Future Ghost Towns?

Sherry Palmer | Tortilla Flat AZ, Population 6

I’ve always been intrigued by the stories of those folks who live in tiny, rural communities — Who are these people? What do they do? Where do they work? What’s an average day-in-the-life like?

My curiosity has deepened thanks to my gig here at Arizona Highways… you see, one of the perks of the job is that I get to travel around our amazing state.

Along the way, I’ll sometimes pass through a middle-of-nowhere outpost… I usually want to stop the car, get out and wander for a bit. Sometimes I’ll take that moment… I did that recently when I passed through Quartzsite.

Occasionally, a stop-over can turn out to be very fruitful, like when my colleague (and sometimes partner-in-crime-slash-fellow-jerky-girl), Managing Editor Kelly Kramer and I (I, being Kathy Ritchie the Associate Editor in this outfit) stumbled upon Daniel’s Really Good Fresh Jerky in Parker, AZ.

Whoda thunk it? Really good jerky in Parker.

Unfortunately, rural America is shrinking fast. And rural Arizona is certainly no exception. The 2010 Census Report shows that places like Parker, Bisbee and Tombstone have lost a good chunk of their populations.

  • The town of Hayden shrank 26 percent, dropping to 662 people in the past decade.
  • The Sun Valley area in Gila County dropped 79 percent, to 316 residents.
  • Parker dropped 2 percent. Superior fell 13 percent.
  • Tombstone and Bisbee each lost 8 percent of their populations.

The reason?

According to Mark Mather, Associate Vice President of the Population Reference Bureau, a research group in Washington, D.C, “many rural areas can’t attract workers because there aren’t any jobs, and businesses won’t relocate there because there aren’t enough qualified workers. So, they are caught in a downward spiral.”

Here’s another interesting tidbit, as some rural areas simply wither away, metropolitan areas are ever expanding and exploding… In fact, according to the report, of the 10 fastest-growing places, all were small cities incorporated into the suburbs of expanding metro areas, mostly in California, Arizona and Texas.

But let’s face it… many of the off-the-beaten-path-hamlets in Arizona are not going to be absorbed by the bright-lights-big-city.

That means a day will come when many these places will simply cease to be much of anything at all… maybe some will be resurrected or maybe some will fall off the map completely.

I don’t know how or even if we can save some of these rural outposts, but what I can suggest is that the next time you drive through a Parker or Superior, get out and walk around.

You never know what you might find.

~KAT, Associate Editor


Filed under Et Cetera, Loco for Local, Vintage AZ

15 responses to “Future Ghost Towns?

  1. This would make a great AH story. The timeline of a western ghost town and candidates for future ghost towns.

  2. I feel like tiny towns will always be around though. Even if one slowly is drained of its life, another will pop up elsewhere in the desert, humble and unique. It’s sad that the history of these ghost towns will dissipate, but their spirit will live on in new rural areas. There will always be those people that want to live on the edges of society.

  3. Dear Miss Ritchie:

    I first want to thank you for telling people to stop in Parker and get out and look around. I am confused though, as to why would you include Parker, AZ in your “Future Ghost Towns” story with a 2% reduction from the 2010 census. You failed to mention that although the Town was down in their count for the census, our county was up. So, they moved outside of the one-square mile township. Big Deal! These numbers do impact our local government because counties and municipalities generally are allocated a portion of these receipts based on resident population.

    Our economy is based on tourism and our county and town are far from becoming “ghostly.” La Paz county saw a 6.7% increase in total travel spending for the year 2010. In 2009, we saw a decrease of almost 17% in total travel spending. The entire State of Arizona was down 10% in total travel spending. So, we’re on our way back up. In recent and consecutive years, La Paz County has provided up to $216 million in total travel spending. (Per Dean Ruyan Associates for Arizona Office of Tourism.)

