Quantcast
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Last Stop: Rhyolite, NV

This Gold Rush ghost town wastes on the edge of Death Valley.

View of Rhyolite and surrounding desert from the town's abandoned gold mine.
View of Rhyolite and surrounding desert from the town's abandoned gold mine.

Rolling into the small town of Beatty, Nevada, is a strange experience.

One of the few settlements on the edge of the brutal Death Valley, it appears as a welcome rise of gaudy lights after so many miles of inhospitable nothing. Yet it is far from a glamorous destination – don’t get me wrong, if you like overpriced motels and more brothels than gas stations, then Beatty will be a blast. For the rest of us… it’s a convenient place to catch a burger and a few hours' sleep before diving back into the desert.

I shouldn’t be too harsh on Beatty. It's worth a visit alone for the spectacular ghost town that sits on its doorstep (and the largest candy and nut store in Nevada, apparently). Armed with plentiful supplies of trail mix, we headed into Rhyolite.

Rhyolite is one of the best-preserved ghost towns I've found in the Southwest. On the eastern outskirts of Death Valley, it must have been a hive of excitement during the lucrative Gold Rush days. But the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and following financial crisis devastated its economic prospects and led to the mine’s closure in 1910. Since then, the town has packed up, shipped out and slowly faded from glory to the tourist-friendly remains that stand there today.

Despite decades of battery from winds and wastes, the town still stands – and although some of the surrounding wooden houses are on the brink of collapse, their ramshackle appearance only adds to the town’s photogenic charm. The more resilient buildings are roped off to protect their history from curious idiots (and to protect curious idiots from broken ankles and tetanus punctures), but these restrictions don’t deter from the experience.

On the morning of our visit (en route to find the mythical Barker Ranch and Charlie Manson’s truck on the other side of Death Valley), Rhyolite was mysteriously empty. The skeletal remnants of the three-story Cook Bank rose up against the misty Sawtooth and Bullfrog Mountains (left). A scattering of crows were the only signs of life intruding on our explorations.

The impressive casino, now preserved in a state of permanent decay, started life as a train depot built to accommodate the tons of ore being shipped out for profit. At the height of its success, three railroads served Rhyolite. It's easy to imagine those same carriages only a few years later, laden down with deserters looking for luck elsewhere.

Train caboose near Rhyolite's railroad depot/casino.

The blistering desert heat has since weathered the static wooden caboose into beautiful red and turquoise tones – a real gem for the camera lens, and a testament to the abandoned lives and dreams of those who lived here.

On a visit, it is worth stopping by the curious Bottle House built from 50,000 liquor bottles, whose walls dazzle green and brown hues when the sun is overhead. And for fans of vehicular history, there are classic cars and old trucks dotted around town, rusting gloriously. Try not to be put off by the "No Shooting" signs riddled with bullet holes; you’re on federal-protected land and at far more risk from rattlesnakes, probably.

A scrabbling climb up a low bank brings you to the mouth of the mine (top). It is (wisely) locked off, but it does give a spectacular view of the town and mountains beyond. With more time we would have embarked on one of the recommended hikes through the mountains, but there were more miles of desert to rack up and other ghost towns to find.

From our crow’s-eye vantage spot, Rhyolite was an eerie little place, made even weirder by the offbeat sculpture gallery rising up from the sandy flats at the town’s entrance. The modern colors and shapes stand in surreal conflict to the slow-burning disintegration of the original settlement, and the creepy "The Last Supper" - a sculpture by Albert Szukalski comprising twelve sinister robed ghosts - is especially uneasy viewing, even on a quiet sunny day.

On the dusty drive out of town, leave enough time to stop at the cemetery for a contemplative stroll through the ancient wooden grave markers, before rejoining Route 374 and plunging back into California’s most arduous national park.

And make sure you fill up on gas at Beatty; it’s a long drive back to populated civilization.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

Phil Rath – San Diego's busiest lobbyist

What Chris Cate will do with leftover money
Next Article

Thor slain in Carlsbad

Stabber gets five years
Comments
2

Cool!

March 6, 2013

I love your writing, Amy.

March 22, 2013

Sign in to comment

Sign in

View of Rhyolite and surrounding desert from the town's abandoned gold mine.
View of Rhyolite and surrounding desert from the town's abandoned gold mine.

Rolling into the small town of Beatty, Nevada, is a strange experience.

