Thursday, October 11, 2007

Low Country Adventure - Ghost Town

I'm jumping around a little here, trying to get caught up, but last Sunday we went to Death Valley for the first time and it was pretty cool. I have a bunch of pictures for this one, so I'm going to split them into multiple posts.

First stop, Rhyolite, Nevada, a ghost town a little over 100 miles north of Vegas, about 4 miles west of Beatty and just east of one of the entrances to Death Valley. Shortly after the turn of the last century, Rhyolite was quite the place. In 1904, two prospectors found gold near the town site. By early 1907, the town had electricity and possibly as many as ten thousand residents. However, the financial panic that began in 1907 substantially slowed or halted much of the mining activities in and around Death Valley and eventually ended Rhyolite as well. In 1916, essentially the last person out literally turned off the lights, as the electricity to the town was shut off.

Today the Rhyolite ghost town is managed by the BLM, although some land is still privately owned. The town site has been used in several movies (although none I've ever heard of), so some of the buildings that are standing have been restored. Anything standing seems to have had at least a little maintainence.

This appears to be one of the private buildings. It's for sale! I admire the optimism, but it looks like the sign has been there for quite some time. I would guess this building was restored/rebuilt at some point, since it's in relatively decent shape, but there doesn't seem to be much information about this building online.

A miner named Tom Kelly collected discarded whiskey bottles from the many saloons and when he had enough he built a house. Cleverly enough, it's called the Bottle House. It has no windows, so I guess the bottles must go all the way through the walls. It seems there are sometimes tours of the Bottle House, but not while we were there and the information holder was empty.

Here's what is left of the bank. It was three stories tall and cost quite a lot to build. It seems it opened in early 1908; Rhyolite was already dying, but they didn't know it yet. On the other side of the bank is a school, but you can't see it in this picture.

This is the train station for The Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad, or at least that's the one I've seen most frequently mentioned in connection with this station. Rhyolite seems to have had service from as many as three railroads, the Tidewater & Tonopah and the Bullfrog & Goldfield also come up, but it sounds as if they must have had different stations, if they did indeed have stops here. Every account I've found of Rhyolite reads a little different in places, so it's not easy to say for sure what is true. What I do know is we didn't find any place where tracks would have been. I'm sure you must be able to see the railroad bed somewhere, but it's not obvious.

Rhyolite deserves a more thorough look than we had time to give it without skipping Death Valley, so we didn't walk around nearly as much as we could have. I realize now I don't have pictures of several interesting things. There are sculptures along the road entering the town, evidently because some Belgians thought that would be just the thing for a ghost town. The miner and his penguin are odd but kind of neat, but then there's a mess of metal that looks like a bunch of car bumpers after a horrible accident, which really doesn't work for me. We also went to the cemetery, which is kind of weird because it looks like something straight out of a John Wayne movie. Most of the grave markers are missing, but a few unreadable wooden planks are left. There are stick crosses tied with twine, rock crosses laid out on graves, and once in awhile, a carved marble stone. Some of the graves have little fences around them, or the remains of fences, or sometimes rocks. It's any western-movie cemetery shot you've ever seen, except these were real people. Obviously stereotypes start somewhere, it's just not every day you get to walk through one.

So that's the beginning, I'll keep going with part 2 soon!

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