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October 2015

Ghost Town Hunters: A Helpful Guide

There’s been an article going around my Facebook circle about ghost towns.  It’s specific to my state: something along the lines of:

“Ten Iowan Ghost Towns You Absolutely Have To Visit!”  

Being a Facebook article, it’s only marginally accurate. Several of the towns listed still have residents, and most consisted only of one old building surrounded by newer urban growth.

Still, I loved the idea of visiting ghost towns (especially in October) so I decided to take the article’s advice.  My dad (Dane Penland, a professional photographer) was in town for a visit, so we grabbed cameras and hopped in a car.

Who doesn't think this stuff is awesome?!
Who doesn’t think this stuff is awesome?!

If you think this sounds like fun, here’s some advice for how to go about it.

1. Do your research

Depending on where you live, this is as simple as a quick search for “_________ state ghost towns”. Google is an excellent guide. A warning, though: just because you know a ghost town exists doesn’t mean you’ll be able to easily find it.  Most of the sites we found had plenty of information but very few current maps.

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That can be a challenge.

You also want to keep in mind how far you’re willing to drive, and try to limit your search to that area. This will not keep you from finding amazingly cool sites four hours away, but it’s worth a shot.  If you decide to do a long drive, see if there’s anything along the way you’d like to see as well.

Pro tip: if there’s a cluster of ghost towns in one area, you can drive out and see them all in one trip. The cool part is, there is a ton of history available once you find a good spot. People love to look into local history, so you’ll likely have a wealth of information on what it used to be.

Dane and I settled on a site in northeastern Iowa called Buckhorn. It’s an hour and a half away from my apartment. From what we could tell, there was an old mill, a church, and a graveyard in the area.

2. Don’t get your expectations up too high

The phrase “ghost town” usually conjures up the image of… well, a town.  In my mind, it’s all wild-west style, tumbleweeds and all.  That’s not how it works.  Old buildings get demolished and built over as nearby towns expand, and you end up with fragments.

When we got to Buckhorn, there was one building.  It was a really interesting building, don’t get me wrong, but the only church-and-graveyard nearby appeared to be pretty modern, or at least still in use.  Most of the other sites we looked into were fairly similar.  There’s actually a site about 20 minutes from where I live, but upon closer examination (read: Google Maps) it appeared to be about 95% cornfield and 5% railroad track now.

That said, don’t get discouraged.  What we did find was really cool! It had everything from skulls to shattered roofs, was scattered with old glass and graffiti, and loaded with old nooks and crevices to explore.

3. Have a goal in mind

What do you want to do once you get there? Exploring is fun, but if someone comes up and asks you why you’re there it’s probably a good idea to have an answer.  Just in case.  (Side note: A lot of these are on private property. I am not advocating trespassing.  But if you do trespass, a smile and a reason will work magic.)

There are a ton of possibilities.  Dane and I were there to take pictures, plus I was doing a little writing research.  There’s always ghost-hunting, if that’s your thing.  Or film making. Seriously, the ideas are endless.  What can’t you do in a ghost town?

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Once you have your goal in mind, do some research again.  Example: we arrived in the early afternoon, expecting some great sunlight, only to discover the whole place was in shadow.  Buckhorn is a morning-photography site.

4. Be safe

Ruins are dangerous.

Bring a first aid kit with you: bandaids, bug-bite stuff, sunscreen.  Bring some granola bars and a water bottle.  A flashlight.  Don’t wear flip-flops or shorts: we encountered a ton of broken glass. Watch where you’re walking. Be careful of roofs and upper-levels.

Seriously, don’t trespass.  You don’t know who owns the property.

If you’re planning on going after dark, check the area out during the day first.  Keep the local fauna in mind: just because it used to be a town doesn’t mean it isn’t wild now.  Be smart, don’t try to pick up a snake with your bare hands even if it’s cute.  And tell someone where you’re going before you leave.  If you can help it, don’t go alone at all.

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A lot of this stuff is common sense, but it’s shocking how many people forget something simple.

5. “Spirit Orbs” are dust flecks that caught the light.

Or lens flare, or oftentimes something reflecting in glass.

Credit: Dane Penland
Credit: Dane Penland

My pride as a photographer forces me to include this.  If you are doing a ghost-hunting thing, don’t get excited over small floating circles of light in your pictures.  By all means, go off in search of the unknown.  It’s awesome.  Just be sensible about it.

6. Remember: the journey is the fun part

Sitting in a car for three hours is a great way to disillusion yourself: take some time to stop somewhere unknown.  Dane and I stopped by a surprisingly good motorcycle museum on our way to Buckhorn, and hit up a pub for a late-lunch-early-dinner on the way back.  The actual driving seemed to take no time at all, and it was full of good conversation.

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That’s good advice for life, actually. Don’t get so caught up in where you’re going that you forget to enjoy the ride.


AlexPHalloween

Alex Penland is currently enjoying a longtime addiction to stories, which she feeds through books, tabletop RPGs, and an excessive collection of video games. She’s currently seeking to publish a novel about a bookshop that gets abducted by aliens, loves to crochet, and blogs about it all over at https://alexpenland.wordpress.com/.  You can follow her on Twitter @AlexPenname, where she spends two hours every Saturday livetweeting whatever books strike her fancy.

