There was a time in the North American West when ranchers, coal miners, and gold prospectors played cards and sipped whiskey in boomtown saloons, fueled by the thrill of a good haul. Then, one by one, the cattle routes were paved over, the mines dried up, and the boomtowns became ghost towns full of skeletal buildings and, according to some accounts, actual ghosts.
Some drinking and dining institutions have stood the test of time while their towns’ residents have mostly vanished. Take the bakeries of Pie Town, New Mexico, population 118. They have offered the area’s namesake pies to travelers since the 1920s, though their clientele has changed from cowboys to truckers, backpackers, and other travelers.
But if ghosts are what you’re after, deserted towns host their fair share of restless spirits. At Mine Shaft Tavern in Madrid, New Mexico, ghosts are said to visit regularly in response to the town’s role in providing the coal used for the Manhattan Project.
New eateries have also popped up to inject life into these forgotten boomtowns while honoring their histories. In Sonora, California, once a site of the California gold rush, Legends Books, Antiques, & Soda Fountain turned old mine shafts and tunnels into a cafe and bookstore that makes a mean root beer float. Sure, it may not be a place to celebrate striking gold, but it remains an oasis in the vast, dry desert.