Rhyolite, Nevada: An American Ghost Town
Rhyolite, Nevada is just one of the many ghost towns that dot the Silver State. Take a journey and discover its haunting beauty.
Rhyolite, the most photographed and best-known ghost town in Nevada, has been the backdrop of numerous music videos including a hit by Alanis Morissette. It stands as a monument to the turn-of-the-century mining rush.
It is a convenient two-hour drive from Las Vegas. Sandy desert floors with dotted scrub cactus and rolling tumbleweeds hide the few treasures that the desert still conceals. If you look closely, you might spot herds of wild horses and burros. These animals are the descendents of the stock that was carelessly abandoned when the mining boom came to a sudden end. Their survival is now dependent upon a few natural springs, local residents, park services, and private donations. If you stop to take photographs, remember that these animals are wild and skittish and they bite. Also, wear hiking boots because stepping out into the desert is dangerous.
On your trip to Rhyolite from Vegas, you'll pass through the small town of Beatty. Here you'll find a few small hotels, saloons, casinos, restaurants, rock shops, and local residents. This dusty little spot is a real change from the average American small town. It certainly is not a stop of fast food shrines or gas stations. In fact, regardless of what the needle on your gas gauge says and how sure you are you won't need gas, fill up here. This is the only stop for a hundred miles in every direction.
In Rhyolite, crude panning and hand tools have been replaced by a high tech plant, which stands off the desert floor at the same corner where you turn off of RT #374 and head into Rhyolite. The turn is well marked so you won't miss it.
Rhyolite is only a couple of miles from Beatty, where the main street is well-graded and easy to drive at slow speeds, an indication that you are not the first nomad to wander this trail. Of course, the Pink Lady, a forty-foot statue painted in bright pink might also be a clue. Ironically, the locals will mention this structure and how offensive they find it, though they say it isn't as bad now because it has faded. The Belgian artist who owns the plot just outside the edge of Rhyolite comes to the States every couple of years to make repairs and add pieces to his open air museum.
The Pink Lady is a tribute to the local traditions. Prostitution is not legal in Nevada--it's just not "illegal," a loop hole that accounts for the numerous bordellos along the highways. Even if you come to see the ghost towns, you won't miss the hookers. These places advertise in the Nevada tradition of neon signs.
More photographed than the "offensive" painted lady, is "The Last Supper." Imagine life-size sheets of plaster over the invisible forms of Jesus and his disciples. This ghostly image is hauntingly beautiful. The desert's arid conditions keep the sculpture in excellent shape. This unique open-air gallery is worth the drive.
In Rhyolite, the bank, hotel, general store, and train station are remnants of a recent past. A Union Pacific train car sits abandoned on a piece of track that goes nowhere. The deep blue skies and surrounding mountains frame the buildings and make a stunning backdrop for photographs. Snakes, scorpions, and other desert creatures are the only living residents here.
For dramatically a different photo shoot, come back at night. The night shoot photographs capture the ghost town spirit in a way a day shoot cannot. Looking at the night photos, you feel a total sense of abandonment.
The settlers didn't come here envisioning a future of crumbling structures. While they did come in the hunt for riches and glory, they built strong foundations and sturdy walls in concrete, brick, and cement. They made plans for a prosperous future, but quite unexpectedly and just as suddenly as it had arrived, it ended.