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I Made A Thing

One might call this post a shameless plug, however I am going to endeavor to make it slightly less shameless by sharing a little about myself as I tell you about this pretty nifty thing I made.

In 2006, my very good friend of many years took on what seemed like an impossible task, so called “National Novel Writing Month,” NaNoWriMo, or, for us super lazy folks, NaNo. It’s a challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days or less in the month of November. She casually tried to get me to take this challenge with her, and as a very good and loyal friend, I nope’ed right out of that.

I wrote for fun, because I wanted to – and when I wanted to, as much as I wanted to. 50,000 words in a month was insanity (it still totally is).

So I sat back and was a spectator as she miraculously cranked out a pretty damn good, and fun, YA-type novel.

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When 2007 rolled around, her success made it a little easier for me to reticently say OKAY, I GUESS I’LL DO IT.

That year I wrote 50,000 words in 13 days. You may be asking yourself, how is that even possible? Let me break it down for you:

  1. The atmosphere in November in the NaNo community is electric.
  2. Forcing myself to sit down and come up with a plot, plot twists, and interesting characters resulted in an violent waterfall of enthusiastic (if not particularly GOOD) writing.
  3. Good ol’ fashion competition. I wasn’t just racing my friend on word count, I was racing the entire NaNo forums. As an INTJ, I take my challenges VERY seriously.

The creative high was like none other. I ended up being so grateful that my friend had twisted my arm until I finally caved. Every year since 2007, I have participated and met the 50k challenge. You can check out my NaNo page (and become writing buddies with me!) here.

For seven years, I happily wrote my one-novel-a-year and left it at that. That was, of course, until I met my now good friend Maurnas, who is also a writer. I agreed to let her read some of my stuff and being the bibliophile that she is, she tore through my novels easily. This was a turning point for me because when she was done with one novel in particular, she called and asked me, in a somewhat accusatory tone,

“Why aren’t you published yet?!”

Sure, I had always thought of one day getting published. But it just seemed like one of those lovely daydreams you have to pass the time. Like winning the lottery or being the hero in a crisis situation. But with her very pointed question, I began to understand that publishing was nothing like winning the lottery. It was 100% within my abilities to do. And so I did. I busted a move and self-published my 2014 NaNoWriMo novel Children of the Fallen.

This, however, was not the novel Maurnas was so insistent I publish. That honor goes to the novel that hits the virtual shelves today, October 20th, 2015: Colony One.

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This novel was the result of a brainchild between myself and two friends I met standing in line at a little convention you might have heard of (coughDragonConcough). We originally conceived of it as a TV show, being all big fans of Battlestar Galactica and Firefly and all that. Since my script writing talents are shit, I decided to take on this story as my 2013 NaNo novel and loved every second of writing it. We still hope to one day make that TV show happen, but someone with better script writing abilities is in charge of that!

I digress. Colony One is a story that explores the natural progression of untapped capitalism, the after affects of world wide war, world government and government corruption, population control, the human spirit and the core values of humanity. It also imagines a world where we are able to travel to the Alpha Centauri system, and the kinds of people who would willingly make a one-way trip to save Earth from themselves.

Space is huge. Don't think about it for too long, it will cause an existential crisis.
Space is huge. Don’t think about it for too long, it will cause an existential crisis.

So, thanks to a handful of amazing friends who have been, in various ways, my motivation, muse, and inspiration, I have been able to see one of my life’s dreams realized. I can now call myself an author and be proud of the work I put out there.

Colony One might be the best thing I’ve written to date, but it is by no means the last great thing that I will be writing. With November right around the corner, I plan to bust a move on a new novel set in the same universe as Children of the Fallen with alternative characters (see: LGBT). The world will see more of my work, and I hope they are inspired and delighted by it.

You can check out Colony One on Amazon here: http://amzn.com/1516950127. If you read it, and enjoy it, please let me know! Leave a comment, write a review, blog about it, take a joyous picture… it would seriously make my life.


Eve2

Eve is the founder of Some Nerd Girl and the author of urban fantasy novel Children of the Fallen and science fiction novel Colony One. She has been writing since the age of 13 and has been flying her nerd flag for the past 16 years. You can visit her website at www.somenerdgirl.com and look up her works of fiction on Amazon.

09 Halloween at the Office – Some Nerd Girl Original Webcomic

Being a nerd means you are basically never recognizable during Halloween. I’ve made my choice, and I accept my fate!

Join us every Monday for a new, original Some Nerd Girl Webcomic!


AlexAlex is our resident Webcomic creator. He grew up in Puerto Rico, but didn’t reach true Nerdom until he came state side when he was in middle school. He’s been drawing since he was five, but has only started posting Webcomics in the past year. You can check out his amazing and original work at tapastic.com/gomezalexj.

We did it!!

Our first 10,000 views are in the books – now here’s to the next 10k!! But before that, we have some great news for three lucky winners of our 10k Views Giveaway!

To celebrate the blog’s10,000th view, we gave away a $25 gift card to ThinkGeek.com, and SNG founder’s original signed novels: Children of the Fallen and Colony One.

Winners are announced in the video below and will be contacted via email to arrange the delivery of their prizes!

Thanks to everyone who entered, more giveaways are in the future!

Also, thanks YouTube for the really awesome… amazing, and might I add…. stunning – YouTube video still.

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