How long does it take for the forces of nature to lay waste to a city, a resort town, a middle-class suburb, or a tycoon's private island in the Hudson River? Not as long as you might think. The booming metropolis of your youth could be the moss-covered structural remains of old age. Human enterprises need humans to survive. Once abandoned, they are as mortal as their makers. While post-apocalyptic scenarios make great movie sets, you don't have to be Charlton Heston in the final scene of "The Planet of the Apes" to appreciate the transience of our boom-and-bust cultural trajectory; nor do you have to travel to ancient Rome or Machu Picchu or Angkor Wat.
The world is littered with places that have given up the ghost. Walking amid the aftermath, a traveler may feel a certain kind of fragile hope that stirs in these devastated places enveloped by nature. In fact, the word "apocalypse" didn't even have negative connotations until the 1800s -- it simply meant a revelation or uncovering. These 14 spots are begging us to cast off our cultural hubris and step into their lonely embrace. Could this happen to us? Is it happening now?