A long time ago, I read something about a ghost town named Signal. On August 1st, my friend Janet and I went to find it. Although we’re not convinced we found Signal, we’re pretty sure we found the mine at Virginia City.
We left Wickenburg, driving northwest on State Route 93. The drive was long but went quickly; the speed limit is 65 mph for most of the distance we needed to cover and road improvements have doubled the lanes in a number of places, making it easy (and safe) to pass slower vehicles. The road is straight for the first 30 or so miles, then begins to curve as it climbs into the hills. We passed the turnoffs for Date Creek Ranch (which has apple-picking this time of year) and Bagdad. We also passed the town (if it is one) of nothing, which features fuel, a store, and a thriving towing business.
Looking for 17 Mile Road, we took an incorrect left turn onto some ranch land. After going through a gate, we drove on a dirt track past some cattle. The road was difficult to follow and required a high clearance vehicle for most of the distance. It ended abruptly at a cliff, looking over a canyon lined wit volcanic rock. I commented that the spot would make a nice, peaceful campsite.
Janet, convinced that the correct turnoff was still ahead on route 93, convinced me to backtrack and continue northwest. She was right. At about mile marker 147 (according to my memory, which may be wrong), was the correct turnoff. The road is clearly marked “17 Mile Road” and there’s a turning lane to cross the median. You really can’t miss it.
Once on 17 Mile Road, we travelled on a well-maintained unpaved road for about 20 miles. Recent rainfall in the area made the desert almost lush. We saw a wide variety of desert plants, including various evergreens, saguaro and other cacti, mesquite and palo verde trees, and ocotillo full of fresh green leaves. The rock formations were varied and beautiful. A number of lesser dirt roads tempted us with side trips. We made one short excursion off the main road to explore a fenced in area which may have been an old corral or mine site.
After about ten miles, we began getting glimpses of a green valley far ahead of us. Janet consulted the map and reported that the turnoff to Signal was right before the Big Sandy River. The valley, we correctly guessed, was the river. There were a surprising number of homes and ranches there, far from “civilization.” Our turnoff was clearly marked “Signal Road.” We made a left and crossed the river.
A quick note here: The river was not flowing when we crossed. If it had been, the crossing may have been difficult if not impossible. In our Jeep Wrangler, we could probably cross a slow-moving, shallow river or a narrow, faster moving stream. I would not attempt anything else because the riverbed was sandy. It’s this crossing, as well as some other flash flood areas along the way, that make this trip best suited for dry weather.
Looking for Signal
About four miles after the river crossing, we reached an intersection with a handmade sign pointing toward Signal. We followed the sign and saw the remains of some mining equipment on the left. The area was completely fenced in and a ancient manufactured home stood nearby. The area did not appear to be open to the public, so we did not enter.
We continued down the road, looking for more signs of Signal. After about two miles, we turned left onto a promising-looking road that led to the riverbed. We turned left again, following tire tracks in the sandy riverbed. Although we didn’t need to shift into 4WD, I don’t recommend this route if your vehicle does not include this option. The tire tracks deposited us back on the main road, near the interection with the sign for Signal. We didn’t seen any traces of the town along the way.
Exploring Virginia City
Janet’s map studies revealed a second, smaller town named Virginia City nearby, to the south (left) of the road to Signal. As we headed back toward the suspected turnoff, we saw a wooden structure on a hill right around where we thought Virginia City might be. The turnoff, less than a mile from the intersection was a narrow dirt road that showed no signs of maintenance or recent use. Built along the side of a hill with erosion making it dangerously narrow in some places, the road was not suitable for a wide vehicle. But our Wrangler made the 1/2 trip without much trouble.
The road forked to a high, middle, and low road. We took the middle road a few hundred feet. The structure we’d seen from a distance was suddenly before us, looking much more massive than it seemed from afar. We climbed out of the Jeep to explore. It appeared to be the remains of a mine entrance, which was sealed off against foolhardy tresspassers. Janet posed for a picture of the entrance, which gives a good indication of just how big this thing was.
We climbed the hill on foot to see what the upper road had to offer. We could look down at the mine entrance, but could still not determine whether the mine had been a vertical shaft or horizontal tunnel. A huge, round concrete basin topped the hill. It appeared to be about four feet deep in the center and it wasn’t clear whether it had once included a tank. Clearly, it was for water storage. I could imagine the water being gravity fed to the facilities below.
