October 2001 – Sweetwater, Part I – Wyoming Ghost Towns

Autumn Gold in the Sweetwater Mining District,
Part I

Look out for mine shafts

Head frame and main shaft building above one of many abandoned South Pass City area mines.

Gold exists in two forms: material and spiritual.

During Wyoming’s early years the former attracted miners westward in hopes of striking it rich. Today however, the towns these hardy folks established in that quest have receded from view. And more likely than not the gold modern visitors seek is found within the heart as it mingles with changing seasons.

Thus, fall has arrived to stir the traveler’s soul in South Pass City, Atlantic City and Miner’s Delight – the Sweetwater Mining District’s founding communities and current ghost towns. Along their gulches and ravines, once stripped of timber to warm hardback miners’ hearths, Aspens now blaze yellow against the blue September sky.

Gold still abounds along the Sweetwater. But now it’s in the landscape’s beauty and history.

At Miner’s Delight, for example, long-abandoned log cabins still rise among the trees to recall the 1868 gold strike that started everything. Farther up on nearby Peabody Ridge, as with countless Sweetwater District ridges, mine shafts dot the land with strange leaning structures whose purpose lies buried with the builders.

Miner’s Delight’s single marked grave enigmatically bears witness to these forgotten efforts. It says simply, “Annie Anderton”. Who she was or what she did apparently is unknown. Nevertheless, her presence intrigues us in a town of otherwise anonymous ghosts.

But not all is silent amid the ruins. About six miles to the southwest, South Pass City stands as a resurrected monument to boom and bust.

Heavy Traffic

Cattle drive on Highway 28, about 5 miles from the Sweetwater Mines.

Also established in 1868, the site was virtually abandoned less than five years later because district-wide Indian raids made mining almost impossible. However, many structures remained, and the state of Wyoming recently restored them. Unlike Miner’s Delight, South Pass City is alive with tourists, who pay a modest fee to visit its southeast section.

Fortunately, those preferring ghosts for free can easily view the town from the gulch rim surrounding it. Without charge as well is the city’s northwest section and the southwest rim’s two-grave cemetery. Naturally, the nearby view of Aspens against the Wind River Mountains has no price.

Similarly, about 4 miles northeast, Atlantic City is partly inhabited but, unlike South Pass City, it is not a state park. Consequently there’s no fee, and mercifully, beer is sold at the “Mercantile” or “Dredge” taverns. Both have excellent fare, but for local history the “Merc” excels with its 19th-century bar and numerous artifacts.

Atlantic City is particularly interesting because many present-day placer miners use its taverns as a base. While the 1860s boom has faded, numerous active mining claims still exist. So, if you try gold panning in nearby creeks, always watch for claim markers or check with the Bureau of Land Management to be really safe.

Generally however, the entire district is relatively unpopulated, and that’s a ghost hunter’s saving grace. In the hills above these communities derelict mining structures abound, and one or two resemble miniature abandoned towns. Always use caution though: obscured vertical shafts can swallow you whole, and horizontal ones are often unstable.

For Rent

Vacant office building along Pick Axe Road, high above South Pass City.

To access the district, your best bet is to follow state highway 28 west from Lander, Wyoming. After about 30 miles you’re on the Wind River Mountain’s spine, around 8,500 feet (2,590 m) above sea level. At this point, signs on the left direct travelers to a series of well-graded dirt roads linking Atlantic and South Pass cities.

The Miner’s Delight road is also here but unfortunately not marked. To find it and other obscure sites try accessing www.topozone.com and typing in “South Pass City”. A topographic map detailing much of the district should result. If you desire a wider view, study this web site closely for more details.

Above all, use extreme caution when exploring the district’s back country. I’ve mentioned this before, but cannot stress it enough: Abandoned mining structures are very dangerous. So, unless you too wish to become a ghost, perhaps it’s best to kick back with a brew and view the Aspens from the Merc or Dredge.

Whatever the decision, happy trails!