Writing Mind: The real-life ghost town that inspired the epic time travel book Shot Through Time
Updated: Nov 4, 2019
Hello from Rural Arizona!
I'm introducing a new segment this week: #WritingMind! I get asked about my research process a lot, as well as how much truth makes it into my time travel books. #WritingMind will explore how I put things together and where I find the information for my stories. Let's dive in!
My current #WIP is Shot Through Time, which is a time travel romance/adventure. I haven't decided which it's more of yet 😅 Even with that small detail still yet to reveal itself, I've done a ton of research for it. Living in Arizona has helped a bunch since that's where the story is set. However, as my husband put it, I managed to pick the one ghost town in the state that no one remembers as my primary setting.
La Paz, Arizona is located just off the Colorado River, about six miles from Interstate-10. If you were to visit (which I wouldn't recommend at this point--more on that later), you would take the exit just before the California state line, into Erhenburg. There will be no signs pointing you in the direction of the historic town, no mentions of it on your modern map, and if you follow the river, you will never find it.
Let me explain: La Paz was once one of the most important places in Arizona. Located on a deep slough of water from the Colorado River, it was a steamboat port, and the Bradshaw Road ran right through it, leading on to California. Wagon trains left every two weeks to Yuma and Tucson. When the area officially became part of the Arizona Territory in 1863, it was the seat of Yuma County, housing all government records. The county judge and courthouse, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the County Sheriff's Department were also located there.
Before it was an essential foothold in both government and travel, though, La Paz was a literal gold mine of opportunity. Accounts on its initial discovery vary. Generally, it is believed that Native Americans showed the mountain man, Paulino Weaver, where the gold was. He, in turn, relayed that information to José Mariá Redondo, who took a group of men with him to pan. For the spring and summer of 1862, La Paz was nothing more than a small Mexican community, made of tents and adobe buildings. News of gold traveled fast though, and in the fall and winter of the same year Americans began arriving to try their hand at making a fortune. Most of the deposits were placers-- nuggets and dust found by panning. The central gold vein supplying the area was never found, but it is estimated that over five to eight million dollars were recovered from the area. What started as a small camp of Mexican miners became a city with anywhere from five hundred to several thousand residents.
As La Paz grew, businessmen began claiming the real riches of the area. They sold supplies to the miners, built inns and saloons, provided entertainment, started restaurants, and raked in what money was being found. Eventually, the placers began to run out, but La Paz managed to maintain its importance as a transfer point and supply station. The business of the town was travelers, and they were damn good at taking care of them.
Several steamboats landed at La Paz over the years, as well as barges. The military transported supplies to Fort Yuma through them, and gold was often transported downriver to larger banks in Yuma and Tucson. Wagon trains carried supplies to other camps and cities, bringing goods from California. Ferries were established at several points to assist travelers in crossing the then 350 to 450 yards wide Colorado.
On March 4, 1863, the Arizona Territory was created. That December, government officials finally arrived at Fort Whipple and began enacting American law in the town. La Paz was named the seat of Yuma County, as well as the headquarters for the Second Judicial District, and the court regularly sat, two to three times a year. More wells were ordered for the surrounding areas, a delegate was sent to Washington to sit in Congress, the Arizona Railway company was formed, and the Superintendent of Indian Affairs was located in the town. The Colorado Indian reservation was established just north.
Unfortunately, La Paz was not long for the world. It seemed the residents hadn't planned very well for the future, not even constructing a school or church. After the high water season in 1866, the Colorado changed course, land locking La Paz. Without its steamboat port, La Paz began to fade into nothing. A road was built from the new river course to the town, but the new landing and path were both too expensive and inconvenient to use. Cutting their losses, the citizens relocated to what is now Erhenburg. By 1868, most everyone was gone. In 1871, the county seat was moved to Yuma, all the records transported from the dying town by boat.
The town was completely abandoned in the 1870s. The ruins remained until another high water season washed the adobe buildings away in 1911. Today, La Paz is nothing but a forgotten spot in Arizona history. At one point, an archeological effort was made to uncover what remained, including the steamboat port and adjoining Native American village. The project was never finished.
Enter me! Dante, the main character of Shot Through Time, appeared in my mind, and I set out on a journey to discover the perfect Wild West ghost town for him to tumble through. After a few detailed searches, I settled on La Paz. Once I had my location and history, the story started falling into place around it.
I visited La Paz this summer and almost killed myself in the process 😅 It was entirely my fault, and I absolutely should have known better than to do what I did, but I managed to snag this picture in the process of death by heatstroke.
I started the day in Yuma, going through the Arizona Historical Archives there (which is where all the other pictures in this article came from). After driving a little over an hour north, through California, we came to Erhenburg. We then drove into the reservation, and into an old Colorado River channel, following our GPS to the coordinates at which La Paz existed. You can't really tell from this photo, but the place is covered in old stream and river beds. If you were to visit, you would absolutely need a four-wheel-drive vehicle to get out there. In my opinion, you should not visit unless it's wintertime, you have plenty of water, you're prepared to do some serious hiking and climbing, and you've let someone know where you are.
We finally managed to make it to a place where we couldn't drive our jeep anymore, and I decided to get out and walk. It was 124 degrees outside, and I brought one water bottle with me *facepalm* That was incredibly STUPID. I kept thinking if I walked just a little more, I would make it to the exact coordinates and could look for any evidence. However, I literally almost passed out and died from heat exhaustion and never made it to the specific spot I wanted. There was some evidence of archeological work done a while back, but for the most part, there was nothing but desert. I can honestly say, from personal experience, I understand entirely why they left when the water did!
If you'd like more information on La Paz, I suggest this article. You'll have to sign up to read it, but you do get a few free articles before having to provide any payment information. You can also visit the Arizona Historical Society in Yuma as I did. A Google search will provide you with what little information is available on the internet as well. The book Western Arizona Ghost Towns by Stanley W. Paher has a page or two about the town, as well as Erhenburg. Mining Camps and Ghost Towns; A History of Mining in Arizona and California Along the Lower Colorado (Great West and Indian Series) also has an informative chapter about La Paz.
For those interested in my book, Shot Through Time, more information can be found on the preorder page ☺
Dante Hernandez is sure of only three things: he didn't deserve to go to prison, his gang mates want him dead, and if the cops find him, he can kiss his chance at freedom goodbye.
Running for his life, Dante stumbles onto a huge secret-- a time machine hidden in the Arizona desert. Seizing the opportunity to go back and right the wrongs committed against him, he uses it to travel to the night everything changed for the worse. Unfortunately, his plans are shattered when the vehicle malfunctions, shooting him into the Wild West and stranding him over one hundred and fifty years from his intended path.
Lost in a lawless and untamed world, Dante finds himself holed up in the mining town La Paz, struggling to make any kind of life for himself. It doesn't help that the sheriff is a merciless racist set on making him miserable, as well as a prominent historical figure. When Dante meets Abagail Baker though, he realizes there is a lot more at stake than his own survival. History can be cruel, and there is a terrible destiny awaiting the woman who seems to see right through his lies.
Caught between his old life and the possibility of the new one before him, Dante has only two options. Will he return to his own century and clear his name, allowing history to go on untainted, or will he be branded as one of the desperados of the West?