Rhyolite: Death Valley’s Haunting Ghost Town

(Images by Ken Lund, licensed under CC-SA-2.0)

To date Urban Ghosts Media has explored a number of ghost towns, from Bodie, the quintessential Wild West frontier town, to some of the world’s most fascinating abandoned towns and cities. But what more appropriate location for a ghost town than the aptly named Death Valley? That’s where the remains of Rhyolite stand, and even today the ruins tell of a prosperous and relatively grand settlement.

(Images by Finetooth & Pierre Camateros.  Licensed under CC-SA-3.0)

Located in Nevada’s Bullfrog Hills about 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Rhyolite emerged as one of several mining camps in 1905 and exploded after the large scale discovery of gold. In the spirit of the Wild West, the ensuing gold rush brought miners, gold diggers and adventurers, bound by the promise of financial gain. Accompanying them were enterprising service providers intent on making a living off the rewards reaped through the burgeoning industry.

(Images top, left and right in public domain)

It wasn’t long before the Bullfrog Mining District was a hive of industrial activity, and Rhyolite boomed alongside the biggest gold producer in the region – the Montgomery Shoshone Mine. Industrialist Charles M. Schwab (above) bought the mine in 1906 and developed a modern infrastructure including piped water and railroad transport to the town, bringing relative civility to this wild and untamed land.

(Images by Nevada Tumbleweed, Bala & Tahoenathan. Licensed under CC-2.0 & CC-SA-3.0)

Within a year, Rhyolite had become a modern boom town, complete with electric lights, water mains, newspapers, a hospital, a stock exchange, an opera house, a school and a bank (both above). The town’s population at its peak is uncertain, but experts generally place it between 3,500 to 5,000 in 1907-1908.

(Images by Nevada Tumbleweed and Finetooth.  Licensed under CC-2.0 & CC-SA-3.0)

But times got tough and Rhyolite’s incredible rise was mirrored only by its equally swift decline.  Depletion of the richest ore, combined with the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and financial unrest the following year set a chain of events in motion culminating in the rapid diminishing of the town’s population.

(Images by Ken Lund.  Licensed under CC-SA-2.0)

Investors in the Montgomery Shoshone Mine, fearing their investment was overvalued and finding it increasingly tough to raise capital, ordered an independent study. The findings were unfavourable and the stock value crashed. Montgomery Shoshone Mine closed in 1911, sending out-of-work miners to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

(Images by Gedstrom (public domain), 50 Prime, Bala & Nevada Tumbleweed.  Licensed under CC-2.0)

Rhyolite’s population declined to near zero by 1920. After its abandonment, buildings crumbled and stones were scavenged for use elsewhere. Ironically, Wild West settlements that become ghost towns have a habit of luring almost as many people as they did during their boom years. Tourists have replaced miners and today Rhyolite is a popular movie backdrop, with a railway depot and house made out of empty bottles (both above) preserved for thousands of visitors each year.

(Images by Nevada Tumbleweed.  Licensed under CC-2.0)

The photos above show how extensive Rhyolite was during its heyday, unlike many of the ramshackle towns out west.  While most of the buildings have long since disappeared, their ruined foundations and a roaring tourist trade ensure they are not forgotten.  Nearby, the entrance to one of the abandoned mines vanishes deep into the bowels of the Bullfrog Hills, a lasting memorial to the thousands of miners who lived – and died – on the Wild West frontier.

Related Articles:
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Abandoned Towns and Cities of Africa
Intriguing: Wild West Ghost Towns
Ghost Town of Bodie: Spectres, Curses and “Arrested Decay”

 
 
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