    The Town of Parker is in great financial shape and our Downtown Shopping Area will be full this year. Four new businesses have moved into the downtown area that include Sears and the return of a NAPA Auto Parts store. Furthermore, the County is in negotiations to house a 2500 ft tall solar power plant that will employ 1500 people for 2-3 years and 41 permanent employees. Plus, it will provide another “destination driver” attraction to our area.

    In addition, for the year 2010, according to Dean Runyan Associates for the Arizona Office of Tourism, La Paz County is tied for third place in State Transaction Privilege Taxes Generated by Direct Travel Spending. That’s ahead of Mohave County and Yuma County on Arizona’s West Coast and includes Maricopa County! Unbelievable!

    And, your readers should know that Parker, Arizona is the home of the famous “Parker Strip Recreation Area.” Parker is the home to many beautiful hotels, motels, RV Resorts and camp sites along both the Arizona and California sides of the 16-mile stretch of the Colorado River. We boast the best boating on the “West Coast” of Arizona, the “East Coast” of California and “Best in the Desert Racing Association” has tagged Parker, Arizona as the “Off-road Capital of the USA.”

    So, don’t put us in that category just yet, Kathy! And, by the way, when you and Kelly were in Parker at Daniel’s Really Good Jerky, you were right across the street from our visitor’s center. It is surprising to me that a managing editor and an associate editor for an Arizona Highways “blog spot” wouldn’t stop in a visitor’s center to learn more about the community.
    Thanks for your time!

    Mary Hamilton
    Executive Director
    Parker Area Tourism

    • Oh, for those who don’t know what a “destination driver” is, it is a destination that one would travel to unto itself. And here’s a few right here in Parker, AZ:

      The BlueWater Resort & Casino
      Parker Dam, Deepest Dam in the World
      The Nellie E Saloon aka: The Desert Bar
      The Aha Khav Tribal Preserve
      The Bill Williams Wildlife Refuge
      Swansea Ghost Town (yeah, this one is real)
      Roadrunner Floating Dock Bar & Restaurant

      • Nick Danger

        Not to mention all the fun things that go on here in Parker AZ throught out the year: # 1 The Biggest, Toughest, Best It The Desert Off road Race The Parker 425 / 250 / Desert Challange / Grand Prix, That BITD sponsors here
        # 5 Desert Spalsh Rock Crawling Event
        #6 Jet Ski / PWC Races
        #7″Desert Days” at Buckskin Mountain State Park
        A series of educational presentations on the flora, fauna, geology and geography of Western Arizona.
        Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge
        #8 La Paz County Fair
        “Country Roots & Banyard Boots”
        #9 Parker Marathon IWSRA Ski Races
        BlueWater Resort & Casino
        #10 Annual Parker Blues Festival-Free 2-day event
        Benefitting the River Flames Auxillary
        #11 Annual Indian Golf Tournament
        At Emerald Canyon Golf Course Sponsored by Blue Water Resort & Casino

      • Nick Danger

        I think Arizona Highways needs to come back and hang out here for a weekend in every month through out the year and see all the people that come and go here and all the cool fun locals that live here, maybe go on a few off road adventures and a few boat rides… I guess they turned around and Daniel’s good jerky stand and didn’t see the Safeway, Walmart, Casino, River strip with all the bars and restaurants etc……

    • Joe Marshall

      Dear <is Rirchie:

      Ms. Hamilton has already covered many of the reasons that Parker will never be a "Ghost Town". I am proud to say that I was raised in Parker and always say that if I could do it again, I would not change a thing. I would add another plus factor, and the is the Colorado River Indian Tribes Community. The rezz has 100's of acres of land in agriculture, both farmed by the Tribes and farmed by farmers who lease the land. Also the Tribes are currently reviewing additional uses of their land to increase the income and, perhaps, attract other businesses to the area with their more attractive tax stucture and access to highway, rail service, and a new 6,250 foot air strip at their airport that is capable of handle airplanes up to 737's and DC-9's. The Tribes are one of the more pro-active in the country.

