The Ghost Town of Rhyolite in Death Valley

Shorty Harris and E. L. Cross sparked the birth of Rhyolite in 1904. While prospecting in the area, they found gold in the Bullfrog Hills, named for their green-spotted rocks. Thousands of people began streaming into the area. The first post office opened in 1905; at its peak in 1907-1908, Rhyolite was probably home to between 3,500 and 5,000 people. The town boasted an ice cream parlor, a school, an ice plant, banks, and a train station. As quickly as Rhyolite sprang up, it started to deflate when the financial panic of 1907 kicked off a rush in the opposite direction. By 1911, the mine had closed, and by 1920, the last holdouts had dwindled to 14 lonely souls.

The ghost town of Rhyolite, Nevada sits just outside the eastern edge of Death Valley National Park. Photo © bilbowden/iStock.

Today, the main road through the ghost town leads past crumbling banks once bursting with gold. Some ruins are two stories tall, towering like era monuments. The beautiful mission-style train station remains intact and looks like it could open tomorrow. Side roads lead to the red-light district, cemetery, and mine ruins.

Rhyolite might be most famous for its bottle house, built by enterprising miner Tom Kelly out of a plentiful material on hand—beer and liquor bottles. It took over 50,000 bottles to make this structure, which was restored by Paramount Pictures in 1925, as Rhyolite began to be used as a filming location.

Rhyolite's bottle house was built from empty beer and liquor bottles.
Rhyolite’s bottle house was built from empty beer and liquor bottles. Photo © Robert Pernett, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Goldwell Open Air Museum

The Goldwell Open Air Museum (1 Golden St., 702/870-9946,, year-round, free) is a sculpture installation and art park located next to Rhyolite, sharing the land and the desert backdrop. Belgian artists began the museum in the 1980s using the surreal location to showcase larger-than-life sculptures.

The Last Supper, Lady Desert: The Venus of Nevada, and Tribute to Shorty Harris are all impossibly big and very haunting. The Last Supper, the most prominent piece, features ghostly life-size hollow figures huddled on a wooden platform in an eerie plaster sculpture rendition of Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous fresco. The Venus of Nevada represents a 3-D woman made of 2-D computer pixels; it stands larger than life, pink and yellow cinder blocks incongruous against the desert browns and golds. An oversize mosaic couch dwarfs anyone who sits on its riot of bright colors. Other sculptures are a nod to the desert setting. One abstract metal sculpture is intended to be a portrait of Shorty Harris, a desert prospector. A totem-like pole tells the story of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun in Greek mythology, an appropriate statement in the desert. Taken together, the collection is disjointed and surreal against the desert landscape.

The art piece The Last Supper features ghostly life-size hollow figures against a desert background.
Next door to Rhyolite, the Goldwell Open Air Museum places a series of public art pieces against the desert backdrop. Photo © Claudio Del Luongo/123rf.

A tiny Visitors Center (10am-4pm most days) sits centrally located among the sculptures, with T-shirts and museum gifts for sale; there are no services.


Rhyolite is located approximately four miles west of Beatty, Nevada, off of State Highway 374. Take Highway 374 west from Beatty and turn right into the well-marked entrance.

From Stovepipe Wells, Rhyolite is about 30 miles northeast. Head east on Highway 190 to Daylight Pass Road. A well-marked entrance on the left indicates the two-mile road to Rhyolite. Plan to spend an hour or two strolling among the crumbling buildings and art.

Jenna Blough

About the Author

Jenna Blough grew up on the edge of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, where she was allowed to run wild, instilling a love of the outdoors early on. After her parents dragged her and her sister on a cross-country road trip of epic proportions (visiting American classics like Wall Drug in South Dakota, Mesa Verde in Colorado, and the Petrified Forest in Arizona) she developed an equal appreciation for Wild West roadside attractions, historic sites, and wilderness.

Jenna eventually found the California desert to be her geographic soul mate. Drawn by the austere beauty of Death Valley, she is fascinated by its cultural history, ghost towns, native sites, and the Mojave's shifting landscape.

Jenna received an undergraduate degree in cultural anthropology, an MA in English literature, and an MFA in writing. When she's not living out of a tent, Jenna resides in Los Angeles with her husband Ryan Jones. Visit her blog at

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Ruined building facade in Rhyolite. Pinterest Graphic.