Webmaster’s Note: I realized after reading a comment on this entry, which was originally published on February 15, 2002, that the photos that were once here were gone. Sadly, most of them were lost in a recent hard disk crash. I’ve replaced some of them, added a video podcast made before the photos were lost, and updated the entry a bit. If you take the time to visit this remote ghost town, please be sure to leave a comment here to let us know what you thought. – Maria
Swansea was a copper mining town around the turn of the century. It lies northeast of Bouse, AZ, south of the Bill Williams River. It has been abandoned for about 60 years and although vandals have stripped it of its dignity over the years, there are still many ruins that can be carefully explored. Best of all, the site is marked and described with a walking tour.
I’d visited Swansea once by car with Mike (my significant other), my brother, and my brother’s girlfriend. This was about two years ago. We didn’t know much about Swansea then — just that it was a ghost town in the middle of nowhere. We were pleasantly surprised when we got there.
I returned by by helicopter in February 2002, with Mike’s cousin Ricky, who wanted to explore a ghost town during his stay with us. We got to the townsite in less than 45 minutes from Wickenburg (a lot faster than driving!) and spent about two hours walking around and taking pictures.
Here’s a bit of history about Swansea, paraphrased from the brochure available at the townsite:
Swansea, located 30 miles northeast of Parker, AZ, started life in 1862 when prospectors first began working the area. In 1886, three miners struck a silver-lead ore vein. When the silver ran out, the only thing left was copper. The mining claims were sold in 1904 to the Signal Group, which saw that the future of the area depended on the Arizona & California Railroad’s line between Wickenburg and Parker.
In 1908, TJ Carrigan, one of the new owners, and George Mitchell, a potential investor, took a 21-mile buckboard ride from the railroad to the claim. Mitchell, a Swansea-born Welchman incorporated the Clara Consolidated in 1909, and began building the town. By the end of that year, the town’s population was 500 and included a smelter, power plant, water system, mine shafts, saloons, a general store, a post office, and a moving picture house. The first train arrived at the adobe depot in Swansea in 1910 and, later that year, the mine was producing 50 tons of copper a day.
While this might sound like a good start, Mitchell was heavily in debt and declared bankruptcy in 1911. A series of false starts followed. Then, in 1915, Ernest C Lane became the manager and successfully ran the mine for a number of different owners.
The mine fell victim to the Great Depression and a declining copper market. The last milling was in 1944.
Getting there by car from Wickenburg is no easy feat and a compass and map would be very helpful. There are two ways to go. Both are illustrated on this map; click the map for a larger view.
The way with the most pavement (the orange route on the map) is to drive west on route 60 (West Wickenburg Way or the California Highway). At Hope, make a right on route 72 toward Parker. At Bouse, make a right turn, cross the railroad tracks, and find Swansea Road, which should be kind of to the left. By this point, the pavement has ended and you’re on dirt road. Continue northeast until you get to a major intersection — there may even be a stop sign. This is called Midway. Make a left so you’re going northwest. Continuing following the instructions “From Midway” below.
Via Transmission Line Road
If you don’t mind lots of dirt road, you can take a more direct route (the purple line on the map). Drive west on route 60 (West Wickenburg Way or the California Highway). At Wenden, make a right on Alamo Road. After going through Cunningham Pass, make a left on Transmission Line Road, which, as you might have guessed, runs northwest along the high-tension power lines. This is a bit tricky; although you can take the first left you find by the power lines, if you go a bit further, there’s an easier path. I don’t think the turn is marked, but if you take the right road, it should be well maintained and smooth, although it is a bit sandy in spots. Continue along this road through Butler Valley and through Butler Pass. You’ll get to a major five-way intersection called Midway. Go straight through so you’re heading northwest. Continue following the instructions below.
Heading northwest from Midway, eventually, you’ll get to another four-way intersection. Make a right. You’ll climb up through the hills and then down toward the Bill Williams River. You’ll pass a natural arch on your right, which is quite visible from the road. Swansea is just past that.
Park near the trail sign-in book, take a brochure, and leave a donation — someone is working hard to preserve all this!
I highly recommend the walking tour, which has numbered stops with descriptive plaques. Stops include various mine shafts and buildings built between 1909 and 1918. If you brought along an ATV, pay attention to the signs that prohibit vehicles from entering certain areas.
To explore the outer reaches of the town, a four-wheel drive vehicle is highly recommended, if not required. The pumping plant on the Bill Williams River is especially interesting. So is the Swansea Railroad route, which follows both the railroad grade and an old wagon road, and includes what’s left of the adobe railroad depot.
You can return home the same way you came or for variety, take the other route. If it’s late in the day, go through Bouse; you don’t want to be stuck out in the middle of the desert on Transmission Line Road at night. (At least I wouldn’t!)
Distance: About 200 miles round trip.
Time: About 6-8 hours, depending on how long you stay
Features: Mining town remains, including many standing walls and some standing structures.
Driving Conditions: About half the distance is on paved roads; the other half is on well-maintained dirt roads. Don’t attempt the drive during rainy weather.
Equipment: Bring your camera, good walking shoes, drinking water, and a picnic lunch.
Additional Notes for Helicopter Pilots
Swansea’s coordinates are roughly 34° 11′ North and 113° 51′ West. My course from Wickenburg took me over Alamo Lake, then down the Bill Williams River, almost to the Swansea pumping station. After scouting the area for a suitable landing zone and considering the wind (which was pretty calm), I landed in a large flat area just south of what’s left of the Manager’s House (marked with a blue X in the site map above). This landing zone kept me clear of delicate remains, visitor vehicles, and vegetation. And, because of its pea gravel-like surface, I blew up very little dust. On departure, I made a 180° hover turn and took off along the road. I can confidently say that this site can be visited by helicopter without any environmental impact.
The worker’s cottages are being renovated for reasons I’m not quite clear on. I was there on March 4, 2007, but not realizing that my original photos were lost, I didn’t take any more pictures. Recent pictures are welcome; use the Contact Us link at the top of the page to let us know if you have any. I’ll be sure to take some the next time I’m out there.