“ Beatty / Death Valley / Nevada „
Let me refresh the situation for anyone who hasn't seen my previous reviews recently. My new husband and I were honeymooning in the States and had travelled from San Francisco, through Yosemite and on into Death Valley. We had just booked in at a Motel 6 in Beatty, Nevada and decided to go and have a look round some of the Furnace Creek attractions as the sun was setting. We had a bit of time though and had spotted signs on Route 374 for a ghost town called Rhyolite, so decided to go and investigate.
Our guidebooks that we had mentioned it slightly but at the time of visiting we didn't really know much about it, apart from the fact that it had once been a highly successful mining town but over the years people had moved away and it had become deserted. Turning off the main road, onto a dirt track that is accessible to all motor vehicles, we were stunned to see some strange objects on the left of the road and weren't really sure what they were. Ghostly figures and what looked to be a large naked lego woman caught our eye immediately but also freaked me out a little bit. This is the story of what we saw at this area and at the town a few hundred yards up the road.
***History of Rhyolite***
As I mentioned we didn't have many details of the history of this place and information boards were almost non-existant at this spot so when we got home it was inevitable that I would do some research on this lonely spot in the desert.
The ruins of Rhyolite are situated on the main eastern road into Death Valley around 4 miles west of Beatty. Although it doesn't look it when you approach, it was the 3rd largest city in Nevada in 1908 and around 8000 people lived there. When the town started to die though, people stripped houses of any useful materials that they could carry and use to rebuild elsewhere, which is why there aren't many houses left and most of the buildings are left with only the front remaining.
***The Ruined Buildings of Rhyolite***
Gold mining was a lucrative business in the early 1900s and as the town thrived it saw families move in, so a school was needed. Unfortunately the first school was a small wooden building and didn't last long with the strong winds that take over this barren land. You realise how easily this could have happened when walking around this area, as the warm wind really blows around you. A new school was built with concrete though and the shell of this building was visible to us. Unfortunately for the town, this building was finished at around the same time that people were moving away and instead of being a large place of learning, a lot of the upper floor was used for meetings or social gatherings.
Mr Cook was responsible for the banking needs in the town and the remnants of that building can clearly be seen today. It was the largest building in Rhyolite in its time and lots of luxurious materials, such as Italian marble and mahogany woodwork, were used inside to give the appearance of a modern building. It also had electric lights, a telephone and inside plumbing, which was very unusual at that time. Eventually the upper floors were taken over by the First Rhyolite National Bank and the Post Office took over the basement. The Post Office was actually the last business to close in Rhyolite in 1910.
The general store is another ruin where there isn't a lot left. It was owned by the Porter brothers who also owned a warehouse and a lumberyard at the time.
One of the most interesting buildings is Tom Kelly's Bottle House. You could easily be forgiven for thinking that this was somewhere to get a drink in the town but in fact the Bottle House was named because of the structure. As you approach it you can see that the walls are made up from lots of different bottles. It was mainly old beer bottles that were used from Adolphus Busch. This company is actually known as Budweiser today. The house has been restored in recent times and is really quite an impressive sight. In the area surrounding it there are other small items that have been sculptured from different types of glass.
The Las Vegas Tonopah Railroad Depot was another impressive site and you can still see some examples of its architecture on the fenced ruins. It was built in 1909 was an important building in the town as there were 3 main lines in Rhyolite. It was known as the grandest depot in the west and it's easy to see why.
There are a couple of other places to go and look at too. The jailhouse is situated further out and there is also a historical cemetery out nearer the Bullfrog district.
***Other Interesting Bits***
For those movie fans out there you might be interested to know that no fewer than sixteen films have used Rhyolite as a setting, the most recent being The Island, starring Ewan McGregor & Scarlett Johansson. More details of these films and stills from the sets can be found at the Rhyolite website, along with more historical details of the town.
