An Alabama ghost town
Claiborne was a thriving port on the Alabama River in the mid-1800s, said Sarah Kershsaw in The New York Times. Today only a few original homes still stand near “an overgrown river landing and three 18th-century cemeteries.” At its peak in the 1830s, Claiborne’s population reached about 5,000. Back then the town—an hour and half’s drive northeast of Mobile—was surrounded by cotton gins. Then yellow fever and cholera struck, and after the Civil War the town was looted “for days, leaving little behind.” Claiborne became a ghost town when trains made the shipping of cotton by steamboat obsolete. Agee Broughton, who lives in one of the few remaining houses, gives occasional tours of about a dozen 19th-century homes in the area. The Monroe County Heritage Museums in nearby Monroeville also give tours of its courthouse—“the model for the courtroom scene in To Kill a Mockingbird.

An eco-city in the desert
Arcosanti is a utopian community in the Arizona desert that “champions sustainable living,” said Andrea Sachs in The Washington Post. Italian architect Paolo Soleri founded this modern-day “urban laboratory” in the 1970s as a way of finding “an alternative to a car-dominant, hyper-consumerist society.” Today this decades-old work in progress is home to about 80 environmentalists, and offers workshops, tours, and hikes. Unlike the new breed of trendy eco-resorts, Arcosanti has long been dedicated to fundamentally changing the way Americans use energy and other natural resources. Located about 70 miles north of Phoenix, the community is set on 15 cactus-strewn acres. The cluster of tastefully designed, earth-hued concrete buildings resembles “a World War III bunker for a rich dilettante” and includes a cafe, bakery, art gallery, apartments and dorms, ceramic studios, and an amphitheater. There’s even a swimming pool overlooking “a static tide of sand and rocks.”