Historic Calico Ghost Town features special holiday events

Yesteryear comes alive in Calico Ghost Town, a regional park near Barstow, Calif. Visitors of all ages feel the pull of bygone days as they explore the restored Western mining town and participate in special events such as the Halloween Ghost Haunt, Friday through Oct. 31, and the Western Heritage Festival on Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 26-28.

Calico lies less than three hours’ driving time from Las Vegas, about 160 miles distant on Interstate 15. Watch for the ghost town exit about 6 miles north of Barstow. The old silver mining boomtown nestles against the colorful hills for which it was named when California’s largest silver strike occurred there in 1881. At the height of the district’s boom, hundreds of mines had been worked, yielding millions in silver and significant amounts in borax. The good years spanned 1881-1896, but by 1904, Calico was all but abandoned.

Thanks to a few early protectors, the town remained largely intact. Walter Knott, founder of Knott’s Berry Farm, bought the old town and began its restoration. Knott later donated the town site to San Bernardino County for a future park. Today, the popular regional park occupies 480 acres with many attractions and facilities for visitors.

One-third of Calico’s original structures still stand while reconstructed buildings fill the voids. Shops, galleries, restaurants, a museum and other attractions occupy buildings along the old town’s main street. Costumed attendants and shopkeepers add to the feeling of strolling along Main Street into yesteryear. Open year-round, Calico entertains thousands of visitors, especially in the fall, winter and spring.

Except during special events, admission to the park costs $6 for adults and $3 for youngsters aged 6 to 15. Children 5 and younger enter free of charge. Admission is less for active military members.

The price of admission includes several of Calico’s attractions, such as riding the narrow gauge train encircling the town, visiting a mine, perusing historical displays in a museum and panning for gold. Shops and restaurants operate daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Weekend visitors visit the Mystery Shack and try gold panning from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The museum tracing San Bernardino County’s history occupies one of a block of 1880s adobe structures damaged by fire a few years ago but reconstructed using old techniques. A gallery featuring several Western artists puts an old hotel to good use. The gallery sponsors a spring art show and workshops for artists during the year.

Calico’s high desert location and lively attractions make it a popular camping destination.

Located below the old town in loop configurations with centralized facilities, the campgrounds offer 253 units suitable for tents and recreational vehicles. Sites without hookups start at $25 per night. Full hookups push the cost to $30. A limited number of cabins are available for $38 per night. Bunkhouses designed to accommodate groups are also available. For reservations, use the county’s regional parks website at www.sbcountyparks.com.

During the cooler months, Calico features at least one special event a month. The upcoming Halloween weekend includes many family-oriented ways to enjoy the haunting season, including costume contests, pumpkin carving, haunted mine tour, scary movies and ghost stories. On Thanksgiving weekend, visitors enjoy Western music, living history demonstrations and old-time contests.

In early December, visitors see the town all decked out for the holidays — including the ceremonial lighting of the town’s Christmas tree. Celebrate the new year at Calico with lively music, dancing and gambling demonstrations from the Old West. In mid-February, Union and Confederate soldiers take over the town during a Civil War encampment and re-enactment. For more Calico information, call the park at (760) 254-2122, or use the park’s website at www.calicotown.com.

Margo Bartlett Pesek’s column appears on Sundays.

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