Aurora – Hawthorne, Nevada - Atlas Obscura

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Hawthorne, Nevada

This Gold Rush ghost town was once the subject of a territorial dispute between California and Nevada. 


Although gold is still produced in the area, little remains of Aurora, once a prominent Gold Rush mining town. Gold was struck in this area around 1860, leading to the town’s first (and biggest) boom. At Aurora’s peak in the summer of 1863, more than 5,000 people called it home. 

When Aurora was first founded, the California state line had not been surveyed, and since Aurora was thought to lie in California, it became the county seat of Mono County in 1861. But Nevada territory also claimed the town, and later that year Aurora became the county seat of Esmeralda County in Nevada. (Mineral County, where Aurora now lies, was split off Esmeralda County later.) A federal survey in 1863 officially determined that the town lay in Nevada. This seems to have been a unique historical case, that the same town was simultaneously the seat of two different counties in two different states.

The discovery of gold in nearby Bodie, around 1877, triggered a new boom in Aurora, and for the next couple of decades, the towns maintained a spirited rivalry. The last “historic” boom occurred in the early 20th century when a new stamp mill was built at Magnum just east of town.

Though Aurora’s population declined drastically by the end of the 19th century, many of its buildings survived through the 1940s. Eventually, they fell victim to the post-war southern California fad for used brick as they were mostly constructed of locally fired brick. At present, the cemetery is still maintained (please be respectful), and the weathered concrete foundations of the Magnum mill are visible, but little else is left. Ironically, immediately to the east of the old mill site sits a large contemporary bulk-mining operation for gold.

Know Before You Go

Aurora is harder to get to than Bodie. You can drive there from Bodie, but will have to pay the park entrance fee at Bodie. Continue for ~12 miles on the road out north from Bodie.

You can also come in from the Nevada side and avoid the entrance fee, but you will spend more time on dirt roads. From the west, turn off Nevada State Route 338 onto National Forest road 028. This road should be signed for "Hawthorne", but in any case the intersection is at 38.442663 N, 119131534 W. Proceed about 15 miles to an intersection at 38.363301 N, 118.904454 W, which should be signed for Aurora. Turn right (south) here and proceed 2 miles, bearing left at an intersection at 38.334669 N, 118.911250 W. In another 2.7 miles you will start passing the modern operation on the left. The Aurora townsite is about 6 miles overall from the intersection with USFS 028.

You can alternatively reach this intersection from the east. Proceed 5.9 miles south on Nevada State Route 359 from the stoplight in Hawthorne. At this point turn right on Lucky Boy Pass Road (intersection at 38.475255 N, 118.647719 W). It is now 18.2 miles to the turnoff to Aurora. You will have to cross Lucky Boy Pass.

The roads are nominally graded, but washouts are common and maintenance intermittent so high clearance at a minimum is recommended. Four-wheel drive will probably be necessary in wet weather.

A sidetrip to Bodie is another 12 miles down the road.

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April 15, 2022

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