A ghost town with ghosts: Rhyolite, Nevada

Numerous ghost towns dot the area near Death Valley, mostly abandoned mining towns. Rhyolite ( an igneous volcanic rock), is no different. It started as a two man mining camp in 1905, then quickly grew to be the largest town in the area due to its proximity to a nearby goldmine. By the end of 1905, its population had swollen to 2500 people, with 50 saloons, 35 gambling tables, a brothel, 19 lodging houses, 16 restaurants, half a dozen barbers, a public bath house, and a weekly newspaper, the Rhyolite Herald.

It was soon served by three different railways, ferrying passengers and borax from a nearby mine to Las Vegas. It had electricity, running water and concrete sidewalks. By 1907, a hospital, a school, a fire and police department, 3 banks, a public swimming pool and 2 churches served its 4000 inhabitants. The most prominent building was the 3 story Bank Building on its main street.

Its decline began soon after. Following the San Francisco earthquake in 1906, capital was diverted to other projects, limiting  funds for mine development and interrupting rail service. By 1910, all 3 banks closed and only 675 residents remained. The mine closed in 1911, the post office in 1913 and the train station in 1914. Electricity was shut off in 1916 and the rail tracks torn up and used in the war effort. Some buildings were moved to other locations. The town was all but abandoned.

My choice in visiting it was twofold. First, it is accessible from a paved road, no small consideration when not driving a 4 wheel drive in the middle of the day in Death Valley. Second, it has real ghosts.

I arrived shortly after noon and parked near the former railway depot. It is the best preserved building in the town.

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All that is left of the former star attraction, the 3 story bank building, was a few stones.

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Rusted out pieces of metal and dirt roads marking the once bustling streets reminded one of its former glory. A single house remained.

The ghosts are intact, however, in the form of sculptures by a Belgian artist.

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In 1984, Albert Szukalski created his sculpture The Last Supper on Golden Street near the entrance to the town. Death Valley was chosen by the sculpture due to its resemblance to the Middle East deserts.

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However, as the signage in the one room museum points out, the town that was intended to endure forever lasted a mere 10 years. The ghosts, intended to last only 2 years, have remained to this day, far longer than the town.

2 thoughts on “A ghost town with ghosts: Rhyolite, Nevada”

    1. Hi. Not sure who commissioned it. In the museum I was more interested in the 20 mule trains carrying ore than the art. The sculpture and other pieces are maintained by the Goldwell Open Air Museum. Google it for more about the artwork at Rhyolite.

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