Visit Rhyolite National Historic Site – Nevada

Rhyolite in Nevada is quite different from what you picture a scene of a typical western-theme ghost town. Only 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas near the eastern edge of Death Valley National Park, this western ghost town begs to be explored and its’ marveled history learned.

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Always On Liberty - Rhyolite, Nevada

Visit Rhyolite National Historic Site – Rhyolite, Nevada

When we think of a Ghost Town, we typically envision an abandoned, Wild West-like town on a packed dirt road dividing the rows of faded and wood-stained buildings. We recollect those western movies our fathers enjoyed watching. Black and white films of cowboys with six shooters holstered on their hips with horse and buggies traversing the dusty road in front of the jail, saloon and mercantile.

However, Rhyolite is nothing like those picturesque ghost towns. This is a more-modern ghost town that’s left with remnants of concrete or brick structures and rusted remnants of what once was.

There’s pieces of evidence that people lived, worked, and went to school in this once bustling boom town. But then, economic crashes and natural or man-made disasters came to literally wipe them off the map.

The once boom town of Rhyolite is one of them.

A different kind of ghost town

We set out to search for Rhyolite when we were parked for a month in Pahrump, Nevada at Wine Ridge RV Resort. This historic site it was about two-hour drive from Pahrump. Once we arrived, it was like nothing we’ve ever envisioned of being a ‘ghost town’.

We were eager to see and learn about the Rhyolite ruins. The town was once a lucrative and thriving mining town located near Montgomery Shoshone Mine.  Only two buildings remain intact. And crumbled walls of only a few others stand to shadow the rubble littered floors and foundations below them.

Rhyolite once boasted a population of over 6000 prospectors, gold seekers, developers, miners, business owners and their families. Actually, the more digging (no pun intended) through history, we’ve really not gotten the exact count. Some say 6000, some others say 8000 and then more reported upwards to 10,000 people.

But, geologically speaking, Rhyolite got its’ name from the extrusive equivalent to the plutonic rock type granite; both form from the same magma. Due to Rhyolite lava flows’ high viscosity, they only move through laminar flow along sheer planes that form where gas bubbles concentrate.

The History of Rhyolite

In the early 1900’s, west of the Colorado River, gold prospectors and miners were looking to make a quick buck. Wealthy developers from the east built towns to support their livelihoods.

One of which was Rhyolite, located in Western Nevada’s Bullfrog Hills of Nye County; about 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas near the eastern edge of Death Valley.

At one time, there were hotels, stores, bank, a small school, two electric plants, machine shops and a hospital.  There was even a red light district that drew women from as far away as San Francisco.

In 1906, the Montgomery Shoshone Mine was purchased by an industrialist, Charles M. Schwab, who invested heavily in the building of the town and the mine. A year later, Rhyolite was up and running with electricity, water, telephones, newspaper printing, a stock exchange and even an opera house.

By then, its been said there were upwards to over 6000 people who made this town’s clock tick.

However, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end which perfectly describes this once lucrative mining town’s fate. Rhyolite crumbled as fast as it rose.

The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 and financial panic of 1907 made it difficult to finance capital.  Investors bolted after finding out the town and the Montgomery Shoshone Mine was overvalued causing the company’s stock value to plummet.

By 1911, mining operations closed and unemployment plummeted drastically. Miners and their families were forced to relocate dropping the population below a meager thousand.

Then, by 1920, reports claim that there were only about ten people living in the once booming lucrative town.

Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of Southern Nevada
Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of Southern Nevada (Images of America – Kindle Edition

Abandonment of the Mining Town

After the town buildings were stripped and salvaged for building materials. They were hauled to nearby Beatty and other towns with exception of the railway depot; the town’s former train station, Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad.  (For incredible history lesson, click that link!)

It didn’t take but only a couple years after abandonment that Rhyolite then became a tourist attraction.

Always On Liberty - Rhyolite - Train Depot
Former train depot now behind chain linked fencing with no visitor access

Tom Kelly Bottle House, created from over 50,000 beer, liquor and medicine bottles has since been repaired and preserved. It’s a no brainer why this bottle house was built.

Always On Liberty - Rhyolite - Tom Kelly Bottle House
The Bottle House now behind fencing with no visitor access

For one, wood was scarce in the desert. Secondly, the mining town was also home to several saloons. Some say upwards to fifth, which resulted in monstrous quantities of empty bottles.

Well, Tom Kelly decided to put the bottles to good use and construct his house in approximately five months using on-site adobe to set the bottles.

