Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Ghost Town Of Rhyolite, Nevada

A little over a century ago, Rhyolite was the second largest city in Nevada behind Reno. Today it is an impressive set of ruins near the eastern (Nevada) entrance to Death Valley National Park. It's located about four miles west of a sleazy, decrepit, speed trap of a town known as Beatty, Nevada, and can be reached by following Highway 374 west from there. Beatty is about 150 miles north of Las Vegas on Highway 95. It is reached by a well-maintained, clearly marked road off Highway 374.

Rhyolite first sprang into being in 1904 when gold was discovered in the hills overlooking the town site. Growth was explosive; by 1907, over 6000 people lived on Rhyolite. In its heyday, it had telephone and electric service, several substantial stone and concrete structures, a magnificent train station, a school, numerous stores, a newspaper, and even a hospital with surgical facilities. But in 1908 the production of the gold mines began a sharp decline, and soon it was obvious the gold vein was "played out." Miners and merchants began to leave town. By 1910, the town had to shut off street lights because of a lack of funds, in 1911, its newspaper ceased publication. On September 15, 1919, the post office closed and the 1920 census counted only 14 remaining residents. They left soon afterwards, and Rhyolite began to fade back into the desert.

The train station is the most impressive structure still standing in Rhyolite, and is protected from vandalism and scavenging by a high fence. A broken-down caboose is in back, but the iron railroad bed is long gone:

Another impressive structure is the ruins of the bank building. As you can see, scavengers (the human kind) have stripped this one down to the walls. Note the reinforced vault area in the middle:

This is a very cool "false front" building and stone foundations. The capstone at the top is dated 1906 and identifies it as the "Porter Building," which was a general store:

The Rhyolite school building was designed to accommodate all students from elementary to high school. Because of the town's rapid population decline, it operated only from 1906 to 1908:

The Rhyolite jail is well-preserved; the heavy iron doors and bars on the windows are fully intact and look as if they could still keep miscreants inside. I've been to Rhyolite in summer----when the temperature routinely tops 110----and have tried to imagine what it must've been like inside that non-air conditioned jail!

Here are the ruins of another bank. You can clearly see the reinforced vault area in this photo:

A few homes in Rhyolite were made of stone and, although long abandoned, still stand:

However, most homes were made of wood and were torn down (so the wood could be re-used elsewhere) when Rhyolite was abandoned. A handful of collapsed homes remain:

In many cases, the only indication that a home once stood at a site is the stone fireplace and chimney:

I think I have visited Rhyolite almost a dozen times; Beatty was the nearest town to Death Valley National Park and I would always stop by Rhyolite when going into Beatty for ice, water, or other supplies while camping in Death Valley. It's not one of my all-time favorite ghost towns because it gets too many visitors----I've only had it "to myself" a couple of times-----but it is impressive for the size and variety of surviving ruins. Rhyolite is also supposedly haunted; I saw it featured on a Travel Channel program called "Mysterious Nevada." Despite once being in Rhyolite all alone at twilight, the only thing remotely scary I have ever seen there were a couple of rattlesnakes.So while I don't think you have to worry about ghosts, you should be careful about where you step and reach when exploring the area.