Rhyolite Ghost Town | Death Valley, Nevada

Overview – Rhyolite Ghost Town | Death Valley, Nevada

Of all the early 1900’s gold rush ghost towns in the greater Death Valley area, Rhyolite is the most elaborate with the largest population. The population of Rhyolite grew from a 2-tent mining camp in 1904 to a town with a population of 10,000 including the amenities of much larger U.S. cities of the day by 1907. Then, by 1910 with the decline of gold production in its Montgomery Shoshone Mine, Rhyolite was down to a population of 675. By 1920, only 13 years after its heyday, Rhyolite had only 14 residents and anything built of wood in the town had been scavenged leaving only the shells of the concrete structures that were once elaborate buildings. However, these concrete structures created a lasting memory of Rhyolite in contrast to other gold rush towns like Skidoo and Harrisburg which had no concrete structures leaving only the open desert as a memory.

In 1925 Rhyolite experienced a kind of rebirth as a tourist destination. Paramount pictures filmed “The Air Mail” in Rhyolite, the old train depot was renovated as a casino, bar and souvenir shop, the caboose used as a gas station and the Goldwell Open Air Museum eventually established.

For more, see the detailed Rhyolite historic timeline below along with an extensive list of the amazing features of the town at its height. The features list will blow your mind!

Today, visiting Rhyolite is an experience of imagining a booming early 1900’s gold rush town at its height. The video, slide show and description on this page give a more detailed view of the town both then and now along with a few of the mine entrances in the hills above.

Early 1900s Gold Rush Mines and Towns in the Death Valley Area

Getting to Rhyolite – Rhyolite Ghost Town | Death Valley, Nevada

From Las Vegas take Hwy 95 North to Beatty, Nevada. At Beatty Nevada take Hwy 394 (Daylight Pass Road) toward Death Valley National Park. About 10 miles after Beatty (and before the Titus Canyon sign) take a right onto a paved road at a well-marked sign for Rhyolite. Rhyolite is about a mile up the road.

Observations – Rhyolite Ghost Town | Death Valley, Nevada

We begin our tour of Rhyolite from the hills directly above to the Northeast. This gives a bird’s eye perspective of Rhyolite along with a look into a few mine openings in the hills. From there, we descend into Rhyolite to the red light district, the jail (still almost fully intact), some old miner’s cabins (one rebuilt in recent years), the train depot and caboose house, the financial district, school, general store, Thomas Kelly Bottle House and finally the Goldwell Open Air Museum.

In the video and slide show on this page I post the interpretive signs at each of these sites which you can read for further detail giving you a virtual walkthrough of this amazing historic early 1900’s gold rush town of Rhyolite. You’ll find additional detail in the timeline and features list below.

Rhyolite Historic Timeline

Rhyolite Was the Most Successful Gold Rush Boom Town in the Death Valley Region

From Rhyolite’s Beginnings to Glory Days:

1904:

  • Death Valley area prospectors, Frank “Shorty” Harris and Ernest “Ed” Cross discover gold in the original bullfrog rock.
  • The Bullfrog, Amargosa and Jumpertown mining camps are set up.
  • The Originally 2-tent Mining Camp of Rhyolite (named from volcanic rock containing high amounts of silica) comes to birth.

1905:

  • Rhyolite is Still a Tent Site
  • The Montgomery Shoshone Mine, the District’s Largest Mine, is Discovered North of Rhyolite
  • A Group of Claim Owners Lays Out the 36 Original Blocks of Rhyolite Giving Lots to Miners to Get the Town Started
  • Rhyolite’s Population Soars to 2,000
  • Rhyolite’s First Water System Installed

1906:

  • First Railroad Reaches Rhyolite
  • More Than 100 Carpenters Constructing Rhyolite’s Buildings
  • Rock and Concrete Structures Built Including the Cook Bank Building
  • Charles Schwab purchases the Montgomery Shoshone mine for between 2 and 6 million dollars.
  • A Miner, Tom Kelly, Constructs a 3-Room L-Shaped Bottle House Made of 50,000 Beer and Liquor Bottles Held Together by Adobe Mud.

