Rhyolite: The Gold Town that Lost It’s Luster

 

We set out to search for Rhyolite when Liberty was parked in Pahrump, NV in November 2016.  Though it was about two-hour drive from Pahrump, once we got there, it was like nothing we’ve ever envisioned of a ‘ghost town’.

When we think of what a Ghost Town is, we typically envision abandoned Wild West-like faded and stained wood buildings on a packed dirt road dividing them in two rows.  We think of western movies; cowboys with six shooters holstered on their hips, horse and buggies traversing the dusty road in front of the jail, saloon and mercantile.

However, there are many ghost towns with remnants of more modern structures and proof that people lived and worked until economic crashes, natural or man-made disasters. Rhyolite is one of them.

 

This sign is at the intersection of N374 and road leading to Rhyolite 1.3 miles ahead. Rhyolite is protected and maintained by the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Land Management

Rhyolite; a different kind of 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. Nonetheless, the town now echoes the sounds of the wind, running of desert tarantulas, sidewinders and God knows what else out there.

Below are photos we took of the John S. Cook & Co. Bank Building, which was once filled with marble staircases and imported stained glass.  It would cost close to $2.3 million to build today. Now, all that remains is the broken concrete fragmented shell and whispers in it’s walls.

 

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 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, all good things must come to an end 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 thousand.  By 1920, its been reported that there were only about ten people living in the once booming town.

 

Once everyone left…

Only a couple years later, Rhyolite then became a tourist attraction 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!)

Former train depot now behind chain linked fencing with no visitor access

and the Tom Kelly Bottle House.

The Bottle House now behind fencing with no visitor access

The Bottle House, created from over 50,000 beer, liquor and medicine bottles has since been repaired and preserved.  Now, putting two and two together, its no brainer why this bottle house was built.  For one, wood was scarce in the desert. Secondly, the mining town was also home to several saloons (some say upwards to 50!) in which resulted in monstrous quantities of bottles.  Tom Kelly used the bottles and on-site adobe to construct his house in approximately five months.

It didn’t take long for the movie, news and music industry to take advantage of its ruins and 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), Delusion (1991) as well as documentaries, newsreels, music videos, etc.

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.

The town’s school building that once was where 250 towns children attended
Former Jail House
All that’s left from a building that once stood here

Getting there…

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

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.

When you arrive, visit the Bottle House first as there is a small rusty metal box that has laminated guides that tells you what each structure ruins were. However, please return the guides back to the box so others may use them.  Don’t forget to take lots of photos!

When planning your trip, we recommend bringing a box or cooler lunch as there are picnic tables behind the train depot.  Bring plenty of water regardless of time of year.  There are pit toilet restrooms on the grounds.  Also, depending on time of year (we were here in November), be on the lookout for these little critters.  We didn’t bother him so he didn’t bother us (and we hate spiders!).  Be aware of possible presence of rattlesnakes and scorpions in warmer months under rocks and rubble. And, be aware, it’s illegal to dig or enter the mines.

We plan to visit again but next time, we hope it to be sunset and dusk to appreciate the true essence of being called a ‘ghost town’.  Maybe by chance we will hear (or see) something more…as in ghosts?

BLOG WRITER’s NOTE:  I happened upon this website that is amazingly incredible that shows photos from when the town boomed to what stands today.  Its hard to stand and imagine how big it was when all you see are only a few crumbled shells of the buildings.  We hope you take time to enjoy the following website to learn more about this neat town. ———–> CLICK HERE to RHYOLITE, NV

Disclaimer: All of these photos are taken by myself (Lisa Brown).  None have been digitally altered. Do not copy or claim them as your own. Please email us info@alwaysonliberty.com  All photos were taken November 2016.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *