The town of Tumco was originally named Ogilby, as is the county road that runs past it. The actual town is accessed by BLM route 668 and is just a brief walk from the parking area at the end of this short dirt road. We were easily able to drive to the trail head in our Geo Metro using reasonable caution in rocky areas, so most any car can make it here (please note the "reasonable caution" part.This is an unmaintained road, so SLOW is the key word here.). Be sure to take a good look at the route in, as there are numerous off-road trails in the area and it is easy to mistakenly drive onto one of those on the way out, especially if you detour to the cemetery as we did. The road in is just across from Gold Rock Ranch Rd, which does have a sign, so this ghost town is fairly easy to find. There is a signed 1.5 mile loop trail through the ruins, but on the day we visited there were no printed trail guides at the trail head. A previous visitor had placed one remaining copy of the pamphlet in a sealed plastic bag with the request to "please read and leave for the next visitor", so please honor this request; apparently the brochures are no longer being replaced. We didn't find this lone guide until after we returned from our hike and chose not to read it and spoil the fun we had guessing what each ruin may have been. We might have seen the guide if we had followed the numbered posts in the correct direction, but true to our perverse sense of order, we did the trail from end to beginning!
Legend has it that gold was first discovered here by Americans when a mule went missing from a California bound wagon train in 1862. One of the members of the search party tracking the ornery runaway noticed an interesting rock and picked it up. Scanning the area to determine where the gold streaked rock had come from, the group discovered a quartz ledge rich in ore, and then another and another. Believe it or not, stories of rich ore strikes allegedly discovered by a burro or mule kicking up a rock or breaking off a rich ledge are not uncommon; I have heard many such tales over the years. There is also a tale of a track walker named Hedges discovering a gold nugget here in the early 1880's and beginning the American gold rush in this area (both Spanish and Mexican settlers had mined here previously, but on a very small and quiet scale). The original gold rush town established on this site was later renamed Hedges, which would seem to back up that particular story, but the truth usually lies somewhere in between. In all probability, both legends have an element truth to them. Either way, thousands of prospective millionaires flocked to the now booming town of Ogilby/Hedges. Estimates place the overall population near the three thousand mark, with dozens coming and going every day depending on how their luck was running.
As with most gold strikes, the "easy" gold was soon removed and the value of the ore still being mined dropped significantly. Knowing this, the Hedges mines were eventually sold to the company run by Mr. Borden (of Borden Condensed Milk fame) and his United Mine Company took over operations. The town's name was changed to Tumco, an amalgamation of the company name. The mining operation at the newly named town soon began to fail and finally ceased altogether in 1909. Sporadic attempts to revive the mining operations have taken place over the years, but the cost of retrieving the ore was too high and each new operation ultimately ended in failure. By 1942 the area mines were closed permanently. Like so many boom towns before it, Tumco's fate was sealed; a few folks would remain for a year or two but the inevitable result would be another empty town left to fade back into the ground from which it sprang only a few years before. Although Tumco didn't officially become a ghost town until 1949, it was at that point already a mere shadow of what it had been in its heyday in 1905. The laughter of children and the raucous mirth of the saloons and bordellos was doomed to give way to the eerie whistling of wind through empty buildings and the slightly uncomfortable feeling that you are not alone on your walk through the ruins before you.
On the day Joe and I visited Tumco, it was slightly overcast and nearing sunset. We had planned for some time to make the short trip north from our camp to the town site, but this visit had actually been a spontaneous decision on our part. It was late in the day and we were actually intending only to see if the road was o.k. for our tiny little car (which gets an awesome 60+ MPG, which is exactly why we bought it...) was able to make the drive in. It was, and we just sort of kept right on going when we neared the town site.
We wandered around among the ruins of this once thriving town for perhaps two hours and not once did it fail to hold our interest. There are several dump piles full of rusty cans and broken crockery, some with fancy patterns and some plain white. I couldn't help but wonder how fancy patterned china made its way to this dusty spot in what was at the time truly the middle of nowhere. Was this from a fancy bordello or restaurant trying to be upscale, or was it the one piece of civilization some poor pioneer woman clung to while trying to maintain some sense of propriety in a wide open boom town? Was it casually thrown out by a harried chef or was it wept over by a hardy woman who would somehow find a way to go on without this treasured heirloom? Did she indeed go on, or does she lie in one of those unmarked graves at the edge of town?
Many of the decaying ruins were probably houses or shops of some kind, but not much has survived in this harsh environment. There are some foundations surrounding what was originally a basement or perhaps a root cellar. One such ruin still has what was clearly an entry way and what appears to have been some kind of a chute, perhaps used for coal since firewood in this area is sparse when available at all. Other remains are barely visible in the form of an imprint from stone foundations no longer in place. Only one stacked stone structure has an upright wall remaining, and it stands like a lone sentinel on a slope slightly above where the rest of the town once flourished. There is a certain sense of defiance eminating from this relic of a bygone era, almost a sense of pride; it still stands despite all that time and nature have done to bring it down. When I think of all the sandstorms, high winds and summer monsoon rains it has withstood in the last hundred years, I'm a little bit proud of that sturdy stone and mud wall myself!
If you look carefully you will find portions of a
car door (riddled with bullet holes), a dryer from the 1940's, and numerous coils, springs and whatchamacallits used in mining and daily life throughout the years when this place hummed with life and opportunity. There is something that looks like it supported a bridge or pipeline at the edge of a large wash running between the mine and the town. What appeared to be the actual mine area is visible on the mountain on the other side of the wash, but time constraints prevented us from exploring that far on this trip.
If you are looking for a manicured and restored ghost town, then Tumco may not be for you. Although it is in the care of the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and several areas, including the cemetery and large dump area, are cordoned off to protect both visitors and ruins, this is an area where the natural processes of decay have been allowed to continue. The cyanide tanks remain on the hillside above the town and there are possibly still shafts open in the area, so keep a close eye on curous children. For that matter, keep a close eye on curious adults as well. There is much to be seen and learned here and we didn't have enough time on this visit to get to it all but that is o.k., because it gives us a good reason to return again, perhaps next winter if we come this way.
Although this whole area is fascinating, I think what I will remember the most is the overpowering feeling of loneliness I felt when visiting that nameless graveyard just outside the town site. There were dozens of people (including several children) buried there without any kind of a headstone. I find it hard to believe that there never were any, but nothing remains of them today. There is evidence that at least one other person has felt the same way I did, for small bunches of plastic flowers have been carefully placed on each of the stone cairns, presumably to show the strangers buried there that someone still cares about them. As I spent a quiet moment silently paying tribute to these nameless souls, I'm pretty sure I felt a softly whispered "Thank You" wrap around me on the cool night wind. Rest in peace, Those-who-came-before.
Until next time Friends and Fellow Travelers on the Wind, Best Wishes from Joe and I!
***If you enjoy sharing our adventures and would like to help keep us going, please subscribe to this blog and visit our store at https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/lynn-steed.html Thank You!***
Also our Etsy store is coming soon with great prices.