1907:

  • Rhyolite’s Electricity is Turned On
  • Water Mains Installed Enabling Indoor Plumbing
  • The Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad Runs a Spur Line into Rhyolite
  • The Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad (RRT) and One Additional Railroad are Serving Rhyolite
  • The Montgomery Shoshone mine is processing 300 tons of ore each day at its new mill including a crusher, 3 huge rollers, over 12 cyanide tanks and a reduction furnace.
    • The ore brings $16,000 in gold per ton ($450,000 in early 21st century dollars).
  • Rhyolite’s population has soared to 10,000
  • Financial panic originating from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake sets in and mines in the region, beginning to tap out anyway, start to close.

Town Features at the Height of Rhyolite in 1906-1907:

  • Financial District:
    • 3-story Cook Bank building with two vaults, Italian marble floors, mahogany woodwork, electric lights, running water, telephones and indoor plumbing.
    • 2 Additional Banks including the Overbury Bank
    • Stock exchange
  • Transportation, Lodging and Entertainment:
    • Train Depot
    • 4 Daily Stagecoaches
    • 19 Hotels and Lodging Houses
    • 16 Restaurants
    • Public Bath House
    • 3 Public Swimming Pools
    • Opera House
    • 53 Saloons
    • 35 Gambling Tables
    • Red Light District
  • Shopping and  Services:
    • Stores
    • Barber Shops
    • 2 Churches
    • Miner’s Union
    • Ice Cream Parlor
    • Weekly Newspaper: The Rhyolite Herald
    • Daily Newspaper
    • Cemetery
    • 2 Undertakers
  • Public Services:
    • School for 250 Children
    • Police and Fire Departments
    • 3 Hospitals
    • Jail
  • Public Infrastructure:
    • 2 Electric Plants
    • Concrete Sidewalks
    • Telephone and Telegraph Lines
    • Ice Plant
    • Machine Shops
    • Foundries

Social Activities at the Height of Rhyolite in 1906-1907:

  • Baseball Games
  • Tennis
  • Dances
  • Symphony
  • Opera
  • Saturday Night Variety Shows
  • Pool Tournaments

The Decline of Rhyolite:

1908:

  • Montgomery Shoshone Mine Running Out of Ore

1910:

  • Montgomery Shoshone mill production has slowed to $246,661
  • Cook Bank, Overbury Bank and the Other Remaining Bank Closes
  • Porter Brother’s Store Closes
  • Rhyolite’s population is has dropped to 675

1911:

  • Montgomery Shoshone mine and mill are closed.

1912:

  • Last Remaining Newspaper Shuts Down

1913:

  • Post Office Closes
  • The Scavenging of Rhyolite in Underway and Eventually:
    • Miner’s Union Hall Becomes Beatty Old Town Hall
    • School in Beatty Constructed from Scavenged Rhyolite Materials
    • A Saloon Countertop Is Relocated to Goodsprings, Nevada’s Pioneer Saloon

1914:

  • Train Depot Closes

1916:

  • Rhyolite’s Electricity is Turned Off, Lines are Removed

1917:

  • By Now Rhyolite is Nearly Abandoned

1919:

  • Postmaster H.D. Porter (former owner of the Porter Brothers Store) Leaves Rhyolite

1920:

  • Only 14 Residents Remain in Rhyolite

Rebirth of Rhyolite as Tourist Destination:

1925:

  • Paramount Pictures Restores the Bottle House for the Filming of The Air Mail

1920’s and 30’s:

  • Rhyolite Becomes a Tourist Destination
  • The Caboose House is Used as a Gas Station
  • The Train Depot Becomes a Casino, Bar and Souvenir Shop Lasting into the 1970s

1984 Rhyolite’s Outdoor Sculpture Garden – The Goldwell Open Air Museum:

  • The Last Supper Sculpture by Belgian Artist Albert Szukalski is Installed. The life-sized sculptures were created by draping plaster-soaked burlap over live models who stood under it until the plaster was stiff enough to stand on its own.
  • Additional sculptures 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.

Early 2000s, Remaining Buildings:

  • Railroad Depot
  • Cook Bank Building Concrete Shell
  • Porter Brothers Store
  • School
  • Tom Kelly Bottle House
  • Aerial View of Old Streets