhere in the Nevada desert. Ghost towns are the stuff of legends and my mind filled with images of dusty roads and saloon doors creaking in the wind. I stayed after class that day and asked him to tell me more.

Later, Tyler, John, and I sat around Professor Case’s kitchen table as he unfolded an old map of Nevada. He made some recommendations and we ultimately decided to make the mining town of Gold Acres our initiation into ghost-towning. Armed with wide-eyed excitement and a topo map (these were the pre-Google Earth and GPS days), we hopped in Tyler’s Jeep and drove into the sunset.

Two U2 CD’s, The Fifth Element Soundtrack, and 300 miles later, we found ourselves in the middle of Lander County, Nevada. It was late and our headlights were the only illumination, it seemed, in the world. There was only one highway on the map, so we were pretty certain we were on it. A web of dirt roads branched off each side, each surely leading to something mysterious and spectacular.

A building in Gold Acres, Summer, 1980. Photo by Shawn Hall

The small town of Gold Acres was born more recently than most ghost towns, which probably explains why it was so intact when Case visited. The Gold Acres mine opened in 1936 and was worked by the Consolidated Mining Company. By 1940 it had produced $213,000. The London Extension Company purchased the mine in 1942 and the population of the town swelled to 300. Structures included various businesses, two mills, two stores, and a school.

The company folded in 1961 and the town was abandoned. The only remaining settlers were Orvil Jack and his family. Orvil didn’t live in town proper, but he and his family lived nearby on a turquoise claim, one of several mines that he owned and worked until the day he died. Turqoise buffs (no, I’m not one) and bolo tie enthusiasts everywhere no doubt are familiar with the vibrant green variety widely known as Orvil Jack turquoise.


Of course we knew none of this at the time. With no information to go on, we pulled off onto the road that kinda, sorta seemed like it would get us to the old townsite. The further we drove, the narrower the road became until it was impassable. Confident this overgrown path would eventually become Main Street Gold Acres, we left the Jeep and continued on foot. Still fueled by sheer enthusiasm, the hours passed as we walked into the darkness. We hit a fork, so we took the side that looked most like it would lead to a ghost town. Before we knew it, we were no longer on a path at all. By about 2 AM the excitement had given way to disappointment, and we accepted the fact that we were lost. Pretty dang lost.

Our only reference point was a flashing beacon atop a distant hill. This story has a lot of morals, all subjects for other posts. But with a few prayers and some good luck, we eventually located our vehicle and drove back to the highway. We had seen a current mining operation a few miles back and we decided to backtrack and see if we could find another human being to help us get our bearings.

Dreams Dashed

The lady in the mining office was startled when we walked into the reception area. I would be too. It was 3:00 in the morning, after all, in an endless desertscape that could be easily mistaken for the surface of Mars. We assured her that we were not escaped prisoners or murderers- just inexperienced city boys looking for a ghost town.

“You’ve found Gold Acres,” she said. “You’re standing in it.” Then in one sentence she both dashed our dreams and sparked a new adventure.

“All the buildings were bulldozed a few months ago,” she told us.

“But Cortez is still standing and it’s just down the road.”

Click here for Part 2 of this story.

Related Links
Shawn Hall’s Nevada Ghost Towns


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