Johnson Canyon Movie Set – A Spooky Ghost Town – Happy Halloween!

October 2017 – We never know what we’ll see when we poke our head out of our trailer in the boondocks at night, especially near a ghost town out west. Around the end of October, things can get a little spooky!

Happy Halloween witch flies over the moon on a broomstick-min

Who’s that flying by?
(Our friend Bob spotted her – thank you!)

We were camping near Kanab, Utah, a place that was once known as “Little Hollywood” because so many western movies were shot there. Quite a few movie sets still remain in the area, and we explored the Johnson Canyon movie set.

Johnson Canyon movie set ghost town Kanab Utah-min

Visiting the movie set at Johnson Canyon made for a fun little adventure.

Johnson Canyon movie set ghost town Kanab UT-min

Episodes of the TV show Gunsmoke were shot on this set!

Camermen and casts from TV’s Gunsmoke and many other TV shows worked on this set for years. It’s hard to imagine the commotion and excitement of those glamorous days. Now the buildings are falling apart.

Movie set ghost town Johnson Canyon Kanab Utah-min


Inside movie set ghost town Johnson Canyon Kanab Utah-min


Many of the buildings have been removed since its heyday as a movie set, and the few that remain are very dilapidated.

Johnson Canyon movie set ghost town Kanab Utah-min


Stormy skies ghost town at Johnson Canyon movie set Kanab Utah-min

Stormy skies and fast moving clouds added to the mysterious air of this abandoned ghost town.

What’s odd about this place is that even though it was never a real town, it is very much a ghost town today. A rusty old stove stands forlorn among the tall grasses and fallen walls lie against a brick chimney.

Johnson Canyon movie set ghost town Kanab Utah-min

Some scenes were shot inside, so there’s an old stove from the movie days rusting away in a field.

Chimney at Johnson Canyon movie set ghost town in Kanab Utah-min

Dilapidated walls lean against a lone brick chimney.

During our stay in the area, the nights were clear and crisp, and the full moon faded away. The bright stars of the Milky Way glittered in the sky all night long.

One night Mark announced that he was going to take his camera out to the movie set ghost town and see if he could get some cool and spooky pics. Sure enough, while I was snuggled under the blankets in the wee hours of the morning, he got some real winners!

Milky Way over Johnson Canyon movie set ghost town Kanab Utah-min

Mark braved the very cold night air to experience the ghouls and goblins of this ghost town under the stars.

Milky Way over Johnson Canyon movie set ghost town Kanab Utah-min

If the ghost town was alluring by day, it was even more so by night.

Using a small flashlight to “light paint” the buildings in the dark and a big one so he could get from building to building without tripping in the pitch dark, he captured the ghost town buildings at their most mysterious!

Ghost town at night Johnson Canyon movie set Kanab Utah-min

Haunted house.

Stars over ghost town Johnson Canyon movie set Kanab Utah-min

Very mysterious!

It was cold, and a light wind raised the hair on the back of his neck. Coyotes yelped in the distance. As he looked around, he saw pairs of eyes staring at him in the dark. A twig snapped in a tree next to him and he jumped!

Stars over ghost town at Johnson Canyon movie set near Kanab Utah-min


Despite being a little unnerved, Mark’s camera captured one great image after another. The photo above won him “Photo of the Day” at Steve’s Digicam today! Check it out here!!

Milky Way over old cabin Johnson Canyon Utah-8

What ghouls and goblins are living there?

Milky Way over ghost town Johnson Canyon Kanab Utah-min

This is a spooky place at night!

It turned out the eyes belonged to cows that were milling around, but he still got the creeps. When he burst in the trailer door a few hours later, a rush of cold air followed him. He was grinning, but his teeth were chattering too. It’s scary out there!!

Fifth Wheel trailer RV under the milky way black and white-min

Happy Halloween!!

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Terlingua, Texas – A Living Ghost Town in Big Bend

March, 2015 – After many days of hiking and photography during our visit to Big Bend National Park in Texas, we took a wonderful excursion to the little town of Terlingua, just few miles west on Route 170 outside the west end of the park.

