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Gather around the campfire for tales about Southern Arizona history — not about how the west was won, but how it was lost.
Arizona is littered with ghost towns that are remnants of the state’s mining past. For every Globe or Bisbee, there are a handful of boom towns that have been abandoned for decades. You can find these ruins hugging the highways and tucked into desert nooks across our great state.
We fashioned a road trip around a couple of these towns, which are located on an unofficial Ghost Town Trail in Cochise County. The ruins of Fairbank and Gleeson are both positioned within 20 miles of Tombstone, which isn’t technically a ghost town but has a haunted history of its own.
After looking through multiple forums and websites created by ghost town enthusiasts, we decided to visit Fairbank and Gleeson because they were relatively easy to get to and didn’t require permission from a caretaker. We filled out our ghost town voyage with other spooky activities including a haunted bar and a cave with spirits that were dying to meet us.
This voyage takes you out of the city, so we recommend stopping off for breakfast before you go.
Eat some hauntingly good food at The Cup Cafe
Hotel Congress, Tucson’s hundred-year-old hotel is home to a number of supernatural guests, including a man who is often seen peering from a second-story window, a maid who is always cleaning and a man with a top hat who struts around the lobby. Rooms 214 and 242 are also said to be haunted by hotel guests who just never left. And we can see why — with a classic Tucson atmosphere and a killer menu at the hotel’s Cup Cafe, we had a hard time leaving too. You won’t be disappointed with the signature baked eggs, a cast-iron pan of creamy Gruyere goodness. It’s filling, but not too heavy while you’re on the road …
Info: Cup Cafe / 311 E. Congress Street / Open Saturday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday, Saturday, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Head over to Fairbank and learn about the town’s history
After eating at one of the best breakfast spots in Tucson, it’s time to head southeast to the small ghost town of Fairbank, located right off of AZ Highway 82 near the San Pedro River.
Founded as a railroad town in 1882, Fairbank was home to more than 300 people in its heyday. Unlike its bigger neighbor Tombstone, Fairbank was considered a quiet place, all the way up until the town's post office closed in 1972.
In 1986 the Bureau of Land Management acquired the former town and preserved it. Today you can visit the last remaining structures of Fairbank, which include a house, restaurant and and old schoolhouse that has been transformed into museum.
With well-manicured grounds, a picnic area and hiking trail, Fairbank is an approachable ghost town to visit. Just be careful about the living residents — rattlesnakes.
Info: Fairbank / Located off Arizona State Route 82 and North Old Fairbank Road / Museum is open Friday through Sunday 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Roll through Tombstone for lunch
Tombstone has been included in several lists of Arizona’s must-see ghost towns, but we don’t consider it a ghost town because it still has a sizable population as well as a post office. But this Wild West tourist town still has a lot of history. Big Nose Kate's Saloon on the main drag used to be the site of the Grand Hotel, which dates back to 1880.
The basement floor where the gift shop now sits used to be a bar and home to the saloon’s most prominent ghost, Swamper. The hotel’s handyman spent his off-hours digging a hole from his room into one of the silver mine shafts that ran below the hotel. The restaurant has recreated his room, and you can still feel the presence of this amateur miner.
Big Nose Kate’s is a fun place to hang out and drink a Big-Ass Beer, but we love the barbecue down the street at Puny John’s.
Info: Big Nose Kate's Saloon / 417 E. Allen Street / Open daily from 10 a.m. to midnight
Visit the town of Gleeson
Escape the westerny tourist vortex and head east on Gleeson Road about 15 miles til you hit this ghost town. Unlike Fairbank with its cut lawns and fencing around buildings, this place is overgrown and wild. Originally established as the town of Turquoise in the 1890s, Gleeson transformed into a copper mining town in the early 1900s. As the need for copper increased during World War I so did the town, which grew to about 500 people. The mines were eventually closed in 1940.
While a few people still live in the area today, there are a handful of abandoned structures that lead back to a time almost forgotten. There’s the old Joe Bono’s Gleeson Saloon, a hospital, school, and a jail that’s been refurbished and turned into a museum.
Info: Gleeson / Located off West Gleeson Road and North High Lonesome Road 16 miles east of Tombstone / the Gleeson Jail museum is open the first Saturday of every month from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., or by appointment / 520-609-3549
Visit a haunted cave on the way back into town
What’s creepier than walking through an ancient cave? One of the largest dry caves in North America is located in Vail. Colossal Cave’s dark network of caverns began to form millions of years ago, and it’s been inhabited by native Arizonans for the past thousand years.
So of course you can find ghosts, including a shadowy figure of a man believed to be a cave robber looking for his lost loot. Another ghost, described as the "Lady in White," is usually seen standing around the entrance. And there's also the ghost of a Native American woman who's often found crying around the grounds.
The story goes that she accidentally fell to her death while trying to escape a bear who was chasing her. The last ghost is that of former Colossal Cave owner Frank Schmidt, who is said to hang out in the gift shop and join a tour from time to time before mysteriously disappearing. In addition to its regular tours, the mountain park is doing Halloween Howl tours right now, which include a costume contest, fortune telling and more. More information here.
Info: Colossal Cave / 16721 E. Old Spanish Trail / Open Sunday through Thursday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday and Saturday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. / 520-647-7275