A Twenty-first Century Ghost Town

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I’m walking through the housing development where my parents live, in the Sierra foothills, a half-hour out of Reno. I can’t get over how silent it is. No cars drive by; no music or conversation leaks out of the houses that I pass. No birds. No insects. The sounds of the highway and the town don’t reach out here. There’s nothing but the sound of my footsteps. Even the lone dog that finally barks as I pass only serves to accentuate the stillness.

The drapes are all drawn; the houses shuttered. It’s Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving. I know many people still work today, but school is out for the holiday. Surely someone must be home?

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I’m heading out towards the great house on the hill, the one that looms over the subdivision. It was the house of the developer who built this tract. I think he went bankrupt and disappeared; they say the big house is empty now. Seeing it there, alone on the hill, I thought it had haunted house potential. So I’m off to take photos, potential illustrations for future blog posts.

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But the subdivision itself is spookier than the empty house. This place is a fucking ghost town.

It’s a victim of the housing crash, homes in the middle of nowhere bought for too much money. Many of them were bought by escapees from the other side of the mountains, cashing in their also overpriced California houses, to retire where the taxes are lower and the living a little slower. And then everything fell apart. In Thanksgivings past, I’ve seen families congregating, adult children who dress and talk and act like my husband and me, coming from the same places: San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, Fremont. But this year, so far: no one. Several of the houses are for sale. Several are clearly empty. The others — I can’t always tell.

I snap a few shots of the big house from the foot of the hill, then I turn towards the edge of the subdivision, up into the empty hills behind it.

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A lot of people think these brown hills and scrubby bushes are ugly, boring; but the hills I grew up in looked a lot like these, and I actually find them quite beautiful. Especially in this late November light. There’s something dignified about boulders and tumbleweed, something admirable about their complete indifference.

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There are wild mustangs in these hills; coyotes, too, I hear. And the ground is littered with critter holes — snakes? gophers? moles? But other than droppings and scat, I see no sign of them. Except for the vegetation, I could be on the moon.

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I snap the boulders and lichen, take a few more shots of my ghost town spread out in the valley below, then head home.

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15 thoughts on “A Twenty-first Century Ghost Town

  1. Lovely photos, good representation and still left things to the imagination with your words ๐Ÿ™‚ Kind of reminds me of, I think, the last Indiana Jones (or abomination some people don’t claim it), where he’s in a neighborhood and it’s one where the military tested bomb strikes.

    • Thank you! I’m glad you liked it. Yeah, Nevada was a big bomb test site, wasn’t it?

      There’s an old Twilight Zone where a bunch of astronauts have some sort of accident, and crash land on what they think is a remote planet. They wander around, hungry and thirsty (I think maybe one of them killed the others?). At the end, we discover that they crashed back on Earth — about a half hour outside of Reno. It’s a desolate looking place.

  2. I like the way you write: prose as gentle as the patter of a little angel’s feet on the polished hardwood floor of the old family house in Bagumbayan. And I remember the hills of your girlhood in California. BTW is your Mom’s and Dad’s home still the one beside Uncle Boy’s and Auntie Odehl’s in Fernley?

    A few days back, out of the blue, I recalled a photo taken of you and John, Caitlin, Eljay and some others crossing the stream near the Malabsay Falls. (I can’t forget it because John had the pot of rice with him.) This was some years back because there were no digital cameras then and the film had to be processed. The photo showed you guys in the middle of the stream and there was a ghostly white figure with you. Wish I can find that photo to send to you for your MultoGhost stories. Will do if I ever come cross it. Keep writing. – Uncle Pepito

    • Hi Uncle! Yes, Mom, and Auntie Odehl and Uncle Boy still all live next to each other on the same street. I’m glad you liked the writing; thank you.

      I would love to see that photo if you ever find it again, because I had so much fun that visit, and because it would make a good photo for Multo. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I love this. So eerie. Have you seen the remake of Fright Night from 2011? It’s set in a subdivision like this, in the desert with the populations slowly dripping away – or being taken.

    • Glad you like it! I thought of you, actually, as I was writing it…

      I haven’t seen the Fright Night remake, but it does seem fitting. There is definitely something spooky about all these lifeless roads of cookie-cutter houses.

    • Truthfully, they weren’t as atmospheric as the shots I got just of the subdivision. Probably I can spooky them up with a little filter- or Photoshop-foo. But I did get some nice ones of the house from up in the hills. Here’s one I like (I hope this html works):

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      I think maybe the house looks more abandoned and desolate from far away, which is why my shots from below didn’t work…

    • It’s very spooky to walk around the place. And after sunset last night, the division was almost completely dark; no lights in any windows. It’s sad to see the place so lifeless.

  4. Very nice change of pace, something like the beginning of an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” Gorgeous photos. Have a great holiday, Nina!

  5. I imagine that is how ghost towns begin. Some shock sends all but a few away, and when they eventually leave the place is all but forgotten. Also, if you haven’t seen it already you might enjoy the show Forgotten Planet on Netflix. It’s all about ghost towns.

    • No, I’ve not seen Forgotten Planet. I’ll have to check it out.

      My husband pointed out to me that we’re not very far from Bodie, NV, right now — a for-real official ghost town. We don’t have time this trip, and I only have my phone camera, but one of these days we’ll have to make a side trip out there, with proper cameras.

      • That’d be cool! There are ghost towns all over the place it seems. There are at least a couple in Ohio. One nicknamed Helltown because it is allegedly very haunted. I’ve never been though so couldn’t say.

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