The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1990, Volume 36, Number 4
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

Book Review

Southern California’s Best Ghost Towns.

By Philip Varney. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. 137 pages. $24.95.

Reviewed by Ronald J. Quinn, Lecturer in the Department of History, San Diego State University, and State Historian, Frontera District.

San Diego traveling enthusiasts will welcome Southern California’s Best Ghost Towns because it gives serious attention to often overlooked local prizes such as Hedges, Picacho, and the Vallecito State Station. But the book is actually quite a comprehensive overview of ghost towns from Inyo to Imperial counties.

The author cautions readers not to automatically equate ghost towns with abandoned mining communities. Varney’s work includes a socialist colony, numerous railroad towns, and workers’ camps of all kinds. In fact, one of the most fascinating parts of the guide is a moving discussion of the World War II relocation camp at Manzanar. All sites are examined in a detailed fashion.

Each area description concludes with a useful capsule summary that lists the characteristics of each site, along with specific trip suggestions that always include a discussion of road conditions. And the appendix material is as valuable as the text itself. It offers a lucid discussion on how to read a topographic map as well as a helpful glossary of mining technology.

Although the complete treatment of area ghost towns shows that the author has read about and traveled the terrain with enthusiasm and energy, the emphasis of this book is on the practical: it spells out the do’s and don’ts for walking and driving, lists items for a survival kit, and makes useful suggestions for those who would bike to the sites.

There is much here for the seasoned traveler as well as those who have wanted to visit some of these sites, but were not certain how to do it. There is no excuse now. All the required information is here complete with maps and a bibliography that will encourage anyone to explore these abandoned communities that once played a pivotal role in the history of southern California.

Buy this book from
You get Amazon’s low price and the
San Diego Historical Society
gets credit when you buy through this link.