      Joe Marshall

  4. GT

    I too am surprised Parker was included. At a minimum as long as the river continues to flow Parker will always be alive. Other than the smalltown charm itself the surrounding area has a lot to offer. The entire river, Bucksin, Desert Island and the Desert Bar just to name a few. The Parker area has some of the nicest scenery around with some very outstanding and colorful rock formations. The classic Arizona sunset and sunrises with the areas backdrops are hard to beat. A nice kayak paddle from River Island to Parker Dam on a crisp February morning is hard to beat. The river belongs to you as the snowbirds gaze at you and wonder if you might be bonkers but at the same time think how peaceful that looks. Parker rocks. And no I do not live there……I live upstream a bit.

  5. GT!
    You say such nice things and paint a beautiful picture!

  6. Pingback: Arizona Highways-Will Parker Soon Be A Ghost Town? | Parker Live

  7. Dang, you guys are making me want to visit Parker. Ever thought about setting up a Facebook and Twitter account to push info about these things? Sometimes a post on a Friday gives me ideas about what to do for the weekend.

  8. Aberliene

    Yeah the only reason Parker isn’t city-size yet is because it’s cornered in by restricted lands. But it’s BUZZING. There are hundreds of thousands of winter visitors in the desert and hundreds of thousands of summer visitors on the river. Arizona Highways needs to stay a while and see.

  9. Dear Ms. Hamilton,

    Thank you for taking the time to comment on the Arizona Highways blog. I certainly didn’t intend to misrepresent Parker, and I appreciate the information you’ve provided. I am pleased to see that, despite what the U.S. Census has reported, the opposite appears to be true. Jobs are being created and Parker is flourishing. That said, the numbers I used in the blog were sourced from the 2010 U.S. Census and a report from the Arizona Republic. In no way did I mean to imply that Parker is a ghost town — the title of the blog was a question, not a statement. Thank you for clarifying why the Parker population did, in fact, drop.

    I think it’s important for me to note again — as I did in the original blog post — that Parker wasn’t the primary destination during our trip to Arizona’s West Coast. We saw Daniel’s Really Good Jerky along the roadside during a daytrip to and from Lake Havasu to report on another story. We stopped there mostly because I like jerky. Undoubtedly, there are countless other attractions in Parker, and we look forward to visiting them. As a matter of fact, we’re delighted to include two Parker-area stories on our 2012 editorial calendar.

    The mission of Arizona Highways is to promote tourism throughout the state. We apologize for missing the Parker Tourism Authority’s office during our trip — frankly, we didn’t see it. We do our best to find out as much as we can about the communities in our state. We welcome press releases, emails and calls, and we’d love to learn more about some of the places you mentioned in your comment.

    Thank you again for your feedback.


    Kathy Ritchie, Associate Editor

    • Hi Kat!

      Thanks for your response. I guess we’re very protective and proud of our busy, rural community. And, we get alot of those that say “We stopped because we’re on our way…….somewhere else.” Or, “Oh yea, Parker. Um, where is that again?”, typically confusing us with Page or Parker, CO.

      When people in Southern California say, “We’re going to the River!” they mean Parker. They know. However, we find that more than 40% of those that are in the Phoenix area do not know of Parker, AZ. That’s why Phoenix is our target market. We’re right in each others’ own backyard! So any help we can get on editorials, calendar of events and the like are graciously welcome.

      Thank you in advance for the Parker Area editorials that you plan to have on your 2012 calendar. Please don’t hesitate to contact me when you are in town again. I’d love to take you on a VIP tour of our area. Our website address is http://www.parkerareatourism.com and our office is located right beside the big blue sign that says “Arizona Tourist Information” at the corner of California and Arizona Ave, Downtown Parker across from Daniel’s Really Good Fresh Jerky. ( – ;

      All kidding aside, thanks again for the mention of Parker, Arizona!


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