There you are...You're riding your horse across the hard-packed dirt and sand...You're hungry and thirsty...You see something in the distance! What is it? Are those buildings? Could it be a town?

You spur your horse to move faster in the sweltering heat. You must reach that town. There you'll find the food and water you're craving. You can almost taste the bacon cheeseburger and fries you'll order. You can taste the sweet lemonade that'll quench your thirst.

You ride faster and faster. The buildings get larger and larger until finally you're there. But something's wrong. These buildings are empty. The entire town is desolate. The only occupants are ghosts of the past. What is it? A ghost town, of course!

Is this the movies, or do ghost towns exist in real life? Believe it or not, ghost towns do indeed exist and can be found all over the world. Any abandoned city, town, or village can be considered a ghost town. They usually also have visible remains, such as empty buildings.

Formerly bustling towns can become ghost towns for a variety of reasons. For example, towns that spring up due to a particular economic activity, such as the discovery of a natural resource, can become ghost towns when that resource runs out.

In the past, such towns — often called boomtowns — were settled and quickly came to life when mines or mills were built to harness natural resources, such as gold or coal. When all the resources were taken, the workers often moved on to another town to pursue similar work, leaving the once-busy boomtown nothing but a shell of its former self.

Ghost towns can also be created by changes in access. For example, historic Route 66 encountered many changes during its lifetime. Occasionally, new interstate highways would be built that would lead to the closure of old roads. If a town depended upon that road's traffic for its livelihood, its closure could mean the death of the town.

In a similar way, ghost towns have been created when railroads that serviced towns have been abandoned or re-routed to different towns. The creation of dams across the country has also occasionally resulted in the creating of ghost towns due to the flooding of previously-occupied lands.

Natural and man-made disasters can also create ghost towns. Repeated flooding has resulted in the creation of more than one ghost town. Fire can do the same. The town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, was abandoned in 1984 due to a mine fire that has burned continuously underneath the town since 1962!

Disasters at nuclear power plants have created many ghost towns, especially in Ukraine, Belarus, and Japan. Due to contamination from nuclear radiation, hundreds of towns in these countries have been abandoned and left to become ghost towns.

Today, ghost towns still receive visitors, who come to see the remnants of the past. Some ghost towns have become tourist destinations. Some of these famous ghost towns include Bannack, Montana; Calico, California; Oatman, Arizona; Bodie, California; and Thurmon, West Virginia.

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