Arizona’s Past: Visiting the Vulture Mine

In Adventure, Arizona, Photography, Travel


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This article was written several years ago, and things have changed. As I noted back in 2010, visit while you can.  Today the Vulture Mine is operating once again.  Visitors cannot go wandering around the location as we were able to when this was written.  There are weekend tours, and you’ll need to call ahead.  But as I noted when this article was first written, the ghost towns are disappearing!

The ghost towns of Western lore are disappearing. If you don’t believe it, I’d suggest taking a ride along the Ghost Town Trail near Toombstone, AZ. Better yet, grab up Arizona Highways’ guide to Ghost Towns and Mining Camps. Pop by each of the locations listed, and you’ll find that things are disappearing with time.

Fortunately some amazing locations remain, and better yet some are even protected.  The Vulture Mine, and the ghost town that surrounds the mine, is one of those rarely protected locations.  It’s also a photographic gold mine for photographers of all genres.  Recently I received a comment on my personal blog regarding the Vulture Mine site, and I thought I’d share it here.

Vulture Mine rocks!!! Today a small group of folks here drove up to Vulture Mine for a few hours of shooting. There is so much to do there that like you Rich I want to go back again and again. The range of subjects and the chance to try different techniques is better here than anywhere else I have shot. I’d be happy to join you there anytime.

I just posted a few of the photos I took at if you’d like to look thru another lens.

Cheers, for a happy new year!!!

The best ghost town in Arizona

By far, Vulture offers the best ghost town found in the state of Arizona.  There are some pretty amazing locations if you’re a ghost town hunter, but once you pass through Vulture you’ll understand, this is the spot!

Entering the Vulture Mine site you’ll be almost immediately greeted by the Assay office, several old bunk houses, the tool shop, and in the distance, the top of the mining facility.  For most photographers, the Assay office alone will consume hours of your visit.  It’s just that good.

The best suggestion for a successful photo outing on the first visit to Vulture…..?  Tour around, pick your locations, check out the lighting….and don’t get stuck in one building for the entire day.  I know it’s completely possible to do, but try to let yourself see the entire location.  Make mental notes.  And then plan a return trip to work through everything you really wanted to capture.

That’s right, I’m suggesting more than one visit.  If you’re interested in ghost towns, abandoned places, historic locations, etc, then you should plan to revisit to really get the scenes you want.  There’s nothing wrong with “practice,” especially in a location like Vulture.

What “style” of shooting works well in Vulture?

Honestly, this ghost town should work well for a wide variety of photographic styles.  Landscape photography?  Check.  Architectural photographers?  That’s a big check.  Interested in Macro?  That’ll work here too.  How about portrait work, and creative portrait applications?  Yes, you’ll be covered too!

I don’t think there’s any pigeon holing when it comes to the Vulture Mine.  Whatever you’re comfortable shooting, you’ll find scenes suited to your needs on site.  Better yet, you’ll find scenes that will make you want to expand your photographic style inventory and stretch your own skill set.

For instance, I personally have not spent much time doing portrait work.  Models, modeling, and all the rest that goes along with those concepts is pretty foreign to me.  But the scenery and backdrop in Vulture spurred me to want to do more than what I was comfortable with.  So a few short months ago I helped the band Sweet Nasty with their new album cover art work.  Our shoot location?  Vulture.

What should come along for the first visit?

Let’s talk about safety and comfort before we get into what goes in the camera bag, okay?  I know, I know……all we care about is what’s in the camera bag.  But you’ve got to cover your bases here.

The Vulture Mine location is fairly compact.  You won’t be getting too far away from your vehicle or the little office where you sign in.  Still, it’s always better to be a safe adventurer.  First order of business, think about where it is you’re going.

Located a short distance out of Wickenburg, Vulture experiences similar weather patterns to Phoenix, AZ.  That means sweltering summer heat a good portion of the year.  If you’re visiting between March and October, expect warmer temperatures in the afternoons.  Honestly, during the summer months be prepared for heat well over 100 degrees.  That means you need to carry plenty of water.  Sunscreen is a must as well.  Hats are advisable, and wicking clothing is your best bet!

Also, there are hazards beyond the extreme temperatures.  Keep your eyes out as you walk through the old town, you will run across rattle snakes to be sure.  That means you need to put the camera down while walking around, and pay attention to where you are.  Serious folks.  My last trip into Vulture yielded 3 rattlers in a 5 hour period.  Pay attention to your surroundings.

Now, beyond your safety and comfort, what should you bring in photographically?  That’s pretty easy.

  • Camera:  No brainer, right?
  • Tripod:  Absolutely a must when shooting inside the old buildings.
  • Wide angle lens:  You’ll want one of these on hand for the landscapes, and to take in some amazing building interiors.
  • Mid-Range Zoom:  In my case, the Canon 24-70 L Series.
  • Flash gear?  Maybe, just maybe if you plan on shooting portraits indoors.
  • Spare memory cards:  An absolute must have!
  • Monopod
  • Lens cleaning kit:  It’s dusty, really dusty……

That’s about everything that’s in my bag on a typical trip to Vulture.  Of course, sometimes more comes along, like when I did the band cover.  Light stands, umbrellas, multiple speedlites, the works!  But for your standard first visit, you can keep the pack light!

Unique Opportunity

Shooting ghost towns is a blast.  Plain and simple.

The direct suggestion is this:  get out there and do it sooner rather than later.  These historical locations are degrading as I type.  Only a few short months ago I took a class out for a photo workshop, and everything looked like it had more than a year ago.  Then I returned for an album photo shoot, and I was so disappointed.

The Assay office walls are really beginning to collapse.  In a big way.  A whole corner wall is now crumbling into a pile.  The building will be gone soon, that’s a fact.

So, while these treasures are still there to see, I’d advise you go see them.  This isn’t one of those things you can wait on.  History is being erased by the passage of time.  Weather, wind, erosion, and all the rest of the factors that go into hiding the past are at work.

Go document your favorite places before they change forever.

If you’d like to, you can contact me regarding the workshops that I’ve run out of the Vulture Mine.  For further information, click here. But honestly, if you’re in the area, I think you’d do well with a self guided tour too.  Just get there before it’s gone.

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