This is a historical mining ghost town that has been brought back to life with a hippie vibe. When we arrived we saw a group of folks —all skeletons — having a party in a big ol’ bus heading for Miami Beach.

Terlingua skeletons in a bus

A Hippie Bus of skeletons heads for Miami Beach from the Great Beyond…

As we drove further into town, we looked over and saw the masts of a ship. What?? We backed up and looked again. Yup! Apparently someone was dreaming of the sea when they built their home in Terlingua!

Passing Wind ship in Terlingua Texas in Big Bend

Wait, is that a ship?! Yes, it is — and it’s Passing Wind.

The town has its origins in the 1880’s when cinnabar was discovered. Cinnabar, we found out, is not a candy bar version of the cinnabun. It’s a metal from which mercury is extracted. The Chisos Mining Company set up shop shortly after the discovery, and immigrant miners from Mexico soon began working the mine. We found it fascinating to wander around the old cemetery. All of the deceased had been Mexicans, it seems, and the style of the cemetery was distinctly Mexican.

Terlingua Ghost Town Cemetery in Texas

Terlingua has a wonderful ghost town cemetery.

Terlingua Texas ghost town cemetery Big Bend Texas

The style of the graves was distinctly Mexican.

There are all kinds of headstones and graves in the cemetery. Many graves are marked with a simple wooden cross. But some are quite elaborate. Many of them have a small stone shrine that shelters trinkets of various kinds.

Shrine in Terlingua Ghost Town Cemetery Big Bend Texas

A shrine in the ghost town cemetery

We heard that the Mexican “Day of the Dead” celebration (the day after Halloween) is quite an event here in the Terlingua Ghost Town Cemetery!

Skull in a cemetery shrine

I would love to see the Day of the Dead celebration here!

Nearby there are ruins of the homes the miners lived in. We felt like explorers as we prowled around some of the different buildings. There are lots and lots of buildings, and they are in various stages of decline.

Ruins in Terlingua Ghost Town Texas

Some of the ruins are in better shape than others, but all make great photo ops!

None of them have windows or doorways that are intact, but there were some pretty views from where the buildings were situated.

Looking out a ruined doorway in Terlingua Texas

The homes might have been small but they had great views.

Inside a ruin in ghost town Terlingua Big Bend Texas

What stories could these walls tell?

The Chisos mine was at its heyday in the early part of the last century, because Mercury was in high demand during WWI. However, even though there were hopes that there would be another boom cycle for mercury during WWII, it never materialized. So in 1946 the mine was abandoned.

Rusty car and old building in Terlingua

Remnants of bygone times.

Today, people have moved back in and started making use of the ruins, breathing life back into them and incorporating the ruins into their homes and businesses.

Mining ruins incorporated into modern houses in Terlingua Texas

New homes and business rise up among the ruins.

There is a sense of history all around town.

Old stone building Terlingua Texas

The old movie theater is now a restaurant and bar with the rusting relic of an antique car out front.

Rusty antique car and old theater building in Terlingua

The movie theater was called the “Chisos Theater” in the 30’s. Now it is a restaurant and bar.

Nearby is the jail, with antique handcuffs hanging from the bars!!

Antique handcuffs in Terlingua Texas

Tools to keep the town tame!

This is a town that is just a little offbeat, and a local artist has created some intriguing metal sculptures. One is a very large flying bug!

Flying bug in Terlingua Texas


There are several places to get a bite to eat sitting outside on a deck. The Boathouse looked like an intriguing place but wasn’t open…

Boathouse in Terlingua Texas

Next time…

But a little B&B, called La Posada, had wonderful Mexican food and four rooms to rent. A pair of long distance cyclists were staying there, and they were poring over maps.

This seemed to be the place the locals liked to come and hang out in the mornings, and we met a man in his 80’s who walked 3 miles each way from his home to get a coffee and chat with his friends here every morning! He wore a crisply pressed shirt and jeans with a big cowboy belt buckle and cowboy hat, and he said he just loved living in Terlingua.

