Rhyolite Nevada – Death Valley Ghost Town with Crumbled Past

Rhyolite Nevada is quite different from what you picture as a typical western-theme ghost town. Only 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas near Death Valley National Park, Rhyolite National Historic Townsite begs you to come explore its’ crumbled ruins. You’ll learn about it’s short-lived history and why it’s one of the most peculiar desert ghost towns in America.

Always On Liberty - Rhyolite, Nevada

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Rhyolite Nevada – Death Valley Ghost Town with Crumbled Past

Rhyolite: A different kind of ghost town

While staying at Wine Ridge RV Resort in Pahrump, Nevada, we learned about a peculiar ghost town in Death Valley; Rhyolite Nevada. So, we took off for a day to go find and explore it this deserted place where time forgot.

Rhyolite National Historic Townsite is about a 2-hour drive from Pahrump. Upon arriving, the best we can describe it is it’s nothing like we’ve ever envisioned as being a ‘ghost town’.

Collectively, whenever we think of a ghost town, we typically envision an abandoned, Wild West town with rows of old dilapidated wood buildings.

But, Rhyolite is nothing like those stereotypical ghost towns.

This particular site is actually an abandoned modern ghost town that’s left with crumbled brick structures and rusted ruins of what once was. Only minimal traces of evidence mark where people lived, worked, and went to school in this once bustling boom town.

Once a very lucrative, thriving mining town located near Montgomery Shoshone MineRhyolite Nevada bustled with a population of over 6000 prospectors, gold seekers, developers, miners, business owners and their families.

But as we were digging to learn about the town’s history, that number is controversial. Some say 6000, others say 8000. We’ve even read where there were upwards to 10,000 people.

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.

Today, only two buildings remain intact. And crumbled walls of a few others stand shadow rubble floors and foundations below them.

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The History of Rhyolite, Nevada

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 of those towns 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.

HD&LD Porter Building in Rhyolite Nevada
Photo by Always On Liberty©

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.

There were hotels, casinos, dance halls, stores, banks, a small school, two electric plants, machine shops and a hospital. And, there was even a red light district that drew women from as far away as San Francisco.

But, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end which perfectly describes this once lucrative mining town’s fate. The town of Rhyolite crumbled as fast as the buildings 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 numbers drastically plummeted. Miners and their families were forced to relocate to find work; dropping the population below a thousand.

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

Rhyolite’s Remaining Buildings

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

After the mass exodus of people, the town buildings were stripped and salvaged for building materials needed elsewhere.

Most everything was hauled to nearby Beatty and other towns with exception of two buildings. One of which is the largest building, the Spanish style Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad train depot. 

Per Trip Savy, the Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad started running trains to Rhyolite in 1906. The train depot station cost $130,000 to build. At one time, three different railroad companies came into Rhyolite. Then, in the 1930s, the old depot became a casino and bar, and later it became a small museum and souvenir shop that stayed open into the 1970s.

The other building left intact is the Tom Kelly Bottle House.

Since wood and other building supplies were scarce in the desert, resident Tom Kelly decided to put over 50,000 beer, liquor and medicine bottles collected throughout the town to to construct his Bottle House (below). It took approximately five months to construct using on-site adobe to set 

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

The Bottle House has since been restored and preserved; looking the same as it did back in the early 1900s.

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

Other Rhyolite Ghost Town Ruins

John S. Cook & Co. Bank in Rhyolite Nevada - Always On Liberty
Photo by Always On Liberty©

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

The remnants of the town of Rhyolite now only echoes the sounds of the wind. The only movement in the once bustling boom town are from desert spiders and tarantulas, scorpions, rattlesnakes and God knows what else out there.

Dan sitting in former building ruins doorway in Rhyolite Nevada
Photo by Always On Liberty©

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 over $2.5 million today. The building housed brokerage offices, a post office, as well as the bank.

The Rhyolite Bank proudly stood as a testament of wealth and class from its’ Italian marble stairs, imported stained-glass windows, brass hardwares, and luxurious lighting fixtures.

