Established in 1904 and abandoned by 1916, Rhyolite was one of many ephemeral boom-towns birthed in the waning years of the Gold Rush. The lure of gold embedded in local quartz mines attracted settlers to this desert town on the brink of Death Valley. By 1906, Rhyolite showed all the signs of becoming a permanent settlement, boasting the largest population in its vicinity.
As per the U.S. National Park Service, the town flourished rapidly, with new buildings popping up across the landscape. One such structure, a three-story marvel, was constructed at a whopping cost of $90,000. The town accommodated a stock exchange, a Board of Trade, a bustling red light district attracting women from distant places like San Francisco, and amenities like hotels, stores, a school for 250 children, two power plants, an ice factory, foundries, machine shops, and even a hospital for miners.
However, the 1907 financial crisis that hit the US markets was a severe blow to Rhyolite, causing banks, businesses, and mines to shut down. The town started to decline and by 1911, the mine had closed. In 1916, Rhyolite faded into darkness for good. Its ruins have since served as locations for various Western movies. Paramount Pictures restored the unique bottle house in 1925 for the movie “The Air Mail,” and it was renovated again later by locals.
Today, you can still witness various remnants from Rhyolite’s golden age. Parts of the three-story bank building and the old jail continue to stand, while the train depot, privately owned, is among the few fully intact buildings left in the town, alongside the Bottle House, restored by Paramount Pictures in January 1925. There’s an impressive train station and some other well-preserved ghost town ruins. Among the remaining buildings is a renowned house, whose walls are built with hundreds of glass bottles from Adolphus Busch products, today known as Budweiser.
Apart from the bottle house, Rhyolite is also known for its unusual array of artworks scattered across the town. As part of the Goldwell Open Air Museum, several artists have installed permanent sculptures since 1984. The most intriguing of these is perhaps a representation of “The Last Supper,” created by Belgian artist Albert Szukalski in 1984, featuring 12 life-sized disciples made from fiberglass robes, giving the illusion of ghosts. There are also 20-foot-tall sculptures of a miner with a penguin and a pixelated nude woman, both created from metal and cinder blocks, respectively. A fiberglass ghost named the Ghostrider, who appears ready to set off on a bike ride, is another notable installation.
Rhyolite is located near Beatty, NV, and is worth visiting if you’re in the area. Also, close by is the eastern gateway to Titus Canyon, a one-way drive leading into Death Valley.
Rhyolite is a 35-mile drive from the Furnace Creek Visitor Center on the route towards Beatty, Nevada. A turn towards the north (left) from Hwy. 374 leads you onto a paved road straight into the old town.
From Beatty, Nevada, travel about 4 miles west on Hwy. 374. The paved Rhyolite Road will be on your right, marked by a BLM sign. Continue for another 1.8 miles to reach the heart of the ruins. It’s recommended to travel by car, carry ample water (as summers can be extremely hot), and note that while there are no facilities in Rhyolite, a latrine-style toilet is available. The site is approximately 120 miles from Las Vegas.
Beatty, Nevada, 89003