Rhyolite, Nevada, is this month’s featured Ghost Town Trails stop. I chose Rhyolite as it is an easy stop just off Hwy 95 for snowbirds heading south from the Pacific Northwest. A paved road leads you directly into the “downtown” business district, for those who just want to stop by with their RV for the day. RV parks and boondocking opportunities abound nearby, for those who want to rest a spell on their way south.
History of Rhyolite
“The town began in early 1905 as one of several mining camps that sprang up after a prospecting discovery in the surrounding hills. During an ensuing gold rush, thousands of gold-seekers, developers, miners and service providers flocked to the Bullfrog Mining District. Many settled in Rhyolite, which lay in a sheltered desert basin near the region’s biggest producer, the Montgomery Shoshone Mine.
“Industrialist Charles M. Schwab bought the Montgomery Shoshone Mine in 1906 and invested heavily in infrastructure, including piped water, electric lines and railroad transportation, that served the town as well as the mine. By 1907, Rhyolite had electric lights, water mains, telephones, newspapers, a hospital, a school, an opera house, and a stock exchange. Published estimates of the town’s peak population vary widely, but scholarly sources generally place it in a range between 3,500 and 5,000 in 1907–08.
“Rhyolite declined almost as rapidly as it rose.
After the richest ore was exhausted, production fell. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the financial panic of 1907 made it more difficult to raise development capital. In 1908, investors in the Montgomery Shoshone Mine, concerned that it was overvalued, ordered an independent study. When the study’s findings proved unfavorable, the company’s stock value crashed, further restricting funding. By the end of 1910, the mine was operating at a loss, and it closed in 1911. By this time, many out-of-work miners had moved elsewhere, and Rhyolite’s population dropped well below 1,000, and by 1920, it was close to zero.
“After 1920, Rhyolite and its ruins became a tourist attraction and a setting for motion pictures. Most of its buildings crumbled, were salvaged for building materials, or were moved to nearby Beatty or other towns, although the railway depot and a house made chiefly of empty bottles were repaired and preserved.”
Thank you to the folks at Wikipedia for the short and concise history of Rhyolite.
If my memory serves me correctly, my wife and I have been to Rhyolite at least three times. Once on a summer RV trip before we had children in an un-airconditioned trailer where it was too hot, and we drove way too many miles each day. The 3/300 rule hadn’t been coined yet. The second time I believe we were with our teenage son in our RV on the way to visit my parents in Arizona.
The last time was just my wife and me in the early fall, when we boondocked near Rhyolite on the way to points south on Hwy 95. Since we were so close to Rhyolite, we decided to take an evening ride via our ATV and dual sport motorcycle to the townsite for something to do. Rather than go the conventional way, as we had during our past two visits, we opted to travel down one of the abandoned railroad beds that led into the old town. (Three railroads served Rhyolite in its heyday.)
The visit was memorable
This visit was memorable for two reasons: 1) The old railroad right-of-way enters the remains of Rhyolite at the old train depot from the opposite side of town from where most tourists enter. As we rode up over a ridge, we surprised several Harley Davidson riders taking a break admiring the train depot. The looks on their faces were priceless, as a grandmother of seven emerged, riding an ATV, from the desert dust trailing behind her. I think they were surprised to have their free-spirited biker persona being one-upped by a woman senior citizen!
2) We arrived late in the day as golden hour approached. It added a ghostly touch to the crumbling buildings, and provided better photo opportunities than our previous visits. We visited the schoolhouse, mercantile, jail, the Cook Bank Building, bottle house, and the Porter store. We finished our visit at the ghostly figures and other art installations of the Goldwell Open Air Museum located south of Rhyolite.
Since most of the ruins are constructed of durable materials like rock and concrete, it doesn’t feel like much has changed since our first visit more than 40 years ago. While I am certain a bit more of the town crumbles back to the earth every year, I am hopeful the remains will outlast me, allowing my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to visit this special place. Who knows what kind of RVs they will be traveling in when they visit.
Rhyolite lays about 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas, about 4 air miles due west of Beatty, Nevada.
Take Highway 374 southwest from Beatty approximately 4 miles and turn right onto paved Rhyolite Road. Head north on Rhyolite Road, arriving in Rhyolite in about 1.5 miles. There is plenty of room to park, along with options to turn your RV around.
Boondocking: Boondocking on BLM land is plentiful outside of Beatty. The place where my wife and I stayed on our last visit (pictured) is located at N36° 54.413 W116° 47.552 For those of you who bring your off-road toys with you and want to uniquely experience Rhyolite arriving via the old rail line, as visitors would have done 120 years ago, you will find the old rail bed leaving the above boondocking site at N36° 54.244 W116° 47.441. Head southwest and you will find yourself at the Rhyolite train depot in about 2.5 miles.
If you prefer to boondock with others, check out Bombo’s Pond just south of Beatty—a well-known BLM boondocking location.
Note: Overnight camping is prohibited in Rhyolite.
Past installments of Ghost Town Trails you may enjoy:
- Ruby, AZ – Southern Arizona’s ‘best-preserved’ ghost town
- Deadwood Mine, Idaho and its mysterious vault
- Eureka, Utah – Visit easily accessible old mining town
- Silver City, Utah – Heartbreak and thanksgiving
- Castle Dome City, Arizona – Perfect for nearby snowbirds
- Fort Selkirk, Yukon Territory
- Coolidge, MT – ‘Montana’s Mystery Camp‘
- Ballarat, California
- Greenhorn, OR – Oregon’s smallest incorporated city
- Elkhorn, Montana – The cover photo of popular “Ghost Towns of the West” book
- Tunnel Camp, Nevada
- Bonnie Claire, Nevada
- Tumco, California
- Mackay’s Mine Hill, Mackay, Idaho