We’ve all heard of the California Gold Rush of 1849…but what about the Silver Strike? Although he largest silver strike in California couldn’t compare to the Comstock Lode of Nevada, the city of Calico boomed from 1881 to 1896. During it’s heyday, Calico boasted 22 saloons and 1,200 inhabitants. With about 500 mines, Calico was able to produce over $20 million in silver ore within the first 12 years of existence, but slowed to a trickle when the value of silver began to decline in the mid 1890s. Although a few hearty souls stayed around to work the (now) borate mines, Calico slowly and quietly sunk into a “ghost town” status.
Today, Calico Ghost Town is a popular tourist attraction in the middle of the Mojave Desert of Southern California, and is a part of the San Bernadino County Regional Parks system. Visitors from all over the country and world flock to the ghost town to relive that Wild Wild West we hear so much about, and to imagine what life was like back when life was harder, yet simpler at the same time.
Now that we’ve got the history of Calico Ghost Town out of the way, let me break it down a little further: there’s so much to do!
**Most points of interest are not ADA accessible, due to when Calico Ghost Town was built**
The Maggie Mine
The Maggie Mine was a heavily-worked mine in the 1880s and is the only silver mine that is still safe to venture into. Before you enter the mine, you pass through an outer exhibit and gift shop, which provide background history on the mine, it’s workers, and what you’re about to see. There are antique mining artifacts that any museum would love to have, samples of stamp mills, and stunning photographs that can’t be missed! You have to pay a small, nominal fee to enter the mine, but believe me: it’s totally worth it! You can only walk about 1,000 feet into the mine before you have to turn around, but how cool is it to be able to experience what it’s like to work in a mine!
The Maggie Mine is the only mine that is safe to enter. All other mines are extremely dangerous and should not be approached for any reason!
The Calico Odessa Railroad
The Calico Odessa Railroad was built in the 1950s and has been in operation ever since. The 8-minute ride takes visitors to see mining sites, abandoned mines and equipment, and helps bring out the inner-child in all of us. The Railroad charges a small, nominal fee, but will get you off your feet, into some shade, and put some creases in your brain.
Gold Panning Adventure
Full disclosure: I did not pan for gold on my latest venture to Calico Ghost Town, but I did when my elementary school came, as well as a trip with my mom and siblings a few years after. I can’t describe how excited I was to be able to pan for gold and come away with a few flakes in a little vial. I’m sure they’re not worth much, but I worked for those flakes! Gold panning is hard and takes a lot of patience and endurance. Bless those 49ers! Visitors can pan for gold and come away with their own little vial of Fool’s Gold, or iron pyrite.
During Calico’s heyday, numerous Chinese immigrants lived and worked around town. As was typical of the time, the Chinese lived in their own community and some of the original structures have survived. Many of the Chinese worked as cooks and waiters in the numerous restaurants, in the boarding houses as well as laundry houses. Some of them even owned their own restaurants, which wasn’t too common during those days.
After a hard day of working in the mines, the Calico inhabitants sure knew how to unwind. During it’s heyday, Calico boasted about 22 saloons! While that number might not seem like too many, compare it to the 1,200 inhabitants and you get a saloon for every 54 people. Yowza! Nowadays, only one saloon is open to the public and it doesn’t disappoint: Lil’s Saloon is open for business. Stop and get some grub or a bottle of Sarsaparilla and have a seat at the old poker table. You’ll be in great company with the likes of Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill, Calamity Jane, and other varmints hanging on the wall. Better yet, put on your headphones and listen to some good ol’ “saloon music” (read: ragtime)!
Calico Ghost Town Lookout Point
Step back in time and survey the land like it used to be done. At the top of town, you can scramble to the top of Lookout Point and take in a killer view of the Silver King Mine Ore Chute, just below the big white “CALICO” on King Mountain. Then, turn around and gasp in awe as you comprehend the solidarity the old miners faced, living and working in the middle of a barren wasteland. Beautiful in it’s own right, but dry as a bone and unforgiving. The old Silver King Mine was one of the most productive during it’s time and demonstrates the typical mining technology of the age: gravity.
Itching to pan for gold, survey the land, and step back in time? Calico Ghost Town is a fun and educational visit that will be worth your while!