The Ghost Town of Rhyolite, Nevada

Continuing my series on Death Valley National Park, California, this post explores one of the most photographed and alluring ghost mining towns in the old west – Rhyolite, Nevada. Although not technically located within park boundaries, Rhyolite proudly sits just outside the eastern edge of Death Valley, approximately 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas. This legendary ghost town lies in the Bullfrog Hills of southwestern Nevada near the small Amargosa desert town of Beatty in Nye County. A very popular tourist attraction and setting for many Hollywood movies, Rhyolite is rich with character and stark desert beauty. There is even a large outdoor sculpture garden adjacent to Rhyolite – the Goldwell Open Air Museum – which is not to be missed. This historic but short-lived town is named for rhyolite – an igneous rock in the same glass as granite, composed of light-colored silicates.

Abandoned Miner's Cabin, Rhyolite Ghost Town, Nevada

Cabin Fever

The origins of Rhyolite came about in 1904 when prospectors Shorty Harris and E. L. Cross discovered an abundance of gold-laced quartz in the Bullfrog Hills at the western edge of a volcanic field in southwestern Nevada. According to historic accounts, the rock (mineral) was green and spotted with chunks of yellow metal, looking similar to the back of a frog – thus the name bullfrog. The town sprouted in 1905 during an ensuing gold rush as one of several mining camps in the region. Initially a two-man tent camp in January 1905, Rhyolite rapidly grew to a town of 1,200 people within two short weeks. There were over 2,000 claims covering everything in a 30-mile area, the most promising being the Montgomery Shoshone mine, which prompted hoards of gold seekers to move to the Rhyolite townsite. By June of 1905, it had quickly ballooned to a population of 2,500 hearty souls and had 50 saloons, 35 gambling tables, a red light district complete with cribs for prostitution, boarding houses, 16 restaurants, 19 lodging houses, a public bath house, weekly newspaper, and six barbers.

Abandoned Miners' Shacks, Rhyolite Ghost Town, Nevada

Long Forgotten

In early 1906, the nearby Montgomery Shoshone Mine was sold to famous industrialist Charles M. Schwab, who greatly expanded the operation by hiring many workers, building a large mill to refine the ore, and bringing in water, electricity, and a railroad. By 1907, Rhyolite had electric lights, water mains, sidewalks, telephones, a hospital, a two-story school, at least three banks, an opera house, police and fire departments, a train station, and a stock exchange. Completed in 1908, the Las Vegas & Tonopah Depot structure at Rhyolite reportedly cost $130,000 to build. The depot is a classic California mission style building made from cut stone hauled from Las Vegas. The upper floor of the depot functioned as housing for ticket agents and other employees; interestingly, there were separate waiting areas and baggage rooms for men and women. Published estimates of the town’s peak population in 1907-1908 vary widely, but reliable sources place it in a range between 3,500 to 5,000 people. During Rhyolite’s heyday, more than 85 mining companies were active in the rugged hills around the desert townsite.

Ruins of Old John S. Cook Bank Building, Rhyolite Ghost Town, Nevada

Time Robber

Sadly, Rhyolite’s journey from boom to bust town was a rapid one. The venerable words “don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched” certainly applies to Rhyolite. The town declined nearly as quickly as it rose to distinction after the richest ore was exhausted and production fell. Due to the catastrophic 1906 San Francisco earthquake and financial panic of 1907, raising capital became very difficult. Concerned that Rhyolite may be overvalued, mine investors ordered a study in 1908. Unfortunately, the conclusion was quite unfavorable and the company’s stock took a massive nosedive. By late 1910 the mine was operating at a loss; it closed in 1911, forcing out-of-work miners to leave the area, resulting in a massive population drop. By 1920, the town’s all-too-brief glory days were over. Its streets became deserted and the town’s abandoned structures flourished into great fodder for tourists and film makers. (Click below the sharing button on the “Read More” link to continue…) 

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Pismo Beach Stairway to Nowhere

Just a quick post this afternoon on a subject I have long since wanted to photograph here on the California Central Coast. During the time I was a Resident Artist at Studios on the Park in Paso Robles, a patron came in one day and commented on my urban exploration (UrbEx) photography. She inquired as to whether I had photographed an abandoned beach access staircase in the Shell Beach area, since I love to shoot decaying structures. A few months ago I was fortunate to locate this vintage stairwell during a glorious sunset.

Abandoned Spiral Staircase, Pismo Beach, California

Stairway to Nowhere

Lurking just behind the posh Ventana Grill in Pismo Beach, this long abandoned spiral staircase sits decaying alongside the beautiful Pacific coastal bluffs. It once served to transport beachcombers safely down to the ocean, but now appears to be the Central Coast version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The walkway that once connected this staircase to the bluffs has long since rotted away, but the leaning tower still beckons, harkening back to a once golden era. For you pixel perspective peepers, yes, this stairwell is leaning and rather precarious. The only true access to this spiral staircase is via kayak.

This image was taken with a Nikon D800 and a Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 ultrawide angle lens, and is an HDR (high dynamic range) photograph comprised of bracketed RAW shots processed in Photomatix Pro, Lightroom, and with onOne Software’s Perfect Effects.

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