Located just a short drive from the abandoned (and almost disappeared) town of Santa Claus, Chloride seems to resemble any kitschy Wild West village turned tourist trap. However, if you look a little deeper, you’ll find something that makes this ghost town stand out: a wonderfully unusual collection of junk art and a display of giant murals!
The city is an old silver mining camp in Mohave County and the oldest continuously inhabited mining town in the state.
Scientifically, chloride is an ion used to desalinate seawater into drinking water, but already this fact is ironic, because the Arizona town of the same name is incredibly dry!
It all began during the 1840s, when prospectors began to explore the area for any sign of precious minerals. In the early 1860s, they stumbled upon several rich silver veins on a site they called Silver Hill.
The mining camp of Chloride was founded around 1862, but despite the vast riches of the area, it grew slowly due to the hostile Hualapai Indians. In the late 1860s, the U.S. Army began to subdue the Hualapai and by the early 1870s, a treaty was signed with the Indians, clearing the path for extensive mining.
Chloride was once home to about 75 mines and 5,000 residents. The town has been served by both stage coaches and trains during its colorful history and its post office, also established in 1862, is the oldest continuously operating post office in the state of Arizona.
In the area the local miners excavated minerals like silver, gold, and turquoise for over six decades, until in the late 1920s when the town was burnt to the ground in its (near) entirety. By 1944, the cost of materials and labor had increased to such a degree, it became too expensive to extract the precious minerals from the nearby hills. Thus, by the 1940s, it had practically become a ghost town.
But, unlike most ghost towns that are forgotten until they are totally claimed by nature, Chloride has revived itself from near death by promoting tourism. Over the last decade Chloride’s residents have banded together to pull the town out of “ghost town” status to evolve into a tourist destination and a snow-bird haven. The goal of the residents is to preserve the past while allowing the town to live on in the future. Though it is often, still today, called a ghost town, its year-round population is about 300, but peaks during the winter months at closer to 400. There are still a few mines in operation today, but Chloride looks elsewhere for prosperity.
With new attractions like mock gunfights, Arizona’s oldest post office, and “The World’s Only All-Female Gun Fighting Troupe”, Chloride is an incredible chance to walk through an original Wild West town. The Chloride Historical Society maintains several old buildings including the Old Jail, the Jim Fritz Museum, the old train station and the Playhouse. In addition, Chloride’s Volunteer Fire Department, the oldest in Arizona, proudly displays its 1939 Ford Fire Engine to visitors.
The quaint town is filled with gift shops offering handmade art, crafts, and jewelry, attacting some 20,000 tourists from all over the world every year.
Yet, despite this, the two most unique characteristics of Chloride often go unnoticed: its bizarre junk art can easily be seen along the roadside of the non-historic part of town. Drivers can admire a flamingo made of a gas tank, but also a tin man with a blue hat, or a junk tree with rusty items hanging from the branches. The graves in the town cemetery are even topped with old telephones. In fact, of the 20 currently-inhabited residences of Chloride, each of them features some display of junk art. One house, for example, features an elaborate bottle tree and another displays a metallic spider next to a caterpillar made of bowling balls.
Harder to reach (yet equally worth a visit) are the Murals. A 1.3-mile, 4-wheel-drive-only road past abandoned mines and ancient Native American petroglyphs will take you up the hill until the murals of Roy Purcell, who, in 1966, was a local prospector with some extra time on his hands. Not yet showing the signs of weathering, Purcell’s “The Journey” covers about 18,5 square meters of cliffside granite and is dense in symbolism, featuring a yin yang, a giant red snake spanning multiple rocks, and a fertility goddess.
Roy Purcell is well recognized throughout the Southwest, his artwork can be found in collections of such major international corporations as Standard Oil Company (AMOCO), Dow Chemical, and The Royal Bank of Canada. He is represented in the collections of many well known figures including the actors Clint Eastwood and Dale Robertson. His latest work “Portraits of Nature” is Roy’s vision of the Mojave Desert, which he captures in a collection of his watercolors of birds, animals, wildflowers, and desert landscapes bound into a 200 page book.
To get to Chloride, travel northwest on US 93 for approximately 20 miles from Kingman, Arizona. The turnoff to Chloride is well-marked between mile markers 52 and 53, then east three miles on a paved road.
Images from web