Rhyolite was born in a gold rush. It happened when Shorty Harris and Ed Cross struck gold in August 1904, in the Bullfrog Mountains west of Death Valley.
One of the towns that sprang up after the strike was called Rhyolite, named for the area's unique volcanic rock.
Rhyolite grew as long as the gold held out, from 1905 through 1910. In its heyday, Rhyolite had three train lines, three newspapers, three swimming pools, three hospitals, two undertakers, an opera, and symphony and 53 saloons.
By 1914, Rhyolite was in decline and by 1919, it was a deserted ghost town. Its last resident died in 1924.
Unique among mining towns, Rhyolite had many buildings made from permanent materials rather than canvas and wood, so there's more to see than in many of the other gold rush spots in this part of the country.
Getting to Rhyolite
To get to Rhyolite from Death Valley, turn east off Hwy 190 about 19 miles north of Furnace Creek onto Daylight Pass Road. From there, it's about 20 miles. Turn left at the sign for Rhyolite a few miles after you cross the Nevada border.
Australian Tom Kelly built his Rhyolite bottle house in 1906.
That was before the railroad reached Rhyolite and building materials were scarce. Instead of looking for wood which is nearly impossible to find, Kelly used adobe mud to hold together the 50,000 glass bottles that make up his three-room, L-shaped home.
The Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad started running trains to Rhyolite in 1906. Their station was a Spanish-style building that cost $130,000 to build. At one time, three different railroad companies came into Rhyolite.
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.
People will turn almost anything into a house during a gold rush, especially if they're in the desert where building materials are scarce. In fact, disused cabooses turned into homes were once a common sight across America's Old West.
This caboose-turned-house sits across from the Rhyolite train station. It was used as a gas station during Rhyolite's tourism boom in the 1920s.
Porter Brothers Store
The second store the Porter Brothers built here sold mining supplies, food and bedding. The building once had large glass windows to make it easy for people to see what they had for sale. The Porter Brothers were old pros at selling things during gold rushes. Along with the one in Rhyolite, they opened stores in the nearby towns of Ballarat, Beatty, and Pioneer.
Like the town itself, the Porter brothers' store was short-lived, opening in 1902 and closing it in 1910. After that, H.D. Porter became the local postmaster and stayed in town until 1919.
By 1907, Rhyolite had about 4,000 residents. It had concrete sidewalks, electric lights, telephone and telegraph lines. At its peak, Rhyolite's school had more than 200 children. This is the second school built in Rhyolite, built at the cost of $20,000 in 1909. It once had a Spanish tile roof and bell tower.
The tallest building in Rhyolite, the Cook Bank building cost its owner $90,000 to build.
It was the largest building in town, with two vaults, Italian marble floors, mahogany woodwork, electric lights, running water, telephones and indoor plumbing. It was the business to close in Rhyolite, shutting its doors in 1910.
Goldwell Open Air Museum
These ghostly figures are part of an outdoor sculpture museum near Rhyolite.
The Goldwell Open Air Museum began in 1984 when Belgian artist Albert Szukalski created a sculpture installation near Rhyolite's abandoned railroad station. The artwork shown above consists of ghostly, life-sized forms created by draping plaster-soaked burlap over live models who stood under it until the plaster was stiff enough to stand on its own. The arrangement brings to mind The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci.
Szukalski also created a work called Ghost Rider, with a similar figure getting ready to mount a bicycle. Three other Belgian artists added new works to the project after Szuzalski's death in 2000. They include Lady Desert: The Venus of Nevada, a cinder block sculpture by Hugo Heyrman, Tribute to Shorty Harris, by Fred Bervoets and a hard-carved female version of Icarus by Dre Peters along with several others.
The museum is a nonprofit organization and a member of Alliance of Artists Communities. The museum's Red Barn is the site of an arts festival called Albert's Tarantella, held each year in October.
Entrance to the museum is free, and it is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.