An Unmatched Boom
As one of the photographed ghost towns in the West, Rhyolite should be a priority when planning a Nevada adventure. This fascinating boomtown sprung to life after a couple of prospectors discovered high-grade ore in 1905. After uncovering extremely valuable gold in this region, several mining camps including Rhyolite popped up which later became known as the Bullfrog Mining District. Why such a crazy name like Bullfrog, you ask? These two prospectors, Frank “Shorty” Harris and Ernest “Ed” Cross thought that the rock in the area looked greenish, was spotted with big chunks of yellow metal downright looked a lot like the back of a frog.
While mining camps were common in this era, Rhyolite stood out because of the tremendous value in the ore samples. During the early 1900s, ore samples brought in $3000 a ton…in modern time that would equate to almost $80k per ton. Word of this wildly lucrative operation spread all the way north to Tonopah, and what originally started as a two-tent mining camp soon boomed to an estimated 5,000 people within six short months. Just as if the town literally sprung up over night, by this time Rhyolite already had 50 saloons, 35 gambling tables, 19 lodging houses, 16 restaurants, several barbers, a public bath house, and the Rhyolite Herald—a weekly newspaper publication. Also, four daily stagecoaches connected Goldfield [a whopping 97 miles to the north] and Rhyolite.
Interestingly, Rhyolite had gained such tremendous success that it soon caught the attention of industrialist Charles M. Schwab. By 1906, Schwab had purchased the Bullfrog Mining District and elevated the operation from good to grand with the implementation of electricity, plumbing and even contracted with the Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad to run a spur line to the area. Before long, three railroads eventually served Rhyolite, and just one year later the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad (RRT) began service to Rhyolite.
Thanks to Schwab, Rhyolite became quite the swanky boomtown by 1907, with concrete sidewalks, electric lights, water mains, telephone and telegraph lines, daily and weekly newspapers, a monthly magazine, police and fire departments, a hospital, school, train station and railway depot, three banks, a stock exchange, an opera house, a public swimming pool, and two churches.
...And Quite A Bust
While Rhyolite and the Bullfrog Mining District produced more than $1 million within three short years [about $24 million by today’s standards,] this boomtown declined almost as rapidly as it came to life. Like most other has-been mining communities, the high-grade ore began to diminish and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake proved to be the kiss of death as the rail service was seriously disrupted. By 1910, mines began to close, businesses failed, and workers sought employment elsewhere. The banks, newspapers, post office and train depot closed by 1914, and the power companies shut down the electricity by 1914, essentially forcing all remaining residents out of town. Within just one short year, the entire town was basically completely abandoned, and by 1920 only 14 people called Rhyolite home.
As timber was a hot commodity during this time, many of the towns remaining infrastructure was relocated to other towns and mining camps. If portions of the buildings were not relocated, then entire buildings themselves were moved. The Miner’s Union Hall in Rhyolite became the Old Town Hall in Beatty, and many of the buildings were used to construct the school in Beatty.
Tom Kelly Bottle House and Goldwell Open Air Museum
After the area was completely abandoned, several motion picture companies used Rhyolite as a setting for their films. With countless opportunities for a true Wild West backdrop in Rhyolite, perhaps the most pristine is the Kelly bottle house, built completely out of medicine, beer and whisky bottles. Restored for a Paramount Pictures film in 1926, the house still stands today and is the oldest and largest bottle house in the United States.
Tourism soon began to flourish in nearby Death Valley National Park and Rhyolite saw a wave of visitors during the 1930s. A few souvenir shops opened, and by 1984 Belgian artist Albert Szukalski created his rendition of The Last Supper sculpture. Today, this outdoor sculpture garden is known as Goldwell Open Air and on the southern entrance to the ghost town.
Today, visitors can check out this incredible ghost town as a seamless day trip, just 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
Heading north on US 95 from Las Vegas, travel 116 miles to Beatty, Nevada’s gateway to Death Valley National Park. Rhyolite is 4 miles west of Beatty on State Route 374 and is overseen by the Bureau of Land Management.