Ashes to ashes, rust to rust: the world's coolest boneyards

When old machinery is no longer loved or wanted, it doesn't just disappear. Unless it's completely dismantled, an old plane, train or automobile has to be stored away somewhere to die a rusty death. Some of these graveyards – often known as boneyards – are more spectacular than others, however. And the most impressive turn into bizarre tourist attractions for travellers who like seeing industrial decay on a grand scale. We've picked out eight of the most intriguing from around the world…

309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group

Where: Tucson, Arizona, USA

Occupying a vast stretch of plain in southern Arizona, the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (or AMARG for acronym fans) is where old planes go into retirement. Most of them are ex-military, but they're kept here because the dry air means they're less likely to rust.

Some of the planes – and there are thousands of them – are resurrected and used for training purposes or put in museums. But most stand there, waiting to be smelted down or have their parts recycled.

The nearby Pima Air and Space Museum  offers tours around the boneyard – which, with over 4000 planes doing nothing in the sunshine, is the biggest of its kind in the world.

Scapa Flow

Where: Orkney, Scotland

At the end of World War I, while the Allies were plotting precisely how hard they wanted to punish Germany for kicking the whole thing off, there was the question of what to do with the German naval fleet. While discussions continued, 74 ships were impounded at the Royal Navy's Scapa Flow naval base in the Orkney Islands under a skeleton crew.

As time passed, Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter decided to take matters into his own hands, waiting for the British ships to go out on exercises before scuttling the fleet. Fifty-two of the ships sank. Over time, 45 of them have been salvaged, but for seven, it's still their graveyard.

For scuba divers, this is excellent news – nowhere in the world offers such a concentration of wrecks in such shallow, easily accessible waters.  The Diving Cellar is among the operators offering scuba trips out to the German wrecks.

The Staten Island Boat Graveyard

To see scrapped ships without donning the scuba gear, a trip out to New York City's fifth borough is in order. The Witte Marine Scrapyard along Staten Island's Arthur Kills waterway has been a dumping ground for a variety of vessels since the 1930s, and many of them stick out of the water, slowly decaying. In theory, they're waiting to be salvaged or dismantled – and the rotting ships include one of the city's famous Staten Island ferries.

It's one for the enthusiastic photographer rather than the casual visitor – getting to a good viewing point involves an often messy walk along unmarked and unpaved paths. Still, the local tourism authority seems keen to give directions.

The Uyuni train boneyard

Where: Uyuni, Bolivia.

In Bolivia's south-western altiplano, a collection of old locomotives and carriages lies on the bleak flatlands, rusting away. A short drive or hike outside the town of Uyuni – usually tackled on the way to the spectacular salt pans nearby – this unofficial railroad cemetery came about through the death of a mineral mining industry.

In the late 19th century, a mining boom led to (mainly British) engineers rushing out here to build railway lines. The trains came with them, but when the mining industry collapsed in the 1940s, it was far easier to just leave the trains where they were. It may have been litterbuggery at its very worst, but the abandonment has created a fantastically eerie sight.

Grupo Rosario  runs three-day tours in the region, which includes a visit to the abandoned locos.

Cadillac Ranch

Where: Amarillo, Texas

Sometimes in their death, old vehicles can get a new lease of life. A rather more unusual take on the boneyard concept can be found in a cow field a couple of miles outside Amarillo. In 1974, a team of artists decided that the best way of disposing with 10 vintage Cadillacs would be to stick them in the ground, nose first, then paint them in all manner of lurid colours. They face west at the same angle as the Great Pyramid at Giza in Egypt.

The Cadillac Ranch  makes for a rather surreal piece of installation art, and a stalwart Route 66 stopoff. The cars are regularly given a repaint – they've been all-white, all-black and rainbow-striped in the past – and although on private land, visitors are encouraged to come and take a closer look.

The Rassorva Vehicle Graveyard

Where: Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, Ukraine

After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, an exclusion zone was placed around the stricken reactor. And no one was supposed to live within it. This led to one of the largest evacuation operations in history, with tens of thousands of people having to leave their possessions where they were.

The vehicles used in the evacuation, however, were dangerously contaminated by the time they'd done multiple runs in and out of the exclusion zone. So they had to be stockpiled in the zone to rust away forever. In 2008, the Ukrainian government stopped tours accessing the vehicle graveyard in the village of Rassorva, partly through safety concerns and partly through the vehicles being raided for scrap metal. But it's still possible to see the abandoned boats that took part in the rescue, stranded on a riverside dock. There's also a smaller open-air exhibition of vehicles and robots used in the evacuation.

Chernobyl Tour  offers trips lasting one, two, three or four days to see what's been left behind in the zone.

The Chatillon Car Graveyard

Where: Just west of Chatillon, Belgium

In a small patch of forest, just to the west of the southern Belgian village of Chatillon, dozens of vintage cars lie abandoned – and they're slowly being consumed by the woodland foliage.

The romantic version of the story says that the cars were left by American GIs after they went back home following the Second World War. Soldiers meant to get their cars sent back to the states but couldn't afford it, and had to leave them where they were. The presence of later model vehicles casts an air of dubiousness on this explanation, however.

Pop the co-ordinates 49.623759, 5.69169 into Google Maps for a satellite view or walking directions.

The Neon Boneyard

Where: Las Vegas, Nevada

It's not just vehicles that get abandoned. The neon signs of Sin City – particularly those that turn the Downtown area into a blizzard of garishness – are often abandoned for marketing reasons. Rebrands and new images mean that the old signs are no longer needed, and many of them have ended up in the Neon Boneyard.

The Boneyard is used as a storage centre by the Neon Museum, which attempts to restore classic signs and display them along the roadside. Regular tours take visitors inside, and there's a highly photogenic sadness about it – all giant fairground-ish fonts, ditched cartoon characters and broken glass bulbs.

Some of them will be painstakingly restored to their former glory – it's all part of a valiant attempt to preserve Vegas' heritage – while others will remain oddly poignant shadows of what they once were.

Photo gallery: World's coolest boneyards

Comments