***The Goldwell Open Air Museum***
As mentioned at the start of the review, we saw some very strange sculptures as we approached the lower area of Rhyolite and hadn't a clue what these were about because again there are no information boards about. Looking online I found out that the strange things we saw started when Belgian artist, Albert Szukalski installed a massive sculpture of his interpretation of the painting of The Last Supper in 1984. What is very strange about this is that it has been made using plaster cast around a model and when hardened was coated with fibreglass. This gives the impression that a group of ghosts are standing around in the middle of nowhere.
Other artists then added their work including a mosaic sofa, a cross with a sacrificial woman on top of it, a stone spiral and another ghostly figure standing with a bicycle. Also to be seen is a prospector and penguin across from a sculpture made entirely of chrome car parts. The most unusual and striking though is the figure of a naked woman complete with bosoms and showing all her glory so that we see she is in fact a true blonde.
Each one was a bit strange and chilling and in particular the ghostly figures because it was so quiet and empty all around us and they looked so lifelike that we at first thought people were standing under sheets, waiting to jump out and scare passers by. This of course was ridiculous in the middle of the desert heat but that feeling sent goose bumps all the way down my spine.
The sculptures of the steel prospector and penguin were pretty impressive too and a little bit more welcoming if not a little weird. The penguin was meant to signify how out of place the artist felt and what could be more out of place than a penguin in a desert?
The wooden cross with the woman on top is actually derives from the story of Icarus. If you don't remember your Greek mythology too well, Icarus was the youth who flew too close to the sun and fell to earth when his wax wings melted. This female form of Icara shows that she is caught between the earth and the sky.
The mosaic sofa is a bit of a mystery and I haven't been able to find anything about it on the Internet so if anyone out there knows anything then I would be really keen to know more. It is brightly coloured and seems to depict some sort of demon or maybe that's just our eyes playing tricks on us. One thing I do know is that this one really stood out because of the colours and could be easily spotted from the roadside.
The lego woman was actually built from cinder blocks and has been touched up by a group of women painters in recent years to keep her pink bits for fading and keeping her yellow hair bright and sunny looking. Dr Hugo Heyrman created this Venus of Nevada in 1992 and he decided to use cinder blocks to represent the pixels that he saw on his 2D computer picture of her.
If you love the weird and wonderful along with a touch of nostalgia then make sure you visit this area if you are visiting Death Valley. We thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it and again marvelled at an area that could be so remote and yet so untouched by vandals. There are a few areas that are classed as dangerous in the Rhyolite town area and have barricades round them but you can mainly just get out of the car and wander about as you please.
The sense of isolation and freedom we felt is extremely difficult to put into words but again we felt at times like there was no one else on the planet and we had found some secret area that no one else knew about. The backdrop of the mountains sets this town off wonderfully and the scenery around is vast and can be deadly too. Warnings about rattlesnakes are given out in all the guidebooks, especially as the sun starts to go down so do be careful if you are out exploring.
This had to be the strangest place we visited by far on our honeymoon but I'm so glad we did, as the images and feelings of eeriness will be sure to stay with us for a long time to come. I'm not sure if we would have enjoyed the sculptures as much at the time if we had known the story behind them but I would advise anyone wanted to visit Rhyolite to have a look on the website first to get a bit of an idea first of what things actually are. That was the one thing that we felt was greatly lacking in this area and surprised us considering the information given at places such as the Borax Works in Harmony. We didn't even find any small leaflets on the site in the hotel in Beatty or in the Ranger stations in Death Valley, so it really is best to have a look at the background first and maybe print off some of it to remind you of the places you are visiting.
As with a lot of places like this over in that area, there was no charge to visit although donations can be made to a couple of preservation societies if you so wish.
This review also appears on Ciao with pictures of the naked woman and other strange things.
Rhyolite is located 4 miles west of the town of Beatty, Nevada on HWY 374. The East entrance to Death Valley, Rhyolite offers photographers, explorers and ghost town enthusiasts an enjoyable experience. For those of you who cannot visit the town we have a tour on line. For those of you that will be visiting the town, I suggest you download and print the tour before you go. There is no information available at the ghost town. If you have been to Rhyolite, or plan on coming take the tour anyway and enjoy. Don't forget to go to the sitemap. There are some places you can not get to from here. After all, it is a ghost town.