Winding throughout the silver state’s rich and colorful history, Nevada’s highways and byways are ideal for classic American road trips. Route 374 is a prime example and leads to the much-photographed gold ghost town of Rhyolite. Located about five miles from the California border of Death Valley National Park, visiting Rhyolite is free and worth a stop if you like to photograph crumbling yet interesting architecture. What’s different about this boom-town-gone-bust is that the buildings are mostly made of concrete, not wood. One creative miner, Tom Kelly, even built his home out of mud and 50,000 assorted liquor bottles since lumber was scarce!
Named for a mineral and founded in 1904 after a nearby gold strike, Rhyolite was quite the cosmopolitan city in its heyday—nearly 10,000 people lived here, supported by more than 85 active mining companies in the hills around the city. A network of 400 electric streetlights kept residents out of the dark, 45 saloons, an opera house, dance halls, and restaurants kept them entertained, and a railroad depot kept everyone connected. There were even public swimming pools! Unfortunately, the town’s reign of golden glory was short. Within about five or six years, Rhyolite began its career as a ghost town—the gold mines stopped producing and everyone moved away. Much of Rhyolite’s infrastructure became a source of building materials for other towns and mining camps. Entire buildings were moved to the nearby town of Beatty and elsewhere.
Today, the skeletal remains of the Cook Bank building, Porter General Store, school, railroad depot, and other shaky structures still stand. It takes a little imagination to picture a busy modern town, but photos on a few interpretive signs help tell Rhyolite’s history. The Rhyolite-Bullfrog cemetery, with its many wooden grave markers, remains as well.
As you turn off Route 374 onto a gravel road (wide and well-maintained, suitable for all rigs) heading toward Rhyolite, you’ll be surprised to find a 15-acre outdoor sculpture park. Goldwell Open Air Museum is free and open to the public. Among the unusual pieces of art are life-size ghosts, a 25-foot high pink woman made of cinder blocks, a 24-foot high steel prospector accompanied by a penguin, and much more. This discovery is just one more reason to keep your camera handy; folks back home probably won’t believe you found all this contemporary art backdropped by a desert landscape and warning signs about rattlesnakes. Tread lightly!
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In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com