John S. Cook & Co. Bank Ruins at Rhyolite National Historical Site - Always On Liberty
John S. Cook & Co. Bank – Photo by Always On Liberty©

Today, all that’s left are crumbled shells where whispers of secret deals and faded handshakes echo in the broken concrete, fragmented exterior walls.

HD & LD Porter Building Ruins - Rhyolite Nevada - Always On Liberty
HD & LD Porter Building Ruins – Photo by Always On Liberty©

All that remains of the Porter Brothers store that sold mining supplies, food and bedding.

Rhyolite Nevada School Building - Always On Liberty
Rhyolite school building that once was where 250 towns children attended – Photo by Always On Liberty©
Former Jail in Rhyolite Nevada - Rhyolite National Historic Site - Always On Liberty
Former Jail House in Rhyolite Nevada – Photo by Always On Liberty©
Rhyolite Historical Site Ruins of Fireplace - Always On Liberty
Fireplace from a former building – Photo by Always On Liberty

Rhyolite Appears on the Silver Screen

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 the town of Beatty.

As well, several documentaries, newsreels, music videos, and others took advantage of the scenes.

Nevada Film Offices states, “With relatively cool summers and mild winters making it a pleasant place to film at, Rhyolite is no stranger to the big screen.

It has been used as a filming location in many movies, such as The Air Mail, The Arrogant, Cherry 2000, Delusion; Ramona!, The Reward, Rough Riders Round Up, Six String Samurai, Ultraviolet, Wanderer of the Wasteland, The Island and more.”

The most recent science fiction film, The Island (2005) directed by Michael Bay; starred Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson.

Check out an excerpt clip of The Island in Rhyolite:

Getting to Rhyolite, Nevada

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

Map Showing where Rhyolite, Nevada is located

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.

Tour Guide Info Box at Rhyolite National Historic Site - Rhyolite Nevada - Always On Liberty
Tour Guide Info Box at Rhyolite National Historic Site – Photo by Always On Liberty©

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, know that Rhyolite is for day use only. Camping and overnight parking is prohibited on the property.

However, if you want to camp close to Rhyolite, there’s a free boondocking site about 10 minutes away at Bombo’s Pond. It has a picturesque pond you can fish or swim. There’s also wild burrows wandering around.

If you’re coming just to explore for the day, we highly recommend bringing a well stocked cooler and plenty of water because there are no stores or restaurants in Rhyolite. That said, Beatty is about 4 miles from Rhyolite.

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

Rhyolite Nevada Union Pacific Caboose - Always On Liberty
Rhyolite Union Pacific Caboose – Photo by Always On Liberty©

Again, bring plenty of water regardless of time of year.  There’s also a pit toilet restroom on the grounds.

Desert Tarantula - Always On Liberty
Desert Tarantula – Photo by Always On Liberty©

Depending on time of year (we were here in November), be on the lookout for venomous snakes, scorpions, desert spiders and tarantulas. So, wear sturdy, closed toe shoes and watch your every step.

Also, Rhyolite is listed in the National Register of Historic Sites and is part of the National Park Service and Department of Interior. Therefore, it’s illegal to use metal detectors, prospect, dig for artifacts, vandalize or damage existing structures or enter any of the mines.

Also, always practice the 7 principles of leave no trace. Take nothing but leave with awesome photos and memories. Let’s help preserve what’s left of this historic ghost town. And lastly, be mindful of others out there by recreating responsibly.

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Wrapping up

So next time you’re visiting the Las Vegas area, Death Valley National Park or Pahrump, Nevada, we highly recommend taking a day to drive out to see this forgotten modern marvel of its time. Rhyolite Nevada is one of those must see places to truly get perspective of the hardships of desert life as well.

♦ PRO TIP ♦ Add Rhyolite Nevada to the many other Outdoor Activities Near Las Vegas for the Adventure Driven

Check out Mobile Instinct’s video of his visit to Rhyolite – more great information!

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

Why You Should Visit Rhyolite, Nevada Ghost Town - Always On Liberty

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