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Chloride; Arizona's living ghost town

Despite its ghost town status, Chloride, Arizona survives by its wits and resourcefulness. Signage along US Highway 93 draws motorists into town.
Despite its ghost town status, Chloride, Arizona survives by its wits and resourcefulness. Signage along US Highway 93 draws motorists into town.
Kenneth Brantingham

Considered a ghost town, Chloride still shows up on most road maps of Arizona. Reports of its demise are greatly exaggerated. The town is very much alive with a population of 300 spirited souls with a tenacity for survival as tough as the mineral ore once mined out of the nearby Cerbat Mountains. As desert hobbles go, Chloride is also as eccentric as they come.

The town of Chloride, Arizona is home to a burgeoning artist colony.
Kenneth Brantingham

Providentially situated between Kingman and Hoover Dam, Chloride is just four miles off US Highway 93; close enough to warrant further investigation. About 20,000 weary travelers make this trek each year, many undoubtedly out of shear curiosity. Who can pass up the peculiar highway sign with pointed arrow, waving flags, and multi-colored lettering? Indications are, this is not your typical ghost town.

For the moment, forego the mining history, old jail house, saloon, false fronted buildings, and just drive the streets. This is a town that wastes nothing durable or past its prime like an aged tea pot. Why not take it outside and place it in the front yard or hang it from a tree? That old rusty cheese grater; don't throw it out, give it a second life as a wind chime. Motorcycle frames, gas tanks, wagon wheels, stoves, chairs, signage, pots & pans, engine parts, baking tins, rocks, antique kettles, and old bottles transform into heaps of improvised art.

It's called yard art or lawn art. Discarded metal house ware, cleverly and thoughtfully displayed in the front yard. It's when the trashing of a watering can is averted by the instantaneous conversion to artwork. Piles and piles of yard art on street corners, in empty lots, and down alley ways. The epicenter being about 3rd Street and Payroll Avenue with Shady Ladies Antiques located mid-block. The business is indistinguishable from the other residents on the block since everyone has amassed an equal amount of ornamental objects in the front yard.

There's more to the town of Chloride than yard art. Why is it considered a ghost town? As with many mining camps there's boom and bust. During the boom years, between about 1900 and 1920, the population shot to over 2,000 people with 75 working mines in the vicinity. The Butterfield Stage stopped here as did the Santa Fe Railroad. The mining of minerals such as gold, silver, zinc, and copper drove the economy. A chemical compound called silver chloride was also mined here. The term chloride attached as the town's name. Silver chloride has a number of industrial uses.

The mines that once provided a living for so many started to close down for one reason or another, mostly because they became unprofitable. By World War II, the town's population had significantly decreased. But the town never gave up the ghost.

Tourism has played a huge part in the resurgence of Chloride. An active citizenry keeps things lively with mock gunfights, parades, car shows, and a yard sale that encompasses the entire town held in May and October.

On any lazy day, there's still plenty to do in Chloride. Grab a bite at the Yesterday's Restaurant or pickup a map and see the sights. Just about everything in town is historic including the post office which has been in operation for over 150 years. See false fronted buildings, the old jail, the historic gas station, and train depot. The miner's cemetery shouldn't be missed. It's located on the outskirts of town on Patterson Road.

If time permits and if the car is holding up, go see the murals by painter Roy Purcell. Stay on Tennessee Avenue and head straight for the hills. Travel slow and try not to bottom out the car. Just when you're regretting making the 1.3 mile trek you'll see large painted boulders. The story is told that Roy Purcell was living in the hills with hippie friends back in 1966 when he painted these murals. The images are vividly colored and mostly surreal though one rock depicts a mining community.

At minimum, Chloride has services for the thirsty traveler. It's best to allot some time and get to know this living ghost town. Almost weekly there's an event somewhere in town, especially on Saturdays with the mock gunfights at high noon. But like many small desert towns, Chloride can be deathly still under a hot sun. But there is more than a faint pulse of life here. Count the art works on the street and check out the calendar of events online. Chloride is a picture of resilience.

Chloride websites:
www.chlorideaz.com
http://chloridearizona.info

Purcell Galleries
24 Tubac Road
Tubac, AZ 85646Telephone: 520-398-1600
www.purcellgalleries.com