Vulture City, Arizona Still Gives Us a Unique Glimpse Into the Wild West

Samantha Franco
Photo Credit: Jeff Greenberg / Universal Images Group / Getty Images and Tony the Marine / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Vulture City was once a prosperous, bustling city located in the Arizona desert. The Vulture Mine was the basis of the city, providing wealth and employment to the residents of the city built around it. The mine’s closure ultimately led the city to become the abandoned ghost town it is now.

Finding the gold mine

The opening of Vulture Mine
The entrance to Vulture Mine. (Photo Credit: moominsean / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Entrance to Vulture Mine
Pictured is the entrance to the gold mine shaft. (Photo Credit: Tony the Marine / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)
The entrance of Vulture Mine
Pictured is the inside of the entrance of the gold mine shaft, opening down into the mine itself. (Photo Credit: Tony the Marine / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

In 1863, Henry Wickenburg discovered a quartz outcropping containing gold in the Arizona desert. A California gold rush prospector, he quickly established a mine in the area. Located in the Sonoran Desert, the site was ripe for mining and it ultimately became the largest producing gold mine in Arizona. It didn’t take long for a city to be established surrounding the mine.

Vulture City is built around the mine

The assay office at Vulture City
The assay office, which still stands, used to be one of the main buildings in the now abandoned Vulture City. (Photo Credit: Tony the Marine / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)
The Gate house at Vulture City
The gate house is one of the still-standing structures located at the now abandoned Vulture City (Photo Credit: Tony the Marine / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)
Miners residence in Vulture City
Pictured is one of the miners’ quarters from when the Vulture Mine was still operational. (Photo Credit: Tony the Marine / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)
The hanging tree at Vulture City
The hanging tree is said to be the place where 18 men met their fate after the theft of gold ores. (Photo Credit: Tony the Marine / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

Vulture City became home to several thousand people, with estimates around 5,000 residents.

The city had the amenities you would expect of a Wild West town. It had a brothel, a post office, a mess hall, and several saloons for workers to wet their whistles. Of course, the city was also home to an array office, which is where they would assess the quality of the gold and other minerals they were digging up from the mine.

The mine is said to have produced 340,000 ounces of gold and 260,000 ounces of silver during its operational years. Such wealth allowed for the ongoing expansion of the area and is credited with founding the town of Wickenburg just 14 miles away, named after the man who began it all.

The war effort halts all mining

The wood structure around the Vulture Mine
The wooden structure used to operate the mine still stands around the abandoned Vulture Gold Mine in Arizona. (Photo Credit: Andwhatsnext / Nancy J Price / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)
The wood shaft of Vulture Mine
The abandoned shaft of the Vulture Mine. (Photo Credit: Ken Kanouse / Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0)
The entrance to the nickel shaft at Vulture City
The entrance to the nickel shaft, which looks very similar to the gold mine shaft. (Photo Credit: Tony the Marine / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)
An abandoned building and car at Vulture City
An abandoned car sits outside an abandoned building located in Vulture City. (Photo Credit: John Menard / Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

After almost 80 years of prosperity, Vulture City would have its first ripple into decline during the Second World War. In 1942, the War Production Board ordered the immediate shutdown of Vulture Mine. They were doing this to all non-essential mines to ensure that all of the US’s resources were focused on the war effort.

The mine appealed the shutdown and reopened shortly afterward, but with a lot less vigor than it had before. Vulture Mine continued to operate for a few years following that, but it ultimately closed.

Vulture City becomes a ghost town

The assay office at Vulture City
Another photo of the assay office, which has been standing since its creation in 1884. (Photo Credit: Tony the Marine / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)
Inside miners quarters at Vulture City
Inside one of the buildings left standing at Vulture City. (Photo Credit: RightBrainPhotography / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
A kitchen at Vulture City
A kitchen was left in disarray after Vulture City was abandoned following the closure of the mine. (Photo Credit: RightBrainPhotography / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
An abandoned car at Vulture City
As the city was abandoned in 1942, cars that were once in use were left to rot and decay as shrubs grew around them, as the one shown here did. (Photo Credit: RightBrainPhotography / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The closing of Vulture Mine sealed the fate of Vulture City. As the main point of business and employment, the closure led to residents deserting the city. The buildings that made up the city and the mine itself are still standing in today, but no one lives there. Instead, Vulture City has become a tourist attraction where visitors can catch a glimpse of life in the old Wild West.