La Posada Milagro cafe in Terlingua Texas

La Posada is a cute place for a meal or an overnight, and it’s where the locals hang out over coffee.

If you are heading to Big Bend, and you’ve gotten your fill of nature in the National Park, a side trip to Terlingua can make for a really fun change of pace!

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Nevada City, MT – Rebuilding History in a Vanished Ghost Town

Nevada City, Montana

Nevada City, Montana

Early August, 2012 – Just a mile and a half from Virginia City, Montana, lies a similar gold rush ghost town: Nevada City. Curious about Montana’s gold mining history, we rode our bikes over to Nevada City to have a look. The difference between Virginia City and Nevada City is that Virginia City’s layout and historic buildings are essentially the same as they were in the 1860’s. In contrast, Nevada City got dredged out of existence long ago by massive machines that floated downriver and sifted through the riverbed, panning for gold on a colossal scale.

Gold digging dredge Nevada City, MT

Gold digging dredge with 62 buckets for river mud

A dredge similar to the ones used in Alder Gulch — the river that offered up Montana gold to the prospectors of the 1860’s — is one of the first things we saw upon arriving in Nevada City. The way these dredges worked is that as they floated downstream, their conveyor of buckets dug up the riverbed and passed it through “trommels” or enormous sieves that sifted out the rocks and the gold.

Nevada City, MT, row houses

Nevada City, Montana

The refuse was dumped behind the dredge, leaving “tailings” that scarred the landscape forever. Looking at the rusting, hulking mass in the grass today, it is hard to imagine the groaning and creaking and effort put out by this machine as it slowly chewed through the riverbed floor, taking out whole towns in its path, while hardworking men oversaw the operation and maintenance of all its mechanical parts. What a voracious beast!

Nevada City, MT Barber

Barber shop

Nevada City, MT Mercantile

The Mercantile




Nearby Virginia City’s existence today is due largely to the preservation efforts of Charles and Sue Bovey who gradually bought the city’s buildings in the 1940’s. This wasn’t a new hobby for them. They had begun collecting old buildings in Great Falls, Montana, but were eventually asked to move their collection.

Nevada City, MT, Front Porch

A front porch…with wash tubs

Many of their buildings wound up in the “new” Nevada City which they re-assembled to be a recreation of the town that once stood there. We’ve met collectors of Pepsi memorabilia and Pez candies, things that can be housed in a bedroom. But collecting historic buildings was a new one for us!

Nevada City, Mt Boots and Shoes Building

Small buildings in those days…!

These homes aren’t very big, however. We paced out the footprints of several houses and found they were often as small as 12′ x 18′ or so, and the doorways were short, even by my standards!

Nevada City, MT Schoolhouse

Montana’s oldest standing one-room schoolhouse — with a teacher’s apartment out back

Over the years Nevada City has grown to become a repository for old buildings from all over Montana, so it is now a large collection of structures from many eras and in all stages of disintegration. The building I liked most was the little schoolhouse. It was built and used in nearby Twin Bridges and was set up with desks for about 20 tightly packed students (two to a desk). More intriguing than the 15′ x 15′ classroom was the tiny teacher’s apartment out back. It was a single room, about 12′ x 12′, with enough room for a wood stove, a wee table and chair by a single window and a twin bed.

Nevada City, Montana Classroom

The teacher’s apartment is through the back door of the classroom.

Our fifth wheel trailer has more than twice as much square footage! Not to mention hot and cold running water, shower, flush toilet, climate control and modern appliances that those early Montana teachers couldn’t even conceive of. How did they ever make it through those vicious Montana winters in that tiny space?

Nevada City, MT Firehouse

The old firehouse

The folks that ventured out west in those days were very hardy souls. Eking out a living in a tiny cabin in a region that can be buried by snow from as early as September to as late as May seems challenging enough, but many of the miners walked to the Montana gold fields from distant places like Salt Lake City and Denver.

