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Empire Nevada: A Modern Ghost Town

February, 2018

Flying over Nevada

Empire Nevada was a company-owned town with a large gypsum mine that failed to make it through the 2008-2010 recession. Think wall-boards for all the construction that wasn’t happening.  The last 95 employees were laid off in January 2011, down from a peak of 270 employees that had use of a school, pool, golf course, ball park and two churches.


Empire in the center of photo near white spot (gypsum). Black Rock desert in the distance.

The town was shuttered and a chain link fence put up to keep out vandals, squatters and tumbleweeds. The post office was closed and the town zip code was cancelled. Interestingly, the Empire store on highway 95 stayed open, partly because of nearby Burning Man (and the year-round Burning Man employees that live nearby).  A few employees were kept on to patrol the town.


Someone’s been taking good care of the runway!  It was freshly rolled.

Back behind the town is the airport, with one old Navion aircraft on jacks.  The airport was my ticket into the town, as I thought I would walk through the town and if stopped just say I was walking from the airport to the store which I was.  As it turns out I didn’t run into anyone.



Tumbleweeds in a zombie-like mass attack on the town

It is amazing how homes desperately need caring homeowners or they rapidly deteriorate.  Seven years doesn’t seem like a terribly long time, but many of the homes are already beyond repair.







To be fair, it is really a semi-ghost town.  The town, mine and plant were sold for $10mm in 2016 and it was obvious the plant was running when I was there.   It looked like a pocket of inhabitants live on the south end, but then there are a few random residents throughout (except for the most rundown section).  It looks like the boss said, “You want a home while you are here? Go find one, sweep out the rodent crap, push the tumbleweeds onto the lot next door, and its yours.”

After a nice walk through the town an afternoon wind started to pick up, so I got back in the plane for the one hour flight back home.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jetman permalink
    February, 2018 5:29 pm

    Very interesting. Didn’t know there were any “full time” employees for burning man near the actual location. That $25 million budget takes away from the desired vibe, as far as I’m concerned.
    How long has it been since you’ve been to Sierra hot springs, and that airport?
    Also curious if you ever do any airplane camping at any of the 8-10 airstrips in the Siskiyou mountains from Gravelly Valley to Hayfork to Happy Camp? Good times.

    • February, 2018 12:10 pm

      Hi Jetman,

      Yes, I think they call it “The Ranch” and they work on infrastructure such as building and repairing trailers, tents, etc. that are used for the event.

      I haven’t been to Sierra Hot springs in maybe 5 years. Have you?

      When our kids where little we went to Lake Pillsbury for about 10 years in a row, and for many of the trips I flew into Gravelly Valley, which can be a bit of a beater of an airstrip with four-wheelers doing donuts and leaving grooves. I’ve flown into Hayfork but haven’t camped. I’ve been into Weaverville and Trinity Lake for backpacking/boating, but no others. Which ones are you thinking of? Have you camped there?

      Thanks, Ney

  2. Fritz permalink
    March, 2018 7:01 am

    How was the runway at empire? My brother (a professional photographer) is trying to convince me to take im there in my Bonanza.

    • March, 2018 4:14 pm

      The runway was fantastic. Best dirt runway I’ve landed on. Someone rolled it and smoothed it out not long before I got there. Unfortunately you’ll need to tell your brother that the best photos have already been taken there…

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