Ghost Towns: Exploring history with imagination

Story by Emmy Gyori

Photos by Rachelle Belle

Abandoned, creepy, full of hidden nooks and crannies- Ghost Towns provide a fun day of exploration, history and imagination. Here are three of some of the most popular California ghost town destinations within day-long  driving distance from Chapman University.


It was founded in 1881 as a mining town during California’s famed silver strike. Miners in the San Bernardino County region named it for the calico color of the surrounding mountains. At its peak, Calico had 3,500 residents and some 500 mines. Buthe the miners packed up and moved on as silver lost its value after a decade, and by 1907 the site was completely abandoned.

 But the ‘Calico Ghost Town’ came to be in the 1950s when Walter Knott (founder of Knott’s Berry Farm with his wife Cordelia) purchased the five remaining buildings and designed them to look exactly like they did in the 1880s. He later donated the town to San Bernardino County and it’s registered as a California Historical Landmark, so it operates a little differently than other ghost towns. There’s an entrance fee to get in, but restaurants, mining tours, a railroad ride and even gold panning await.

 “It’s a gorgeous pit stop in the San Bernardino Valley and perfect for the road trip from Chapman on the way to Vegas,” said junior English major Mark Luburic, “it feels preserved in time. They also have an RV park people can stay at.”

Salton Sea

The Salton Sea, created in the desert through flooding of the Colorado River irrigation canals in 1905, is the largest lake in the state of California. It was a huge tourist draw in the 1960s and was billed as the “desert Lake Tahoe” for tourists. It was the epitome of glamour- movie stars, yacht clubs, and marinas. But toxic levels of salt and algae deadly to sea life took over in the 1980s. Fish carcasses by the thousands began lining the shores (enough to send people packing.) About two and a half hours outside of Orange, past Palm Springs, tourists can still find of ghost town of buildings remaining.

“it’s technically abandoned, but there are still people living their illegally,” said senior documentary student Johnny Wilcox, “who claim they’ve been there since the 1960’s- it really adds to the eerie feeling of the whole place.”

A common mistake happens to tourists when they realize the sand they’ve been walking on isn’t sand at all… but tiny crushed fish bones.

Sunken City

Want the experience of a really difficult place to find? This one is for you. Located in San Pedro, the home of the Los Angeles port, is Sunken ‘City’. It’s the remains of a cliff of homes that slipped into the sea in the 1920s, it’s technically closed to the public and fenced off. Even so, it finds an average of a hundred visitors on a popular day. Its ruins are a favorite of artists, and the place is covered with street graffiti art. There are no tour guides or a form of guidance, but “it’s a place that you can easily explore on your own,” says Luburic, “that being said, it’s a hike so I’d recommend wearing tennis shoes.”

A gorgeous cliff-side with views from Hollywood to Catalina and a popular graffiti spot, there’s plenty to see here and attracts all walks of life. 

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