Always On Liberty Explore the Rhyolite Ghost Town

By:  Lisa & Dan Brown

11th Jan, 17

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 what we've seen in western movies; cowboys with six shooters holstered on their hips, horse and buggies traversing the 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, worked and recreated there before economic crashes, natural or man-made disasters.

We set out to search for Rhyolite Ghost Town, recommended by one of the employees at the wine tasting bar at Symphony's near where our Landmark was parked at Wine Ridge RV Resort in Pahrump, NV. It was about a two-hour drive from Pahrump to get there. 

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 .

We were eager to see and learn about the Rhyolite ruins of the once lucrative and thriving mining town near Montgomery Shoshone Mine. Only two buildings remain intact while crumbled walls of a few others - out of the hundreds that once stood - shadow the rubble littered floors and foundations below them. Rhyolite once boasted a population of over 6,000 prospectors, gold seekers, developers, miners, business owners and their families. Now, it echoes the sounds of the wind, running of desert tarantulas, sidewinders and God knows what else out there. Actually, the more we dig (no pun intended), we've not gotten the exact count; some say 6,000, some others say 8,000 and then more say upwards to 10,000 people.

After doing a little research prior to venturing out there, it gave us better understanding of what to expect.

Below are photos we took of the John S. Cook & Co. Bank Building, which was filled with marble staircases and imported stained glass. It would cost $2.3 million to build today. Today, all that remains is the fragmented concrete shell.

A Little Bit of History...

In the early 1900s, our country was booming west of the Colorado River with gold prospectors and miners 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, a bank, a small school, two electric plants, machine shops and a miner's 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 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, running water, telephones, newspaper printing, a stock exchange and even an opera house. By then, its been said there were upwards of 6,000 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 the town and the Montgomery Shoshone Mine was overvalued causing the company's stock value to plummet. Literally, the buck stopped there. By 1911, mining operations closed. Unemployment was at its worst. Miners and their families were forced to relocate dropping the population below a thousand. By 1920, there were only about ten people living in the once booming town.

Only a couple years later, Rhyolite became a tourist attraction after the town buildings were stripped and salvaged for building materials for 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 Rhyolite is protected and maintained by the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Land Management .
The Tom Kelly 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 numerous documentaries, newsreels, music videos, etc. The most recent movie shot there, "The Island" (2005), science fiction film, 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 (photo).

The town's school building that once was where 250 towns children attended.
Former Jail House
Old ovens left behind
All that's left from the building that once stood here

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' that, as quick as it went up crumbled to rubble.

When you arrive, we highly recommend visiting 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 laminated guides back to the box so others may use them. If anything, take a photo of the guides for later remembrance or reference.

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.

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'.

Author's note: I happened upon this website that is amazingly incredible that shows photos from when the town boomed to what stands today. It's hard to stand in what 'was' a vibrant and bustling town imagining 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 Lisa Brown of this blog during November 2016. None have been digitally altered. 

Lisa & Dan Brown

Lisa & Dan Brown

Dan & Lisa Brown are known as "Always On Liberty". They are two Coasties (30 years Retired & Veteran) who fought Mother Nature guarding our coasts and saving souls now travel between them with their two Maine Coon Cats. They have been full-time traveling since 2014 with their 2016 Heartland Landmark 365 Ashland (formerly '16 Heartland Cyclone 4100). They are avid hikers, ADV motorcycle riders, bloggers and travel enthusiasts. They enjoy visiting, hiking and riding our National Parks, Monuments, Historical Sites, Battlefields and strange places. 
Follow them!