Rhyolite Ghost Town

The thriving metropolis of Rhyolite, Nevada, ca. 1909, looking northwestward.

Rhyolite is a ghost town in Nye County, Nevada, in the Bullfrog Hills, adjacent to the eastern boundary of Death Valley National Park. A gold rush began in 1905 as gold-containing quartzite veins were discovered in the surrounding hills. Thousands of gold-miners, developers, and service providers flocked to the Bullfrog Mining District.

Industrialist Charles M. Schwab bought the Montgomery Shoshone Mine in 1906 and invested heavily in infrastructure, including piped water, electric lines, and a rail transportation system. By 1907, Rhyolite had electric lights, water mains, telephones, newspapers, a hospital, a school, an opera house, and a stock exchange. Published estimates of the town's peak population vary widely, but scholarly sources generally place it in a range between 3,500 and 5,000 in 1907–08.

Cook Bank building

This building was meant to be a modern bank entering the 20th Century, permanent, long-lasting, a bastion of the City of Dreams.

The first gold strike at Rhyolite was made by Shorty Harris and Ed Cross in 1904.

By February of 1905, Bob Montgomery started the Shoshone Mine nearby and it was touted as "the new wonder of the west". This mine went on to be the biggest gold producer of the day and was later known as the Montgomery-Shoshone mine. Charles Schwab traveled in to buy the mine, and made millions of dollars off it, later founding the famous investment bank that retains the name today.

The town of Rhyolite received it's name from the volcanic-ash rock ubiquitous in the area from past volcanic eruptions. Rhyolite the town sprang up to service the Shoshone Mine. Soon Rhyolite out-competed other gold boom towns locally, and became the undisputed "Queen City" of the Death Valley mining region.

Rhyolite grew to become the cosmopolitan city that eclipsed all other local boomtowns. Some estimates are that 10,000 people lived there during the boom years of 1905 to 1912. View of the Amargosa Valley desert throught the school house ruin.

In the city's heyday around the turn of the 20th Century, Rhyolite boasted three water systems, three railroad lines, a telephone and telegraph office, electricity, three newspapers, an opera house, a police and fire department, a symphony, baseball teams, tennis courts, three swimming pools, two undertakers, two hospitals, eight physicians, two dentists, 19 lodging houses, 18 grocery stores, over 53 saloons, over 50 mines within the town site, and a stock exchange. Rhyolite boasted the first Catholic and Presbyterian churches in the Death Valley area. Licensed prostitution attracted ladies from San Francisco after the 1906 great earthquake.

Rhyolite declined almost as rapidly as it rose. After the richest ore was exhausted, production fell. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the financial panic of 1907 made it more difficult to raise development capital. By this time, many out-of-work miners had moved elsewhere, and Rhyolite's population dropped well below 1,000. By 1920, it was near zero.

After 1920, Rhyolite and its ruins became a tourist attraction and a setting for motion pictures. Most of its buildings crumbled, were salvaged for building materials, or were moved to nearby Beatty or other towns, although the railway depot and a house made chiefly of empty bottles were repaired and preserved.

Cook Bank ruins, with the beautiful and remote Amargosa Valley in the background--just as it looked in 1900. You can see the snow-covered Telescope Peak in the distance, within Death Valley National Park. The Funeral Range lies in the mid-range vista, also within the park.

The Bureau of Land Management manages and protects the ruins as the Rhyolite Historic Area. The Cook Bank Building is one of the most photographed ghost town buildings in the West, and the Amargosa Valley viewscape beyond is integral to capturing the feel of the area a century-ago. Little has changed in the Mojave Desert vista, yet the view is threatened by utility-scale industrial solar projects with accompanying substations, battery banks, and transmission lines.

Train depot.

Bottle House.

Death Valley Scotty having lucnh with hios friend Wong Kee in front of the Cook Bank.

HD & LD Porter Store.

Harold-Porter Store

The H. D. & L. D. Porter Store in its heyday. Built in 1906, it's invetory was sold by May of 1910 as the easy gold played out and the boomtown wound down. A bakery is on the right.

The Porter Store ruin looking south towards the vast expanse of the Amargosa Valley and Funeral Mountains. The ghost town and the desert landscape are all part of the experience here.

The H. D. & L. D. Porter Store was Rhyolite's main merchant. The Porters were brothers and their business hauled goods up from Randsburg, California. The Porters sold groceries, clothing, mining supplies,and many other things. Their slogan was, "We handle all good things but whiskey."

Public Lands

The ghost town of Rhyolite is managed by the Bureau of Land Management tpo protect these ruins and interpret their historic legacy to the public. "Remember the Past by Exploring the Present!"

Schoolhouse Ruins

A two-story building, looking southwards to the desert of Amargosa Valley.

1909 map of central Rhyolite showing buildings, and the surviving ruins in yellow.

Rhyolite view ca. 1908 looking northeast, with landmarks labeled. Courtesy: http://www.backroadswest.com/deathvalley/images/Beatty/RhoyliteOldPic2.jpg

The Bottle House was built in 1905, incorporating the abundant glass bottles available in the city--mostly beer bottles. 50,000 bottles were used in the construction of the walls.

The Bottle House in the rhyolitic Bullfrog Hills, and old scraps of history.

The Bottle House was started in September of 1905 by a 76-year-old miner from Australia named Tom Kelly. Before the railroads reached Rhyolite, materials were brought in by horse-drawn wagon and were very expensive. Resourceful Kelly built his house with what was available--empty beer bottles and mud. Six months and 50,000 bottles later, he finished his unique house. He later sold the house and it has been occupied by several different families. Paramount Pictures restored the house in 1925 and the Thompson's were the last family to care for it from 1953 until 1989.

Bottle House viw of other ruins of the town of Rhyolite and Bullfrog Hills.

The Bottle House is very carefully protected by on-site caretakers, as is the entire ghost town. This historic legacy is conserved for future generations, and to hold the local legacy intact. Distant view of the open Mojave Desert, Amargosa Valley and the Funeral Range as it all looked in 1905.

School building against the Bullfrog Hills.

School building and view of the Amargosa Valley.

Ruins of the ghost town of Rhyolite.

Ruins and the old school house, with Amargosa Valley and Death Valley National Park mountain ranges in the distant view. Imagib[ne the thriving city: this is the landscape and vista unchanged.

Cook Bank building and vast view of the Mojave Desert in Amargosa Valley beyond.

School house vista of the desert looking southward.

Cook Bank.

Golden Street, Rhyolite, ca. 1908. You can see the Cook Bank building upstreet on the left.

Cook Bank building and a Joshua tree, framed by the Amargosa Valley, Daylight Pass, and Telescope Peak in the distance.

Cook Bank building in late afternoon light.

Sunset over the Cook Bank ruin.

Photographers delight in the varying moods of light and shadow. Cook Bank.

Cook Bank

Cook Bank around 1910. the three-story building cost an emnromous $90,000 to build. It was a modern building with time-locked vaults in the basement, Italian marble sr=tairs, and impportaned stain-glassed windows.

Rhyolite Railroad Station

In 1908 this was considered one of Nevada's finest train stations.

At the time, all railroads came to this train station: the Tonopah & Tidewater, the Las Vegas & Tonopah, and Bullfrog & Goldfield lines. The T&T only went to Gold Center, a vanished town 5 miles southeast of Rhyolite, so the B&G had an agreement to bring T&T trains on their line to Rhyolite.

Bottle House and view southwards to the Mojave Desert in Amargosa Valley.

Cook Bank and the Bullfrog Hills.

Small Building

Near the jailhouse.

Rhyolite is on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and is protected as the Rhyolite Histiorc Area.