In this day and age of pedometers, where we are urged to get off the couch and take at least 10,000 steps a day — yet still rush to grab the parking spot closest to the supermarket door — it is impossible to imagine walking hundreds of miles to apply for a job.

Nevada City, MT, Victorian House

More upscale living at this address…

A lot of the scenery and stories and buildings of Nevada City and Virginia City made us think of favorite western movies, especially those with Clint Eastwood riding into town on a horse to save the good townspeople from some nasty group of scoundrels. But he always arrived on horseback! He’d slip off the beast with the ease and confidence of a seasoned horseman. No doubt the folks coming to Montana were seasoned horsemen, but owning a horse wasn’t in everyone’s budget. If you wanted to get there to be part of the gold mining action, you walked.


Nevada City, MT Wagon Shop

The “Wagon Shop” used to be the Yellowstone Dining Lodge

Another intriguing building was a cavernous barn-like structure that was loaded to the gills with wagons of every description. From carriages suitable for Cinderella to horse-drawn “buses” that could carry 30 people, to simple hay wagons, every conceivable rolling contraption that could be towed by a horse is in that barn. It turned out that the building itself was originally the dining hall at Yellowstone National Park. The Park Service replaced all the log buildings at the canyon with more modern structures in 1959, so Charles Bovey disassembled it and brought it to his new Nevada City.

Nevada City, MT, Wagons

Everything you need to build or repair a wagon is in this shop!

As we walked through the “town” we could hear the sounds of a player piano and made a bee-line to a building filled with historic automated music making gear of all kinds. One of the player pianos was acting up, and a technician was deep in the bowels of the instrument troubleshooting the problem. We got the sense the museum wasn’t really open, so we left. Unfortunately, I think we missed out on one of the prize displays in Nevada City. Oh well — good reason to go back someday!!

Happily saturated with Montana gold mining history, we made our way from Nevada City to Ennis, Montana, and Earthquake Lake.



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Virginia City, MT – Living History in a Ghost Town

Virginia City, Montana, Court House

Virginia City Court House lit up at night.

Early August, 2012 – The history of Dillon, Montana, a town built on a railroad spur that supplied Montana’s gold camps, intrigued us, but we found the heart of Montana’s history lies in the ghost town of Virginia City.

Hitchhiker Fifth Wheel Trailer

Special effects on our buggy!

We had always thought that the 1850’s gold rush was all about California, but we learned that Montana played its part too, and Virginia City was at the center of it.


Virginia City, Montana, tours in a firetruck

Take a tour in a fire truck

Virginia City was also the spot where Mark took a lot of the photography reading he had been doing and began applying it.  Suddenly some very interesting special effects started emerging from his camera.  What a perfect place to try out all these techniques.

Virginia City, Montana, antique car

History everywhere

Nowadays Virginia City is a tourist town, and you can take a tour around town in a fire truck, a horse drawn carriage or an open-air, narrow gauge rail car.

Virginia City, Montana, narrow guage railroad for tours

Tours are offered on open-air railcars too


Virginia City, Montana, narrow guage rail line

A bumpy ride…

Just 132 full-time residents were living here at the time of the last census, and catering to tourists is a full-time job they all do very well.

Virginia City, Montana, Brewery building

The Brewery was easy to find

Back in the spring of 1863, however, there was nothing out here when nearby Alder Creek turned up some gold in its riverbed.  Suddenly the rush was on.


Virginia City, Montana, historic buildings

By that fall 10,000 people were scattered in the surrounding hills in a series of camps along the river’s edge in an area dubbed “Fourteen Mile City.”  Most were gold miners from California and 30% or so were Chinese.

Virginia City, Montana, historic buildings

Within a year, the Territory of Montana was carved out of the Territory of Idaho, and soon Virginia City was the capitol of Montana and its in-town population swelled to 10,000.  In the next 25 years $90 million of gold (in 1880’s dollars) was removed.

Virginia City, Montana, historic buildings

Gold was the one thing on everyone’s mind in those days, and the currency around town was gold dust valued at $16 to $18 an ounce.  What a way to pay for a beer!