One of the few settlements on the edge of the brutal Death Valley, it appears as a welcome rise of gaudy lights after so many miles of inhospitable nothing. Yet it is far from a glamorous destination – don’t get me wrong, if you like overpriced motels and more brothels than gas stations, then Beatty will be a blast. For the rest of us… it’s a convenient place to catch a burger and a few hours' sleep before diving back into the desert.

I shouldn’t be too harsh on Beatty. It's worth a visit alone for the spectacular ghost town that sits on its doorstep (and the largest candy and nut store in Nevada, apparently). Armed with plentiful supplies of trail mix, we headed into Rhyolite.

Rhyolite is one of the best-preserved ghost towns I've found in the Southwest. On the eastern outskirts of Death Valley, it must have been a hive of excitement during the lucrative Gold Rush days. But the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and following financial crisis devastated its economic prospects and led to the mine’s closure in 1910. Since then, the town has packed up, shipped out and slowly faded from glory to the tourist-friendly remains that stand there today.

Despite decades of battery from winds and wastes, the town still stands – and although some of the surrounding wooden houses are on the brink of collapse, their ramshackle appearance only adds to the town’s photogenic charm. The more resilient buildings are roped off to protect their history from curious idiots (and to protect curious idiots from broken ankles and tetanus punctures), but these restrictions don’t deter from the experience.

On the morning of our visit (en route to find the mythical Barker Ranch and Charlie Manson’s truck on the other side of Death Valley), Rhyolite was mysteriously empty. The skeletal remnants of the three-story Cook Bank rose up against the misty Sawtooth and Bullfrog Mountains (left). A scattering of crows were the only signs of life intruding on our explorations.

The impressive casino, now preserved in a state of permanent decay, started life as a train depot built to accommodate the tons of ore being shipped out for profit. At the height of its success, three railroads served Rhyolite. It's easy to imagine those same carriages only a few years later, laden down with deserters looking for luck elsewhere.

Train caboose near Rhyolite's railroad depot/casino.

The blistering desert heat has since weathered the static wooden caboose into beautiful red and turquoise tones – a real gem for the camera lens, and a testament to the abandoned lives and dreams of those who lived here.

On a visit, it is worth stopping by the curious Bottle House built from 50,000 liquor bottles, whose walls dazzle green and brown hues when the sun is overhead. And for fans of vehicular history, there are classic cars and old trucks dotted around town, rusting gloriously. Try not to be put off by the "No Shooting" signs riddled with bullet holes; you’re on federal-protected land and at far more risk from rattlesnakes, probably.

A scrabbling climb up a low bank brings you to the mouth of the mine (top). It is (wisely) locked off, but it does give a spectacular view of the town and mountains beyond. With more time we would have embarked on one of the recommended hikes through the mountains, but there were more miles of desert to rack up and other ghost towns to find.

From our crow’s-eye vantage spot, Rhyolite was an eerie little place, made even weirder by the offbeat sculpture gallery rising up from the sandy flats at the town’s entrance. The modern colors and shapes stand in surreal conflict to the slow-burning disintegration of the original settlement, and the creepy "The Last Supper" - a sculpture by Albert Szukalski comprising twelve sinister robed ghosts - is especially uneasy viewing, even on a quiet sunny day.

On the dusty drive out of town, leave enough time to stop at the cemetery for a contemplative stroll through the ancient wooden grave markers, before rejoining Route 374 and plunging back into California’s most arduous national park.

And make sure you fill up on gas at Beatty; it’s a long drive back to populated civilization.

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Will California let home owners save the beach?

Patricia Bates bill will let individuals armor the bluffs
Next Article

Five black-owned restaurants to try in San Diego

As George Floyd protests continue, some diners seek to support African-American restaurateurs
Comments
2

Cool!

March 6, 2013

I love your writing, Amy.

March 22, 2013

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Art Reviews — W.S. Di Piero's eye on exhibits Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Best Buys — San Diego shopping Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits City Lights — News and politics Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Famous Former Neighbors — Next-door celebs Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Here's the Deal — Chad Deal's watering holes Just Announced — The scoop on shows Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Of Note — Concert picks Out & About — What's Happening Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Pour Over — Grab a cup Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer News — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Set 'em Up Joe — Bartenders' drink recipes Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Sports — Athletics without gush Street Style — San Diego streets have style Suit Up — Fashion tips for dudes Theater Reviews — Local productions Theater antireviews — Narrow your search Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Waterfront — All things ocean Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close