South Dakota may have more ghost towns than any other state. There's two reasons for that - mines and railroads. South Dakota seems to have a mine for everything. They have gold, silver, lead, copper and zinc. Where ever there was a mine, a town soon followed. And when the mine played out, so did the town.
Towns also formed around railroad stops. As railroads were built, towns would spring up along the way. These towns were typically about ten miles apart on the line. That was the distance a farmer or rancher could bring their goods to the rail head and still get home in one day.
The mining and railroad heyday was from the turn of the 20th century to World War II. Some hung on longer than that. South Dakota has probably hundreds of old towns that still exist on the map but not on the ground. The wind, the prairie, the elements and sometimes the bulldozer have wiped them out. Some still have something to see.
One of those towns is Conata. It rose off the prairie during the construction of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad from Pierre to Rapid City in 1907 and then supported it after completion. There are the remains of a reservoir there that was used to water the steam engines. The Dust Bowl of the 1930's drove many away, but Conata hung on until the early 1950's, when the railroad left.
We were geocaching and exploring in the Badlands. There's a cache here so we diverted on our way to Wall Drug to hunt it down. This was once a thriving prairie railroad town but it's basically returned to the land. According to an old USGS topographic map, there were once 14 structures here, including a school and a church. We also got a picture of a picture in Wall Drug of Conata in its heyday. But the town is gone. All that's left is junk.
The junk is scattered as far as the eye can see. There are outlines and foundations of buildings. The old railroad bed minus the track is still obvious as is the outline of the reservoir once used to water up the steam engines. The most ghostly thing there is a bullet riddled 1940's vintage car. We looked around for a cemetery but didn't see one. They had a church and 50 years to bury someone. Maybe the Badlands has reclaimed it too.
We asked about the fate of Conata at the Badlands National Park Visitor's Center and information was pretty sketchy. Apparently, the last person out turned off the lights and the South Dakota elements took care of the rest.
This is why we seek out ghost towns. It's interesting to find them, walk around and ponder what happened. What was it like here? What did they sell in the store? Who taught school? What grades and how many students? The answers are buried in some musty archives somewhere or in the memories of old timers who lived there. It would be interesting to talk to them.
If you like to explore off the beaten path, this is a good spot for it. The "Abandoned in Conata" geocache is nearby and newly re-furbished after some DNF's in 2010.
The GPS coordinates for the center of Conata are 43.728651, -102.188509. Click on the coordinates to bring up a Google interactive map.
Good haunting....The Cachemanian Devils