Virginia City, Montana, wooden trim on building tops

Trim detail on the wooden awnings

Virginia City, Montana, ghost town

It’s a ghost town



Life was a little raucous, I suspect.  One fellow wrote in his diary upon his arrival in Virginia City in 1865:  “There was nothing visible to remind a person in the slightest degree that it was Sunday. Every store, saloon, and dancing hall was in full blast.”

Virginia City, Montana, historic wooden sidewalks

Wooden sidewalks

There are now 227 buildings in Virginia City, of which about 100 are historic. We rode our bikes around town and strolled down narrow alleys, enjoying the quirky sights of a bygone era.

Virginia City, Montana, Montana Post newspaper building

The Montana Post was the first newspaper

Virginia City is known for having one of the best collections of mid-nineteenth century commercial buildings, and of course Mark found the old Brewery right away.  This place still sells beer, but it wasn’t open at the moment.

Virginia City, Montana, army barracks converted to house workers

Army barracks buildings were dressed up to house the tourist workers

The Montana Post was the new capitol’s newspaper in the 1860’s, and its headquarters still stand today.  Rows of small homes line the back streets along the creek, and the wooden sidewalks with their wooden awnings evoke images of women in long dresses.

Virginia City, Montana, antique gas pumps

Oddly, if you peek in the open windows and doorways, there are still beds with moldy mattresses. We were told by one Virginia City worker that tourism workers used to live in these homes until fairly recently, and that one row of buildings used to be army barracks that were brought in as housing for the tourism workers.  He told us the barracks were given a false old-fashioned western-style front to fit the town’s decor.

Virginia City, Montana, historic building

Mark gets all kinds of special effects out of his camera

This surprised us, because so many of the town’s buildings are authentic and original to this spot.  However, Virginia City has an unusual history.  After its surge in the 1860’s — in 1866 it was the first Montana town to get a telegraph and that same year became the first Montana town to get a schoolhouse — the pursuit of gold soon took most of the townspeople away to better prospects.  There was a huge gold strike at Lost Chance Gulch, which later became Helena, and it lured most gold miners away.

Virginia City, Montana, commercial building

Virginia City has a great collection of commercial buildings

Although Virginia City became home to the administrative headquarters for Yellowstone when it was designated as America’s first National Park in 1872, and was also a favored staging area for folks getting outfitted for expeditions into Yellowstone, the vaulted title of State Capitol eventually went to Helena where it still remains.  By 1875 Virginia City’s population had dwindled to 800 resident, leaving many of its 1200 buildings vacant.

Virginia City, Montana, historic building

History sags a bit sometimes

But the remains of these empty buildings are fascinating today, as they tell the story of the raw enthusiasm, energy and hopes that filled the American west during its years of greatest expansion.  Everyone was in a hurry to get rich.  The buildings were thrown together to replace the tents that first housed the miners, and there was little care about the impact of mining on the environment.

Virginia City, Montana, artist's building

Huge pressurized water jets scoured the hills of everything, laying the rock and its gold bare.  Enormous dredges floated downstream, chewing up everything in their path, including towns.

Virginia City, Montana, ghost town

Virginia City was spared this fate because it doesn’t sit directly on a gold vein, but nearby Nevada City and many others were swallowed up by the dredges.

Virginia City, Montana, ghost town

Mark gets some ghostly images in this ghost town

By the 1940’s nothing was happening in Virginia City, and Charles and Sue Bovey began buying the town’s buildings with an eye towards preservation and tourism.  Virginia City already attracted a lot of curiosity seekers, and by bringing in and housing workers to run the old time shops and bars and dance hall, the Boveys created a town of living history for tourists.

Virginia City was declared a National Landmark in 1961 and soon after was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  After Charles Bovey’s death the state of Montana began buying his buildings, and today Virginia City is a state operation.

Just a few miles down the road lies Nevada City, a slightly different type of historic community, and during our stay in Virginia City we took a day trip over there to check it out.

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