Ghost Hunters of the West: Foreign Mysterious World

I thought I’d do a series “Ghost Hunters of the West” about ghost hunting in the west, but I wanted to start out with what the west is like, especially for someone who grew up in the DC area. A lot of you don’t live here, might never have visited, so it’s about as much of a foreign country within America as it can be.

SKY: When I first moved to Arizona (long ago), I was shocked by everything. When you drive down the roadway, you can see so far that it can take hours to reach the mountains in your view. I grew up in Virginia. Open landscape wasn’t all that often in the Northern VA area. Most everywhere you drive, there’s a hill, a curve, and a row of trees. The sky is small. In the west, the sky is limitless. You can see a storm coming many hours before it hits. I felt strangely vulnerable to the blaring sunlight and, unlike in the woods where you feel small and one of many creatures, in the desert you feel like the only thing out there with so much space it's overwhelmingly humbling.

MOUNTAINS: The mountains are naked. They show all their geology as if they're a skeleton without its flesh. This was a hard adjustment for me. I grieved the green mountains, but during the day and as the lighting changes, they move from blues to mauves to deep purples that are truly haunted looking.

RAIN/SCENTS: The first rain we had after moving here, I thought the air smelled nasty. I was used to a green rain. In the desert, when it rains it’s quite a different scent. When it hits the powdery silt on the ground, it first smells like dust being kicked up and stale beer left on the pavement after a party. Then, the creosote bushes get wet and the scent is like nothing else I’ve ever smelled anywhere. It’s pungent like rosemary and medicinal like lavender. In fact, if you smell creosote in the air, you know humidity has gone up enough that you might soon get a rain as the scented oils in it are released.

MONSOON: In the summertime, we know monsoon rainy season is beginning when the locusts scream in the eucalyptus trees. It’s like clockwork. They only start buzzing when it’s humid enough. As well, we get dustdevils kicking up. These tiny little tornado-like phenomenon dance across the desert and the backyards from time to time, picking up the powdery orange dirt of the desert. The washes (arroyos) fill up with water fast. Our land is so hard baked that water doesn’t absorb, it just runs like mad. I was shocked when I moved here and didn’t see storm drains anywhere. The roads are pitched a bit so the center is higher and if you drive in the right hand lane, you’re likely to be bogged down. We have a law here in Arizona appropriately called the “Stupid Law” that states when someone tries to cross a wash in their car and gets stuck, they have to pay the bill to pull them out. When rain falls here, those washes and roadways fill up very fast, a true flashflood situation. Drivers here are not well practiced in driving in the rain and the oils on the roadway build up with no rain for months at a time, so when it does rain, they’re slick. When a monsoon first comes, it’s a process. You see it miles away in the distance as these huge dark rising clouds over the mountains that come down into the valley and bring first the haboobs or duststorms. These are huge walls of solid orange dust that go up for thousands of feet. It looks like the end of the world when you see it billowing towards your. They’re misleading, as well, because they seem far away and then suddenly they’re obliterating things only 100 feet away. They sand blast everything in sight and carry an organism that can cause a nasty lung disease called “valley fever.” They blot out the landscape so quickly that drivers are taught to pull over and take their foot off the brake light and turn off their headlights so no one follows them off the road thinking they're still driving.

CRITTERS: Quail, scorpions, killer bees, black widow spiders, rattlesnakes, brown recluse spiders, roadrunners (yeah, they really are as weird as the cartoon ones), hawks, turkey vultures, coyotes, javelina (wild boars) are just some of the critters you run into. The desert is a hard place and the animals have adapted to be just as deadly.

HAUNTS: This is the exciting part about the west. A lot of eastern historic spots are immaculately maintained and pristine with reenactment characters and fenced in guided tours, but in the west these places are much more assessable and rustic. You do find the occasional dressed up western spot with cowboy reenactors and saloon gals, but for the most part, there’s a lot of ghost towns and crumbling mining towns and dangerous abandoned mine openings in the desert, as well as gorgeous petroglyphs preserved by the climate. Outlaws have touched most of the land here and settlers fighting with Indians created a whole other lawlessness. People died trying to cross the desert and others were raided and forced to protect themselves since there were few if any lawmen. All of this history makes for fascinating ghost hunting spots. You throw into the mix the ancient tribes and the geology of the land—it’s really amazing. I always say the east is haunted in its buildings but the west’s land is haunted.

THIS SERIES: Next week, I’m planning another ghost hunting jaunt with Julie from Above the Norm, Debe from “MVD Ghostchasers” and my ghost hunting partner, Ginny. We are hitting the desert roads on an 80-degree day to head to Miami/Globe Arizona (you should look up pictures online—the places are amazing). These old mining towns are extremely rustic and we hope to get lots of abandoned place photos, video, antiquing, a study of ghosts at a haunted schoolhouse turned into an inn, perhaps a tour of an abandoned old-time prison, and lots of old west cemeteries. I hope to continue my Ghost Hunters of the West series trying to give you the feel of the western mining downs and western ghost hunts.


  1. Hey, I watched that movie "Paranormal Activity" the other night and I thought of you. Not that I know you in person, but I did think about you. Do you think it was a scam? It started off quite interesting but then it became a bit Hollywood. Let me know what you think.

  2. Hey Justin;
    It was total fiction made to look like a documentary like "Blair Witch Project." Some aspects are familiar to hauntings, others creative license. There's a new movie coming out that I'm really really really excited about. You can probably see the trailer on YouTube. It's called "Phasma Ex Machina" and it's about someone who creates a machine that can bring the dead back and finds out it's not a good idea. Looks very chilling. I think if I were to write a horror movie--that would be the one I would have written.

  3. I am very excited to take that trip to Globe/Miami next week. I have been through both places many times on my way to Showlow and the White Mountains but never stop to spend a day there. Since you and Debe have been there, I can't wait to see all the cool places to visit and take photos of.
    AZ may be very, very hot in the summer but you can't beat the amazing sunsets, historical sites, vast scenery, and every other thing you covered in this posts.

  4. Thanks Autumn, you've just confirmed my thoughts. And yes, I will watch out for "Phasma Ex Machina."
    Thanks for sharing.

  5. Ah, GREAT write up. Made me homesick. From the time I was born until I was 28 AZ was a part of me. (At 17 I moved there, but before that we visited at least once a year because my grandparents lived there.) Arizona is positively magical. I really miss the smell of the desert when it rains and the orange blossoms blooming, the sunsets, and the lightning displays. But most of all I miss my friends and family there. Hopefully we'll be making a visit back this May. I'll look forward to your series.

  6. Hey Court;
    If you come here, we have to get together!!! My tangerine tree and red grapefruit tree are just about to burst with their blossoms. I wish I could send you the smells--they're intense!


Post a Comment