Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works, Chile
For a few prosperous decades, between the 1870s and 1930s, Chile emerged as the world’s largest supplier of sodium nitrate, which was in high demand to fertilize agricultural areas and fuel explosives. In the harsh desert environment of Pampa, mining towns like Humberstone and the nearby Santa Laura popped up, attracting thousands of workers to mine more than 200 natural saltpeter works. But soon, a synthetic version was invented, values dropped, and the towns were abandoned, leaving the hulking plants, rusty train line, and vestiges of a community to disintegrate. By the late 1950s, everyone had moved on, sometimes leaving behind full closets and dining room sets in their previous homes. Eight years ago, UNESCO dubbed the region a World Heritage Site, and it still stands as testament to the country’s industrial perseverance.