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James is obsessed with old abandoned things.
Me, I think they’re pretty cool, too, but James? When we come across a crumbling structure, an old abandoned road to nowhere, or anything deserted and in disrepair; I can guarantee we won’t be going anywhere for awhile.
This guy right here can stare for days…
Since we were hanging at Death Valley National Park, we happily added a detour to Rhyolite Ghost Town in our Binder of Fun. Sure, biking in Death Valley to the lowest point in the US was a cool experience, but seeing the ghost town?! Even cooler.
Rhyolite Ghost Town in Nevada, 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas, has been on our radar for years. It’s one of the best preserved ghost towns in the US, so there are tons of dilapidated things to investigate.
The town was started around 1905 as gold was discovered in the area, and exploded to around 5,000-8,000 people in just a year or two. Not all that old if you think about it.
That especially struck me, because back when I was 20 (you know, 9 years ago) and living in a small town in southeastern Minnesota, I bought a house that was built in the 1890’s. Don’t be too impressed; it was all of $30,000 and was cheaper than renting. I slowly remodeled it, and it’s still lived in today and as cute as ever. So, when I learned the crumbling structures around me at Rhyolite were YOUNGER than my first house, I became equally as fascinated with the quick rise and fall of this town as James was.
A nutshell history of Rhyolite:
It started as a two-man camp in January 1905. After the gold discovery, Rhyolite had 1,200 people in two weeks! The town boomed over the next two years, and just like that Rhyolite had 50 saloons, 35 gambling tables, cribs for prostitution, 19 lodging houses, 16 restaurants, half a dozen barbers, a public bath house, and a weekly newspaper, the Rhyolite Herald. Four daily stage coaches ran in and out of Rhyolite.
By 1907 there were concrete sidewalks, electric lights, water mains, telephone and telegraph lines, police and fire departments, a hospital, school, a railway depot, multiple banks, a stock exchange, an opera house, a public swimming pool and two formal church buildings.The three-story John S. Cook and Co. Bank cost more than $90,000 to build, equivalent to $2,450,000 in 2017. They went all out with Italian marble stairs and imported stained-glass windows.
Apparently the financial panic of 1907 was the catalyst that led to the town’s demise. Mines started closing, banks failed, and by 1910 there were only 611 people living there. Lights and power were turned off forever in 1911 and that was that for Rhyolite. All of that was pretty much just over a five year stretch, from start to heyday to fizzle. Amazing.
More epic staring…
If you go visit, don’t be put off by the odd sculptures at the entrance to the town. At first when we saw those we worried it was going to be one big tourist trap. But just continue on by the sculptures, and park at the end of the road where the ruins are. You’ll forget all about the out-of-place sculptures and can explore the ruins freely.
While there’s no camping on site, if you want to stay close to Rhyolite check out Bombo’s Pond.
It’s a free boondocking site just 10 minutes away at a beautiful pond you can fish or swim, and there are wild donkeys around, too. We had it scheduled in the Binder of Fun but in the end decided to roll on to make time. See! We can be flexible!
If you find yourself visiting Death Valley, definitely add Rhyolite to your own Binders of Fun, four thumbs up from us. Before you go though, do your research and check out the old photos and stories of the town. Makes for a much more interesting visit when you know what you’re looking at.
Here’s James in full-on nerd mode giving me the whole spiel on these old mining ruins…
If you’ve got suggestions for other ghost towns or interesting ruins or old things we should visit, let us know down in the comments! As far as ghost towns go, it’ll be hard to top Rhyolite. But we’re totally game to try!
Just found your site.
If you haven’t checked out Montana, you need to check out the ghost towns. Here are the top 10 in the state.
1. Bannack St Park (gold), 2. Nevada City and 3. Virginia City (first state capital) (gold) close to each other, These 3 are the best preserved.
4. Garnet Ghost Town (gold), 5. Granite City (silver), 6. Elkhorn St Park, 7. Comet (silver), 8. Castle Town (silver), 9. Kendall (gold), 10. Marysville (gold)
Cool! We LOVE abandoned stuff!
Wonderful article. I was stationed in Big Smoky Valley along Highway 376, dead center of Nevada. I rememebr we had Gabbs on 361 as well as Belmont, first county seat of Nye County. And Manhattan both off of 376. Round Mountain was a historic Ghost Town as well. But, im not too sure what is left now. I moved from the area over 20 years ago. Keep up the great work. I enjoy your articles. Stay safe out there.
What an interesting area to be stationed at! 376 is a beautiful drive. We did stop at another ghost town as we headed west out of Rhyolite; I can’t remember the name but there were a couple structures along a highway; and they were graffiti’ed and used for recent parties. Much less impressive after Rhyolite!
Hey, those odd sculptures are part of the Goldwell Outdoor Museum. Definitely not a tourist trap. Quite an interesting place and if you catch the museum office open, the curator will demonstrate his skills playing the Native American flute if you ask just the right questions. As for camping, we boondocked just around the corner from the museum on BLM land.
Good to know. We’re actually fans of roadside art and make lots of stops on road trips to see similar stuff. It just threw us a little, as the GPS to Rhyolite said “you’ve arrived!” and we were at a quirky art installation instead of a ghost town. We just weren’t expecting it. We were in “history” hunting mode, not “art” hunting mode, I guess, lol! Next time, we’ll give it a better look.
Thanks for sharing this! I am a fan of old & abandoned places too. When we pass an old abandoned house or barn, I have the strongest urge to stop & go inside & explore. But, I am restrained by my inhibitions about trespassing . I always wondered what happened to the people who lived there. Thanks for the history. Fascinating!
James and you share this similar fascination! He gets especially excited over old abandoned roads… and he loves finding out where they lead. It’s usually that “where” where the real story lies!
You haven’t been to a ghost town until you go to Bodie.
Y’all keep mentioning it and I keep getting more and more curious! Can’t wait to check it out!
What, no picture of the train station?
How about Bodie Ca? A California State Park in “arrested decay”. Lots of interesting buildings there.
For a living town how about Bisbee Az? Tour the mine. You could check out the stair race for a fitness event.
And yes, Jerome is interesting too.
You busted me! I got some train station pics and they didn’t turn out that great, LOL! I keep hearing about Bodie; my curiosity is totally peaked on that one. Thanks for the hot tip on Bisbee; adding it to the growing list!!! xoxo
How about Jerome AZ? I was there in the early 80s and it was pretty cool and only inhabited by a few artists, now however I am not sure, possibly a tourist trap?
Haven’t been there yet, but I’ve heard of it… I believe there’s a museum there built in one of the old mine owners’ homes or something, and you get some interesting history of mining in the area. Good reminder! We’ll put it on our radar!
Bodie is very cool, like they say, it’s arrested in time. Jerome is alive and well and funky! Since Jerome is on a mountain, you get quite a workout going from one end to the other.
Pretty cool story. So much history for a short period of time. Keep up your fascinating ghost town hunting. ( Did James come up with some new ideas for his garage? I see some stone work in your future.)
Oh trust me… James is constantly coming up with ideas for his new shop. Although for most of them, I’ve told him he needs to win the lottery first, lol. 😉
Pretty much, James is just the master of everything… RV mods, garage building, Mel wrangling, and now apparently staring! ;-). Stef, thanks for the cool intel on this place. History loves company. 🙂
Oh now don’t go giving him a big head. Although yeah okay I better admit it, James is unusually talented isn’t he, lol. I’ve long suspected he’s part alien. Put this ghost town on your bucket list, sister! xoxo
Thanks! Haven’t been to this one…