The Ghost Town of Rhyolite, Nevada
I had read about the ghost town of Rhyolite in a newspaper article and was instantly intrigued. About a half hour’s drive from Route 190 in Death Valley, the old mining town quickly boomed – due to the nearby Montgomery Shoshone Mine – and then bust. In fact the town, which peaked in population at 3,500 to 5,000 pople, was really only inhabited from 1905 when it was founded as a mining camp to 1911 when the company crashed and workers and their families abandoned the settlement. Interestingly, in a year from it’s development the town was supplied with piped water, electricity, telephone lines, an opera house, and more. Because our stop there was brief I didn’t actually read too much about the history, but it seems pretty incredible that this piece of land went from completely inhabited, to housing as many as 5,000 people who were serviced with the most modern conveniences, to being almost abandoned – all within 6 years.
We totally rushed through the buildings that remain of the town site so I don’t really know what was what: I was just fascinated by the collection of multi-story structures crumbling in the desert and (literally) ran around in the failing light trying to photograph as many as possible. As interesting a prospect of visiting a ghost town was however, what sealed the deal was the photo I saw of the bottle house that lies near the southern end of town. Built beginning in 1905, the house consisted originally of approximately 51,000 bear bottles set in adobe. Supposedly the owner gave the reason for constructing the 3-room house as a lack of choice in local building materials, citing the unsuitability of the indigenous Joshua tree. Stone seems like an option he may have overlooked but I happen to love bottle houses (of which I’ve visited two: The Bottle Chapel at Airlie Gardens in Wilmington, NC and The Bottle Houses near Cape Ergmont, Prince Edward Island ) so I’m not criticizing.
Finally, the ghost town also hosts the small Goldwell Open Air Museum which features some haunting works by Belgian artist Albert Szukalski. Again, I didn’t do any reading about these sculptures, which feature ghost-like figures, but their somewhat-menacing presence, enveloping stances, and evocative poses are quite powerful, and reflect perfectly the beauty, desolation, and danger of the barren desert in which they are situated. In short, the ghost town is an incredibly interesting, quirky place and well-worth a visit.