Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Desert Mining Towns Part 2 - Rhyolite, NV

Yesterday, I wrote about the former mining town of Chloride, AZ, now a quirky community with gunfights for tourists at weekends.

Today I want to look at another former mining town that we visited during our trip to Nevada, this one now a skeleton of its former self, and just a few miles from Death Valley National Park. Just as Chloride was named for the mineral mined there, so Rhyolite was a source of its titular mineral, as well as gold and quartz. But I'm getting ahead of myself... first the drive there.

Long, empty road.

To reach Rhyolite, we followed the directions given on the Death Valley NP site, following the long road to Beatty and then turning toward the park. The drive itself was not particularly remarkable, save for the reminders that we were in Nevada, where brothels are legal. My favorite roadside billboard (which sadly I did not take a picture of) proudly advertised: BROTHEL - Hot Sauce, Pictures, Souvenirs. 

Hot sauce - who knew!
The gas station where we stopped also sold a variety of Bunny Ranch souvenirs.

We didn't stop in Beatty, although we later learned that it is home to a huge candy store, one of the biggest in the state, thanks to a local entrepreneur with a sweet tooth. 

On the road from Beatty to Hell's Gate, in one of the most desolate places you can imagine, there is a road that turns off to the remains of Rhyolite, paved in spots, gravel in others. Follow that a little way and turn off to the left toward Bullfrog. One more left turn down a gravel road brings you to the Rhyolite/Bullfrog cemetery (Did you think I'd skip it?) 

The cemetery is home to some 280 graves, although the majority of them are unmarked or marked only by a simple pile of rocks.
A monument marks the historical significance of the site, and there are a few more recent graves.

A few older ones have stone markers, which are still legible. They offer a glimpse into the miners who settled the town, people such as Daniel Kennedy, who traveled from Nova Scotia to

Grave of Daniel Kennedy
Bullfrog, presumably to find his fortune. Daniel died at the tender age of 21.

Other graves, even if once marked, were now worn away to - if lucky - a faded wooden slab, the occupants' names and stories lost to the mists of time.

Rocks outline the two graves marked by this more recent stone.

Some old graves have wooden barriers around them...
Details lost to the ravages of the desert air.

Wandering around the burial ground was a profoundly peaceful experience, but one with an enormous sense of isolation. Hot winds blew across the rocky desert. Seeing mounds of gravel that had never settled lay scattered in seeming random positions. If I closed my eyes, I could almost imagine the far off sound of mining tools.

Leaving the cemetery and heading back toward Rhyolite, we could see the ruins of buildings, and something else...very unexpected.

Silhouetted against the starkness of the skyline were figures - tall, white, hooded. 

The Last Supper
The Goldwell Open Air Museum is an unexpected find at the edges of a ghost-town. At the same time, the sculptures add to the eeriness.

The Last Supper and several other ghostly works are by Belgian artist Albert Szukalski. According to the museum brochure, the figures were cast by using models draped in fabric which was then soaked in layers of plaster. As the plaster set, the model slipped out, leaving the shell behind. The sculptures were then coated with fiberglass to protect them from the weather.

Ghost Rider
In addition to those pieces by Szukalski, the museum contains pieces by several other Belgian artists, all of whom made their home in this unlikely location during the 1990s. Now, their work makes up possibly the most unique art museum I've ever visited.

From the Goldwell, it's a short drive to Rhyolite. 

Ryolite was born in 1905 and quickly attracted those determined to find their fortune in gold. At first, Bullfrog was a competing camp, and the two struggled against each other to become the primary settlement. Rhyolite won and by 1906, the last merchant had quit the neighboring camp.

In the frenzied days of the Gold Rush, thousands of claims were made in the area, and growth of the town was rapid. The town boomed, having close to 10,000 residents within a year or two. Railroads, banks, an opera house, a stock exchange, more than a dozen restaurants, churches, 40 saloons - Rhyolite was civilization in the middle of nowhere. Of course, there was also a red light district, with seven brothels available to provide comfort to those lonely miners. 

Rhyolite's decline was as swift as its rise. After the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, investment slowed. Some investors claimed they had been tricked into buying shares. In 1911, the town newspaper declared that the main mine, the Montgomery-Shoshone, was dead. The newspaper went out of business two weeks later. The editor wasn't the only one to leave town. The population of 7,523 in 1910 had shrunk to a few hundred within a year. In 1920, only 14 people remained. The last person left in the 1960s, moving to nearby Beatty.

Many of the buildings were moved or torn down and strippped for materials. Today, as the pictures below show, just a few shells are all that remain of the once-booming gold town. 

As the sign in the window says - BROTHEL

Remains of the school and a bank. By the time the school was completed, the town was already in decline.

The former railroad depot
Main(e) Street 

The Tom Kelly house. Seventy-six year old Tom Kelly spent five months building this house between 1905 and 1906. More than 30,000 bottles were used to construct the walls. Once completed, he raffled off the house.
All that's left of Rhyolite

1 comment:

  1. Loved reading this article, really interesting. This place sounds eerie but would live to visit!