Thursday, August 12, 2010

Rhyolite, NV (A Travel Tip Thursday post)

Travel Tip Thursday is a writing prompt that encourages you to give tips to favorite places to travel. Today, I’m continuing to tell you about my trip through the barren regions of eastern California, Southern Nevada and Southern Utah as we visit Rhyolite.

Leaving Death Valley, we headed toward Beatty, a town known for the Yucca Mountain project, the place where some people want to store our nuclear waste. The town also has some hot springs (would they become hotter?), a few legal brothels (I don’t supposed they need any help in the hot department) and gas stations. As the needle was dropping well below the ½ tank mark, I knew I better top it off. In this country, you don’t want to be cutting it too close. But before arriving in Beatty, I took a short detour to the site of what use to be Rhyolite. I’d been here a couple times before, but felt the need to stop again. This is a ghost town you can tour in 30 minutes or so, especially since most of the buildings are now closed off from sightseers.

Rhyolite sits in the Bullfrog Mountains, a name that was given to these hills by Ed Cross and Frank Harris, the two miners who discovered gold here in 1904. They later said they named it Bullfrog because the ore had a greenish color, like a bullfrog, but the name certainly has a hint of irony as there are no frogs in these arid mountains. Rhyolite was the third big discover early in the 20th Century that brought new life to Nevada. The first discover was silver in Tonopah in 1902, followed by gold in Goldfield in 1904. A few years after gold was discovered at what became Rhyolite, the town flourished. By 1908, as many as 10,000 residents lived in this town. Unfortunately, for the town, the rich ore was all on the surface and by 1911, little mining was being done in the Bullfrog mining district. By 1920, the town only had 20 residents, probably about the same number as today.
I have no idea where the caboose came from since Union Pacific, to my knowledge, never operated any lines through Rhyolite.

During its short heyday, the Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad built a wonderful mission-style station in Rhyolite. Today, the station is fenced off and to further deter sightseers, there are signs warning of rattlesnakes. There are also the ruins of a few stores and a bank in Rhyolite.

I'm sure there are some rattlesnakes around, but it was too hot the day we were there to see any. But if you started overturning rocks and looking around under foundations, there's no telling what you'll find.

The other interesting building in Rhyolite is the bottle house, built by Tom Kelly, a 76 year old Australian, in 1906. Using only mortar and bottles for the walls (there must not have been deposit on bottles in those days), the house is unique. However, during the mining era, there were a couple other bottle houses in Goldfield.

Mining has continued in the region, however. Newer processes of extracting ore and the ability to strip mine and leach the ore helped bring new life to these hills. When I was last in Rhyolite in the late 90s, the mine was still going. At the time, ore prices were down, but from what I learned talking to a miner in a bar in Beatty the company had long placed orders paying nearly $400 an ounce, so they were making money. Interesting, with the price of gold high now, the mine appears to have closed.

One of the interesting sites to see is an open-air museum of work by Albert Szukalski, a Belgium artist/sculptor. Just southwest of the town site are a number of sculptures, the most outstanding being of the Last Supper. Jesus and the disciples all look like ghosts. When visiting rural Nevada, expect to be surprised by what you find. Next week, Goldfield.


  1. what a neat little place...makes me think of old westerns....and the artwork is really cool as well..i guess you are tight you never know what you will find...

  2. Wow, could your place be any more different than mine? But it seems really interesting - like a Mary McCaslin song.....
    Thanks for coming by my place!

  3. wow this is cool - glad you did not meet a rattlesnake...

  4. I suppose in a mining town or that era, there were lots of beer bottles to build houses from. Unfortunately, times have changed and I don't think I could build a glass bottle house if I wanted too. At least if I didn't want to buy new bottles or wait decades to collect enough glass bottles to start. I think I bought my last glass bottle of pop sometime in the mid 90's. I suppose you can still get beer in bottles but I'll have to step up my six pack a year habit.

  5. Rhyolite reminds me of the old westerns I've seen on the TV. A mnor genre (the so called spaghetti westerns) were shot in southern Spain, in a small desert of a province called Almería. Clint Eastood worked a bit there, lol.

    The bottle house is amazing. Some people can make incredible things just with waste /there's a guy near Madrid who built a cathedral with Coke cans, can you believe that? And now it is included in the Japanese tourist routes... live and learn).

  6. You and Jan both took me to the desert this week. I feel a longing for the dry heat, open spaces, and the quiet....

    Great travel post, thanks for linking up!

  7. Some of the scenery looks like stuff that the video game Red Dead redemption copied for their backgrounds.

  8. Brian, yep, some weird stuff out there! In the town of Austin (a former boom town now with a about 200 people) there is a castle!

    Starrlife, I don't know that song.

    Claudia, I have another blog post, from years ago, telling about my encounters with rattlesnakes, of which they've been a few

    Ed, you could build it with filled bottles (might get more solar gain, not that it's needed much of the year). You could then deconstruct the house as you sing "100 Bottles of Beer in the Wall"

    Leni, I like those old Spaghetti westerners (The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, A Fist-full of Dollars, etc). However, I think Eastwood's later work (starting with "Outlaw Josey Wales," then "Pale Rider" and I think his best, "The Unforgiven."

    Pseudo, you get the best of both worlds, going to the desert and staying in the AC!

    Charles, I don't know many video games, but I'd love to see this one.

  9. The bottle house is fascinating...and the rattlesnake warning is frightening.

    The idea of a ghost town is so sad. It's a shame they can't make any green from the tourists that obviously still come. Maybe I should look into this...

  10. I've never seen a "Warning: Rattlesnakes" sign before. I didn't even know they existed.

    Whenever I finally make a trip out West, I'll be writing you for suggestions on places to visit.

  11. Wow, bottles? Very cool. I'm with Bone, you are the go to guy for cool places to see.