Things to do in Nevada: Historic Rhyolite Ghost Town

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I haven’t spent much time in the Silver State, even when I lived nearby in Death Valley National Park, but I do know there are cool things to do in Nevada. One of those is visiting the historic ghost town of Rhyolite, complete with building ruins and a glass bottle house!

Porter Brothers' Store Ruins in Historic Rhyolite, a Ghost Town in Nevada, July 2019.
Porter Brothers’ Store Ruins in Historic Rhyolite, a Ghost Town in Nevada, July 2019.

Prior to my return visit in 2019, the last time I visited Rhyolite was more than 20 years ago. Back then, I was fascinated with Tom Kelly’s Bottle House which was built with thousands of glass bottles. This trip, I couldn’t wait to see it again.

Rhyolite Train Station Depot, July 2019.
Rhyolite Train Station Depot, July 2019.

A Historic Town Born During a Gold Rush

Rhyolite was established in 1905 in the Bullfrog Hills during a gold rush. Out of the Nevada desert, a town emerged with foundries, machine shops, hotels, stores, ice plant, electrical plants, opera house, hospital, stock exchange, and school for 250 students. There was also a red light district.

The Panic of 1907 caused a financial crisis on the East Coast and rippled across the country. Investment in Nevada mining was adversely impacted. The population in 1908 was about 5,000 – 8,000. Gold production dropped in 1910 and people left Rhyolite. By 1919, the Rhyolite post office closed and in 1920 there were 14 residents.

Rhyolite Today

Today, Rhyolite is a ghost town and is a nice stop between Beatty, Nev., and the east entrance of Death Valley National Park. The U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management manages the area.

A handful of ruins tell the century’s old history of a once vibrant and thriving town. Honestly, I think most of the ruins look as though they are part of a Western movie. Ruins, plus the Tom Kelly’s Bottle House, are off limits to visitors. Barriers are in place for your protection and that of the historic buildings. My memory could be fuzzy, I find that happens now that I am in my fifth decade, but in the late ’90s, I don’t recall the barriers but I’m glad they’re there. If I’m remembering correctly, I remember people walking inside the ruins, which I didn’t think was safe. Anyway…

The ruins and buildings you can see in Rhyolite:

  • Cook Bank Building – this was three stories and cost $90,000 to build! According to the Bureau of Land Management site, this is the most photographed buildings in the West!
  • Rhyolite Train Station Depot – serviced by the Las Vegas & Tonopah Railroad, this was one of three railroads that served Rhyolite. The others were the Bullfrog Goldfield Railroad and Tonopah Tidewater Railroad.
  • Overbury Building – built in 1907, it had indoor plumbing and electric lights.
  • Rhyolite School – by the time this finished in 1909, most of the students and their families left due to the economic downturn.
  • Porter Brothers’ Store Ruins
  • Tom Kelly’s Bottle House – Rhyolite had 50 saloons in 1905 and Kelly collected about 50,000 bottles and cemented them with mud to build this three-bedroom house!
  • A Residence – two-bedroom residence that may have been a brothel.
  • Train Car – I don’t know the history but I think it is a caboose. I peaked inside to see a wood interior and that was pretty much it.
Cook  Bank Building Ruins in Rhyolite, Nev.- the Most Photographed Building in the West! (According to BLM), July 2019.
Cook Bank Building Ruins in Rhyolite, Nev.- the Most Photographed Building in the West! (According to BLM), July 2019.

How Much Time Should You Spend in Rhyolite?

I wasn’t able to spend as much time exploring as I would have liked. Earlier in the day I had driven the Extraterrestrial Highway and had to get to the Oasis at Death Valley by a specific time. I’m sure I’ll be back someday down the road and will plan for a proper visit of at least a couple of hours to half-a-day. Just before reaching Rhyolite is the Goldwell Open Air Museum which has whimsical and intriguing outdoor art. You’ll want to spend some time admiring the eclectic artwork.

Tom Kelly's Bottle House in Historic Rhyolite, a Nevada Ghost Town, July 2019.
Tom Kelly’s Bottle House in Historic Rhyolite, a Nevada Ghost Town, July 2019.

Nuts & Bolts About Rhyolite

This ghost town is day-use only and self-guided. There’s a primitive toilet and no services so be sure you have your own water, provisions and ensure your car is fueled up. There is no admission fee.

Historic Rhyolite, the ghost town, is located four miles west of Beatty, Nev., on NV 374.

If only these ruins could talk. Although Rhyolite was active for 15 years, I’m sure tales from this gold rush boomtown are endless.

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Author: Solo Travel Girl

Jennifer A. Huber is an award-winning travel and outdoor blogger and writer in Southwest Florida. Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., a hiking trail led her to a career path in the tourism industry for more than 30 years. She spent a decade with a park management company in Yellowstone, Death Valley, and Everglades National Parks. She founded the travel blog, SoloTravelGirl.com with the goal of inspiring others to travel alone, not lonely. The unexpected death of her former husband in 2008 reminded her how short life is. His passing was a catalyst for sharing her experiences with the goal of inspiring and empowering others to travel solo. Jennifer holds a Travel Marketing Professional certification from the Southeast Tourism Society, is a certified food judge, member of the NASA Social community, and alum of the FBI Citizens Academy. When not traveling, she is either in the kitchen, practicing her photography skills, or road tripping with her dog, Radcliff.

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