Today, the Bottle House sits restored; looking like it did back in the early 1900s.

It didn’t take long for the movie, news and music industries to take advantage of Rhyolite’s ruins as well as nearby Death Valley, Amargosa, Lake Mead and Beatty. Movies such as The Air Mail (1925), Famous Gold Rush (1931), Rough Riders Roundup (1939), Arrogant (1987), and Delusion (1991) were filmed. As well, several documentaries, newsreels, music videos, and others took advantage of the scenes.

The most recent science fiction film, The Island (2005) was directed by Michael Bay and starred Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson. Most of the scenes were filmed at Rhyolite; inside and outside of the John S. Cook bank building.

Always On Liberty - Rhyolite - John S. Cook & Co. Bank

Our self-guided tour of Rhyolite

At least from what we can tell from our experience, the town now only echoes the sounds of the wind, scampering desert tarantulas and scorpions, sun-basking rattlers and God knows what else out there.

The town site is littered with concrete ruins, rusted pipes, remnants of stoves, rebar, and wasted cable. There’s a abandoned couple mine shafts that remain. You can sort of picture in your mind how the streets were laid out.

The John S. Cook & Co. Bank building on Golden Street (where Dan is sitting looking out what was the main doors), was once filled with marble staircases and imported stained glass.

Finished in 1908 to the tune of 90 thousand dollars would be the equivalent to $2.3 million today. The Bank proudly stood as a testament of high-class society; from Italian marble stairs, imported stained-glass windows, brass hardwares, and luxurious lighting fixtures. The building housed brokerage offices, a post office, as well as the bank.

Always On Liberty - Rhyolite - John S. Cook & Co. Bank

Now, those luxuries don’t mean a red cent. All that remains are secrets and faded handshakes hidden in the broken concrete, fragmented exterior walls.

Always On Liberty - Rhyolite - School Building
The town’s school building that once was where 250 towns children attended
Always On Liberty - Rhyolite - Former Jail
Former Jail House
Always On Liberty - Rhyolite - Building Fireplace Ruins
The fireplace from the building that once stood here

Getting to Rhyolite, Nevada

Rhyolite is located at the northern end of the Amargosa Desert in Nye County in Nevada. Nestled in the Bullfrog Hills, about 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas, it is about 60 miles south of Goldfield, and 90 miles south of Tonopah.

Rhyolite, Nevada Map

To reach Rhyolite, travel north on US-95 from Las Vegas to Beatty, then take State Route 374 to Rhyolite Road.

When you arrive at the Rhyolite National Historic Site, make sure you visit the Bottle House first. There’s a small rusty metal box with laminated guides that tells you what each structure ruins were. However, once your self-guided tour is over, return the guides back to the box so others may use them. 

Planning your visit to Rhyolite

When planning your trip, we recommend bringing a box or cooler lunch because there are no stores or restaurants. It literally is in the middle of the desert. The closest town is Beatty.

Always On Liberty - Rhyolite - Union Pacific Caboose

There’s picnic tables behind the train depot to sit and enjoy your lunch with an awesome view of an old train caboose.

Bring plenty of water regardless of time of year.  There are pit toilet restrooms on the grounds which we found substantial and clean.

Depending on time of year (we were here in November), be on the lookout for critters such as venomous snakes, scorpions and tarantula spiders. There may be rattlesnakes and scorpions in warmer months under rocks and rubble. In our opinion, wear sturdy, closed toe shoes.

Rhyolite is listed in the National Register of Historic Sites and is part of the National Park Service and Department of Interior. It’s illegal to dig for artifacts or enter any of the mines.

Lastly, leave no trace. Take nothing but leave with awesome photos and memories. 

So next time you’re visiting Las Vegas, Death Valley or even parking in Pahrump, Nevada, we highly recommend taking a day to drive out to see this forgotten modern marvel of its time.

Our next visit, we plan on exploring Rhyolite right before sunset to appreciate the true essence of being called a ghost town.  Maybe by chance we will hear or see something to prove that it is a ghost town.

Life in the Ghost City of Rhyolite Nevada
  Life in the Ghost City of Rhyolite Nevada
Las Vegas, Heart of the Southwest DVD Slide Show

Rhyolite is protected and maintained by the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Land Management

Always On Liberty - Rhyolite, Nevada-2

Other Cool Places to Explore

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Painted Desert & Petrified Forest    Holbrook, AZ 2016

Our Out of This World Experience     Roswell, NM 2016



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