On our travels back and forth between California and Arizona we usually end up on Highway 40 heading into or out of the Barstow area but sometimes, for a change of pace, we end up on Highway 15 instead. For whatever reason this time we chose the Highway 15 route. Numerous times we have seen the brown sign with white lettering informing us that Calico Ghost Town is just a few miles off the highway and, until now, have always been too focused on our next destination to stop and take a look.
Calico is situated about three miles from Barstow in Yermo, CA and an additional three miles out of downtown Yermo itself. We purposely knew nothing about its history or condition before we decided to head that way because, you know, Adventure. We thought and hoped it might be an actual old, abandoned mining-era town like Bodie, CA. We were incorrect. While it is in fact an old, historic mining town it is not abandoned or decaying and is instead a part of the San Bernardino Regional Park System and essentially a theme park giving visitors a glimpse into life as it was back in the days when silver mines were producing in the late 1800’s…and trying to sell you a bunch of touristy-type “memorabilia” that you probably do not need.
We drove up the access road and arrived at the entrance at about 8:59am, one minute before the official opening time. We were not planning on such a precise arrival but had gotten an early start that morning and that is just how the timing worked out. There were two people in the little kiosk where we normally would have been asked to pay the entrance fee but they seemed to be working on the cash register and were not able to accept money at that time. They asked how many in our party and when I answered one human and one canine they smiled and said “just go on up and have a good time.” Bonus! The entrance fee for an adult is only $8 and for a dog a mere $1 (service animals are free) but still, not having to pay $9 is better than paying. Heck, these days that’s like three gallons of gas which for the thirsty Tacoma would get us all of 50 miles down the road.
Another plaque informed us that Walter Knott of Knott’s Berry Farm fame purchased Calico in 1951 and set about having all but the five original buildings architecturally restoring to look as they did in the 1880’s.
The town sits in a relatively small canyon that cuts through a portion of the Barstow Formation dating from the Miocene epoch (19-13 Million years ago). An iconic type of rock formation called an Anticline can be found throughout the Formation. Over the edges on both sides of the main street are beautiful examples of this type of geologic formation.
The town is considered “dog friendly” in that they are allowed on the premises but there are several stores that have prominently placed signs stating no dogs allowed in that particular establishment. One of the highlights for Willow was Dorsey’s Dog House, the pet treat store named after Dorsey the mail-carrying dog with a nice lady running the place. Willow went inside, had a thorough sniff at all the different treat options before she picked out a few and we took them back to the shaded porch out front for a quick rest and snack. A large trough filled with water for your thirsty canine companions sits right there on the porch which was a great joy to my hot, black dog on this sunny, hot (mid-90’s) day.
Throughout the town are placed old pieces of machinery and tools from that era. These interesting items range from the intricacy of an old horse-drawn fire engine to the simplicity of an iron tub from the local bath house.
As we worked our way up the main thoroughfare we stopped at several of the stores to check out their wares. There are 14 shops and three restaurants trying to sell you a variety of food, drink and stuff. Besides the standard t-shirt shop and picture studio where you can get a photo of yourself in old-time garb there was also a leather goods store, a candy store, a Basket & Candle Shop, rock shop, pottery shop, woodworking shop and a bar with a nice selection of cold adult beverages. Interspersed in between some of these active retail stores were areas set aside to show a glimpse into life as it was back when the town was in full swing. One was a barbershop scene with several old barber chairs with creepy mannequins posing as proprietor and customer. We found several cute little birds had taken up residence in the room and were just hanging out overseeing their domain.
Next to the barbershop was an approximation of a cell that had no sign indicating its purpose but since it sits outside we assume it would have been used as a drunk tank/public shaming cell. For our purposes it came in handy for a quick picture of my (not really a) “bad dog.”
Towards the top of the main street to the left and over a small footbridge sits the recreation of the old school house and beyond that is a sign asking you to go no further as everything beyond the sign is private property and residences. The Chrysler PT Cruiser parked in front of the seemingly old cabin right past the sign was glaringly out-of-place. On the right hand side of the street are the remains of an old hotel built into the side of the mountain as well as a short rock stairway up to an observation area where a good vista back down across the whole town and the narrow-gauge railroad can be had.
It was hot enough by now that we decided to pay the small $3 fee to take the self-guided walking tour into the old Maggie Mine. Once my eyes had adjusted to the relatively dark interior we spent a good 30 minutes slowly strolling through the nice and cool mine and enjoying the eight interesting displays showing several different styles of mining and living accommodations of that era. Walking out the back of the mine up metal steps we were greeted by a Full-height gated turnstile which was a new experience for Willow. I needed to gently and calmly coax her into one of the small compartments, slowly start the outward rotation while keeping her from backing out of it all while trying to fit into my own compartment behind her. It was slow, ungainly, stressful and yet comical. Luckily no one was behind us so we didn’t have to hurry the process. I’m sure next time we encounter a turnstile like that things will go a bit more smoothly.
Heading back down the main street on our way out we decided to stop into one of the establishments serving a variety of cold beverages and sit out on the covered back porch overlooking the railway depot area. I enjoyed a frosty Death Valley Pale Ale on tap while my girl had another refreshing splash of water She’s a cheap date.
We should have taken some more pictures for you but when we first arrived and saw tour buses unloading gouts of tourists we knew right then and there that this was more of a theme park and not that worthy (to us) of a thorough pictorial documentation. Plus we wanted to get through the place before it got too hot and the crowds grew.
From what we overheard while strolling around it seemed that, besides the tour bus groups, the majority of the people here were families stopping for a quick break on their long drives between the Las Vegas and Los Angeles metro areas. Some pluses going for it is its general dog-friendly policy, family-friendly atmosphere, food and drink availability as well as an OHV area if you are into that sort of noisy, dirty fun. For the camping and RV crowd there are 265 camping sites with accommodations for RV’s with full and partial hook-ups as well as group tent camping sites. The campgrounds have hot showers, restrooms, grills and fire rings and a couple of dump stations. If you are interested in visiting this attraction more details can be found on its official webpage at http://cms.sbcounty.gov/parks/Parks/CalicoGhostTown.aspx