Rhyolite, state’s ‘most photogenic ghost town,’ sparkles in Southern Nevada
April 26, 2014
Whenever I travel, I think of myself as an ambassador for Nevada. I roll my eyes when people assume I’m from Las Vegas and sigh when they inquire about “Reno 911,” but I always tell them about the benefits of living in an income tax-free state with close proximity to beautiful Northern California, ski resorts, cowboys and all the other things that make Nevada a unique place to live.
These days I find myself acting as an ambassador to a different group of people: fellow Nevadans. As part of our state’s 150th anniversary, my friend Amy and I are spending the year traveling the Silver State and experiencing all the things that make this a hilarious and wonderful place. It has been a privilege to share our adventures with others and to teach them interesting facts and fun things to see around our state. So far a few things we have done include eating Rocky Mountain Oysters in Virginia City, visiting Mama Inez at the Halfway Club in Reno, sitting, uncomfortably, through Sheep Dip and attending a boxing match.
In March, Amy and I traveled south on U.S. Highway 95 to Rhyolite, a ghost town just a few miles outside of Beatty, which is about 90 miles north of Las Vegas. We read Rhyolite was Nevada’s “most photogenic ghost town” and still boasted several buildings for visitors to check out. Nevada is littered with hundreds of ghost towns — old mining sites long abandoned after resources dried up. Many are hard to travel by road and don’t have anything left for viewing. We settled on visiting Rhyolite because it was relatively easy to get to (no off-roading necessary) and because it housed well-preserved buildings and artifacts to check out.
“I’ve always considered being a Nevadan more of an attitude than a birthright.”
Nevada-based journalist and author
As we turned off the highway and drive up to Rhyolite, there is an “open-air museum” on the left side of the road. It’s on private property, but visitors are encouraged to drive up and view the art installations. I recommend doing so, but don’t spend more than a half-hour. There aren’t many pieces to see and you’ll want to spend most of your time in Rhyolite. A couple art installations of interest include “Last Supper,” which is 12 ghost-like figures set up in a row; “Lady Desert: The Venus of Nevada,” a lego-looking statue of a blond female; and “Tribute to Shorty Harris,” which are tall statues of Shorty Harris and a penguin. All installations make for good photo opportunities, but they can be viewed fairly quickly.
A little more up the road we came across the first point of interest in Rhyolite: Tom T. Kelly’s Bottle House, which was constructed out of thousands of beer and liquor bottles in 1906 and restored by Paramount Pictures in 1925. It is one of the few buildings in Rhyolite still intact. Next to the Bottle House is an old mercantile building that has been moved offsite before returning to Rhyolite.
A little farther up the main road is a dirt road on the left side that travelers can take to get down to the remains of the jail. Beyond the jail is the side of a mountain, and if you look closely you’ll notice a hill that you can hike up fairly easily to get to the one mine shaft that operated in town. The mine shaft itself is barred up, but visitors can peek in several feet. The best part about this tiny hike is the view overlooking the entire town, making this a can’t-miss photo op. It’s hard to imagine that the mostly empty desert in front of us once housed 5,000 people and a bustling town that boasted an opera house, a railroad and a newspaper.
After hiking down the mountain, we ventured toward the right to check out the brothel, which is the only remaining building from the town’s red-light district.
Back at the main road are several building remains to see, including what used to be a three-story bank, a jewelry store and a school. Farther still up the road is the train depot, an impressive southwestern-inspired building but privately owned and fenced off from visitors.
In between all these structures are many empty lots to walk through and look at. Rhyolite is full of “historical litter” in the form of nails, cans, bed frames, wood piles and other remains that have been left to decay. I’m a sucker for old, worn-down artifacts, so I was in photographer’s heaven.
There is a cemetery to visit closer to the highway we took to get to Rhyolite. There’s really not much to see, and there’s always the chance that your car battery will die while you’re there (thank you, fellow Nevadans, for the jump), so I recommend skipping this part of the adventure in favor of food and libations back in Beatty.
Emily Stott is a design desk supervisor for Swift Communications, the parent company to the Nevada Appeal, and a travel bug victim.