Of the many ghost towns in Nevada, Rhyolite by far lives up to the name. No one lives here. The tall stone and concrete buildings are in ruins. You can’t buy anything, stay anywhere or fill up your gas tank. But for photographers and people with a love for the Old West, Rhyolite is a dream.
The few standing walls with their gaping windows are picturesque—and pretty much all that’s left of the once-thriving, early 20th-century city. The concrete jail, with its big iron door and barred windows, is still in good shape. A few wooden structures perch precariously. A house made of beer bottles twinkles in the sun.
Rhyolite was a classic boom-and-bust town, part of the once-famous Bullfrog mining district. The city rose quickly after the discovery of gold in 1904. Rhyolite soon boasted elegant hotels, a stock exchange, an ice plant, restaurants, stores, saloons, two electric plants, foundries, machine shops and, of courses, mines, miners, and a mill to process gold ore. Rhyolite had a modern two-story school for its many children—and as in most mining towns, a red-light district. But mine production slowed only six years after the town’s founding, and the Montgomery-Shoshone mill and mine closed in 1911. Abandoned Rhyolite was the setting for western movies in the 1920s, and films and commercials are still shot here.
The mission-style railway depot once saw dozens of trains a day bringing people and goods in and taking gold out. The station, protected by a chain-link fence, is a good subject for photos. Of the many photogenic structures in Rhyolite is Tom Kelly’s cabin built of 50,000 beer bottles. The bottles were stacked on top of each other and packed with adobe to hold them together. When Rhyolite volunteers are in town, they tell stories of Tom Kelly, his house and the town site.
Most of Rhyolite sits on Bureau of Land Management property. The nearby, privately managed Goldwell Open Air Museum features large sculptures. The most well known is the ghostly white, life-sized sculpture called Last Supper, after Leonardo Da Vinci.
Rhyolite is 4 miles west of Beatty off S.R. 374. Drive north from Las Vegas on U.S. 95 116 miles to reach Beatty, Nevada’s Gateway to Death Valley.
The population estimates for Rhyolite vary widely, from 5,000 to nearly 10,000 in the peak years of 1907-1908.
Rhyolite residents enjoyed baseball games, dances, picnics, musical entertainment at the opera house and treats at the Alaska Glacier Ice Cream Parlor.
Outside events that probably contributed to Rhyolite’s decline are the earthquake and fire that destroyed San Francisco’s financial district in 1906 and the financial panic of 1907, which cut off capital for the mines.
You can learn about the town’s various buildings from plaques placed strategically along the dusty main street.