I’d passed Santa Claus, Arizona three times and didn’t even realize it was there.
It wasn’t until I looked at an Arizona road map, searching for a spot to spend a night on a trip between Las Vegas and Phoenix, that I saw the unusual place name. A town named Santa Claus? I wondered. In Arizona? What the hell?
Turns out there’s not much of a town there. As an Atlas Obscura article says, it’s really just a “Saint Nicholas-themed ghost town in the Mojave.”
According to Wikipedia, it all started in the 1930s when
Nina Talbot and her husband moved from Los Angeles, California, to Kingman, Arizona, to operate a motel…In 1937, she opened the town of Santa Claus approximately 14 miles (23 km) northwest of Kingman. Her plans for the town included subdividing the 80-acre (32 ha) site into lots that would form a resort town centered on a Santa theme… Talbot built a series of buildings using a North Pole, Santa’s workshop theme as part of the Santa Claus…attraction. The attraction was designed to promote the sales of surrounding, subdivided land.
The aforementioned Atlas Obscura article says the town
featured several Christmas-themed buildings and visiting children could meet Santa Claus at any day of the year.
The town did in fact become a popular tourist destination, however no one ever bought land there…Failing to see how she would make her real estate profits, and with the town in decline, Talbot sold Santa Claus in 1949, having failed in her attempt to convince people to move to the desert.
The town of Santa Claus sounded worthy of a visit, even if the town is now of the ghost variety. I decided I would stop by on my way to Phoenix. I wasn’t expecting much, and I wasn’t disappointed.
There’s no exit for a town called Santa Claus, no sign announcing the place. I only knew what dilapidated building were the remains of the town because I’d gleaned the location from the Roadside America website: Between mile markers 57 and 58, on the west side of Highway 93.
When I got to mile marker 56, I started looking. When I got to mile marker 57, I began to pay close attention. Then I saw some rundown shacks on the side of the highway. There was also a wide gravel parking area just off the shoulder of the road. I slowed the van and pulled into the gravel. Beyond the parking area was a fence topped with barbed wire and adorned with a faded sign ordering “no trespassing.”
I stayed on my side of the fence and took photos of the one pole still decorated with green and red Christmas swirls, the deteriorating wishing well, the rotting buildings, the graffiti emblazoned over it all. Apparently, there was once a little train (the “Old 1225”) on the property too, but it’s gone now. You can see photos of it and the face of Santa now missing from the land office sign on the Atlas Obscura page about the town, which says,
by the 1970s, [the town] had already begun to fall into disrepair…The last gift shops and amusements went out of business in 1995…
The Wikipedia article about the town of Santa Claus says,
In 2003, the population of Santa Claus was 10, divided among five houses, one of which had a buffalo. By 2004, the town had become difficult to locate…as of 2005, all U.S. mail addressed to Santa Claus is sent to Santa Claus, Indiana.
The good news is that Santa Clause, AZ is for sale. Four acres can be had, and the owners are considering all offers. The bad news? I’m not sure any of those buildings can be salvaged, which means if you buy Santa Claus, all you’re really getting is a parcel of land with a cool name.
I took all of the photos in this post. To see really stunning photos of the remains of Santa Claus, AZ, see the December 2013 article from the Daily Mail titled “Walking in a desert wonderland: Haunting photos of an abandoned Arizona Christmas theme park portray a once popular tourist spot after decades of decline in the Mojave heat.”