Founded in 1904 and dead by 1916, Rhyolite was one of several short lived boom-towns from the late Gold Rush era. People were drawn to the desert on the edge of Death Valley by the promise of gold found amongst quartz in local mines, and by 1906 the town had all the promising indicators of permanence with largest population in the area.
According to the US National Park Service: “The town immediately boomed with buildings springing up everywhere. One building was 3 stories tall and cost $90,000 to build. A stock exchange and Board of Trade were formed. The red light district drew women from as far away as San Francisco. There were hotels, stores, a school for 250 children, an ice plant, two electric plants, foundries and machine shops and even a miner’s union hospital.”
But in 1907, the US financial markets were rocked by a panic that saw closures of banks, businesses, and mines. Rhyolite began to falter. The mine closed in 1911. In 1916, the lights went out forever. Since then it has featured in several Westerns. In 1925 Paramount Pictures restored the bottle house for the film The Air Mail, and it was restored again more recently by locals.
Empty hulks of the three story bank, the general store, and smaller buildings remain. Also there is a great looking train station, as well as some other well-preserved ghost town ruins. One of the most well-known houses was constructed using hundreds of glass bottles in the walls from Adolphus Busch products, more familiar now as Budweiser.
Besides the bottle house, there are a number of weird and bizarre works of art strewn around this ghost town. Part of the Goldwell Open Air Museum, several artists have installed permanent sculptures starting in 1984. Probably the most interesting is the 12 life-sized disciples patterned after “The Last Supper”, built in 1984 by the Belgian artist Albert Szukalski. They consist of empty flowing robes (made of fiberglass), so they appear to be ghosts. There is also a 20’ tall model of a miner and his Penguin made of metal, and a 20’ tall pixellated version of a nude woman made of pink and yellow cinder blocks. Another fiberglass ghost, the Ghostrider, stands next to his bicycle, ready to go for a ride.
Rhyolite is not too far from Beatty, NV, and if you’re in the area, definitely worth a visit. Also, nearby is the eastern entrance of Titus Canyon, a one-way-only drive into Death Valley.