One of Nevada’s truly great ghost towns (and it’s near Bodie)
California’s ghost town of Bodie is perhaps one of the most famous ghost towns in the country. But just beyond the Nevada state line is Aurora – a big ghost town. It is almost completely lost in history which few visit and few even know it is there. Aurora is located in Mineral County, Nevada, about 22 miles southwest of Hawthorne and a stone’s throw (three miles) from the California border.
Today, little of the town survives – most of the old wooden buildings are gone, while many buildings were razed to the ground for their bricks after World War II. Not so far away in Nevada is the bustling ghost town of Virginia City, right next to the modern city of Reno, which is also well worth a visit.
Boom Of Aurora And Its Most Famous Resident – Mark Twain
Aurora was founded in 1860 by James M. Cory, James M. Braly and ER Hicks. It is said that the city was named after the goddess of dawn.
Miners quickly began to settle in the town, attracted by reports of deposits in the area – especially after the Wide West Vein Rush of 1863. Aurora’s mines were so rich they attracted miners everywhere.
Aurora’s most famous resident was Mark Twain. He lived there briefly in 1862.
- Maximum population: Maybe 10,000 people
In 1861 the population grew to 1,400 and the following year it had a newspaper – the Esmeralda Star. In 1864, the population reached 6,000 and peaked at around 10,000. By 1863, the booming town had 20 stores and 22 saloons. As was the case in mining boom towns, most of the population was male, with only a small number of women and children. This means it boomed during the Civil War years and was at its peak when Nevada was admitted to the Union in 1864.
At the time, Aurora was perhaps the largest city in Nevada. Nevada had only 6,857 inhabitants in 1860 and 42,491 in 1870.
Access challenges and Aurora’s decline
The remoteness and harsh climate made life difficult in Aurora. It was filled with brothels and gambling houses to serve its large male population. Chinese brothels sprang up on most public streets and it is believed that around half of the women in them were prostitutes. As a true Old West city, violence was a big problem and armed conflict was not uncommon.
Getting to Aurora was difficult. The Mono Trail and the Sonora Pass roads were the first major routes into the city. Later, the Esmerelda Toll Road was built to connect it to San Francisco. It was ruled by both Nevada and California until it was decided that it was located entirely in Nevada.
About as quickly as Aurora arose, she declined and disappeared. In 1864 the mines began to close and by 1870 half of the houses in the town were abandoned while many mills were dismantled. By 1870, gold and silver had been completely mined.
Aurora’s isolation and surrounding steep mountains made supplying it difficult. Clothing, tools, machinery, food, etc. were rare.
Getting to Aurora and what’s left of the ghost town today
Aurora can be reached by 4×4 from Bodie through the hills or by a fairly well-maintained dirt road from Nevada that normal cars can drive (at least in good weather). This road has been significantly improved by the nearby mine which uses and maintains the road. Prior to this, it was very difficult to get to Aurora after winter snow and damaged roads from spring runoff.
- Admission: Free
- Opening hours: No application
- To access: By Dirt Roads – 4WD is advised in wet weather
Today, travelers can cross the mountain track without realizing they are passing through a ghost town. One of the main things that remain of Aurora is the cemetery (although it has also suffered from vandalism over the years).
Stop and look around, and visitors can still find streets and the foundations of some buildings. But most of the buildings have long since been dismantled (and their materials reused in homes in California).
Aurora is best visited as part of a trip to Bodie (a ghost town currently preserved as a California state park). It’s fascinating to compare how different the two ghost towns are.