We looked down the hill past the mine entrance, to the lower level where ore was probably processed. The remains of the processing facility were nothing more than concrete foundations. You can see them to the left of the large tree in this photo. Beyond the mine facility was the riverbed, where cattle grazed. Off in the distance, we could hear the calls of wild burros. We saw plenty of evidence of these animals — hoofprints and manure — but never actually spotted one.
Janet and I climbed down the hill and got back into the Jeep. We backed down the road we were on, then turned right onto the low road, which led to the ore processing ruins. We explored for a while on foot, but were disappointed by what we found. It was obvious that many other visitors has already picked through the area and either destroyed or taken away anything of interest. For a moment, I got excited about some off-white, opaque glass I found with lettering on it. Piecing together a few fragments of the broken bottle, I realized that it had once contained nothing more interesting than Old Spice cologne and had probably been a recent addition to the site.
Curious about a roundish object in a nearby wash, we wandered over. The object looked like a space capsule which had cracked open on one side. Janet posed inside it for this picture. We think it may have been some kind of furnace, but without knowledge of mining or ore processing techniques, we can’t be sure.
Although it was already after three in the afternoon, shade was scant. I drove the Jeep down into the wash near two mesquite trees. Janet and I took out our picnic lunch and sat in the shade of one of the trees. The temperature there was 20 to 30 degrees cooler than in the sun. We drank most of the water and juices we’d brought with us and talked about the things we’d seen. Then Janet pulled out the map and we discussed our route back.
The map showed that if we continued down Signal Road, we’d eventually get to a turnoff that would take us to Alamo Lake. If the lake level was normal or low, we might be able to cross the marshlands on the eastern side of the lake and hook up with a road that would take us back to state route 93, not far from Date Creek Ranch. The uncertainty of this route, combined with our remaining fuel (less than 3/4 tank) and the time of day (almost 4 pm), convinced us to take a more conservative route back. We decided to follow Signal Road back to the intersection with 17 Mile Road, but stay on Signal Road another 15 miles to get to route 93 about 10 miles north of where we’d orginally turned off. We’d explore Alamo Lake another day.
Before we left the area, we explored the wash by Jeep, looking for other remains. We found several old dump sites filled with rusty cans, broken glass, and other remains. The trash was scattered and had obviously been picked through by other visitors; there was nothing of interest intact. A corrogated metal shed, in bad repair, appeared to be newer than everything else. We followed the dirt track to a wash and eventually wound up on the same sandy road that led to the sign to Signal. We turned right (east) and headed back.
Signal Road was very different from 17 Mile Road. It followed and then crossed the Big Sandy River, just south of where where Burro Creek fed into it. The water was flowing here as a narrow stream across a rocky road so it was easy to cross. After a while, we started climbing into the hills, where ancient dirt roads hinted at mining activities. We stopped at a huge piece of white quartz at the side of the road. The rock showed signs of recent damage — clearly someone with a hammer and chisel had taken a few pieces home.
Lured by a maze of old mining roads, we made a right and followed some narrow dirt roads up hills and around old mines. There were crumbled building and wall remains, but not much that could be clearly identified. One of the roads took us past a vertical mine shaft that was surrounded by a flimsy fence. The road we followed got worse and worse and, more than once, I felt the Jeep slip sideways as we tried to inch down steep slopes. Fortunately, we returned to Signal Road without mishap. Those roads, we both agreed, were best explored by foot or horseback — not in shiny new Jeeps.
At state route 93, we made a right, heading southeast. We crossed the bridge at Kaiser Springs and, a while later, the bridge at Burro Creek. We made a brief detour to check out the Burron Creek Campground. There was water in the creek, but few campers. With daytime shade temperatures in the 100s or above, it wasn’t diffcult to understand why. We filled our water bottles at the campground and continued home to Wickenburg, still 60+ miles away.
Distance: About 170 miles round trip.
Time: About 5-6 hours, including time to have lunch and explore.
Features: Great scenery along the way, mine ruins at destination, maybe some wild burros.
Driving Conditions: About 130 miles of trip is on paved state highway. Remainder of trip on maintained unpaved roads with about 1 mile on narrow, unmaintained road and/or wash. Not recommended during rainy weather.
Equipment: Bring water, a picnic lunch, good hiking shoes (if you plan to go exploring), and your camera. It’s a good idea to wear long pants, socks, and shoes when exploring the ruins.