Rhyolite – A Photographer’s Delight

December 16, 2011 at 12:50 pm (Landscape Photography, Leah McDaniel Photography, Photography) (, , , , , , , )

I can hear the groans about the title already.  Sorry I am such a geek.   I think it is some kind of mental tick that I like to rhyme things.  I guess that’s why my poetry has never been really popular.  Anywho…

On my previously mentioned trip to Nevada, hubby and I stayed a few days in Beatty so we could capture Rhyolite in all of its decaying glory.  I don’t have any stats to back up my opinion, but it is probably one of the most photographed locations in Nevada.  But I couldn’t help myself… I had to add to the throng.

One of the challenges of photographing such a popular location is to find new and interesting ways to memorialize someplace/thing that has been snapped to death.  With that challenge in mind, I ended up with loads and loads of images, which I will share over the next several posts.  My bloggings tend to be image-heavy, which sometimes seems to kink up the workings when I go to publish them, so bear with me as I parcel the eye-candy out over the next few days.

If you are inspired by these images to take a trek out to Rhyolite, a word of warning.  The desert is rife with many kinds of rattlesnakes.  The first shot is of Rhyolite Randy, our official greeter.  Unfortunately, he was none too happy to see us, and after several warning rattles and some pretty serious feints in our direction, he went on his way.

Mohave Desert Sidewinder

Rhyolite has some pretty interesting history.  Before August 1904, there were only three families living in the Beatty, Nevada area.  Then lightning struck.  Two prospectors, Ed Cross and Shorty Harris, discovered gold in Bullfrog Mountain (named for the greenish-blue mineral, chrysocolla, in which the gold was found, not because there are loads of bullfrogs in the Amargosa Desert),  and by August 1905, there were more than 4000 people looking for gold in “them thar hills”.

Panoramic View of Rhyolite, which once boasted a population of about 10,000 souls.

Panoramic View of Rhyolite, which once boasted a population of about 10,000 souls.

In February of 1905, the townsite of Rhyolite was platted.  Original town lots sold for $50.00 each, but several months later, under the law of supply and demand, lots were selling for $1200.00.

One of the grandest buildings in Rhyolite, both in its heyday and today, (was) is the John. S. Cook & Company Bank Building.  Standing in its three-story glory on the southwest corner of Golden and Broadway Streets, otherwise known as Ramsey Corner, it boasted reinforced concrete walls 26 to 36 inches thick, and its amenities included a stairway of Italian marble, Italian stained glass windows, and mahogany baseboards imported from Honduras.  But what is a bank without a vault?  The Cook vault weighed 6,600 pounds and could hold one-million dollars in coin, though I am assuming when that statement was made, they weren’t talking about pennies.  The magnificent building was under construction in 1907 and opened for business January, 1908.

John S Cook & Company Bank Building Ruins

A few blocks down Golden Street still stands the H.D and L.D Porter store.  With a nose for commerce, the Porter brothers arrived in Rhyolite with 18 wagons full of merchandise at the beginning of the boom in 1905.  They quickly established themselves as leading merchants, keeping warehouses in both Bullfrog, one mile to the south, and Rhyolite proper.  They supplied the miners and townspeople with groceries and fresh vegetables, clothing and accessories, mining supplies, hardware, lumber, furniture, hay, grain, and Studebaker wagons from this store, as well as offering freight animals for rent. Their slogan was, “We handle all good things but whiskey.” After outgrowing their original store on the corner of Main and Esmeralda, which they established in 1905, the enterprising brothers constructed their shiny new concrete building with huge picture windows, which they opened for business in November 1906.  All that remains now are some decaying walls and a hole in the ground where the basement once lay.

Rear facing view of the Porter Store

Another prominent building still standing is the Schoolhouse.  Though it isn’t the original Rhyolite Schoolhouse, which was blown down by a windstorm in September 1906 (the 250 enrolled children forced to take their education in the county hospital building), a vote at the town meeting established that a new school would be built at the cost of $20,000.00.  No windstorm would blow this house down as it was constructed of concrete with a galvanized Spanish iron tile roof.  Once construction was complete, Rhyolite was the proud owner of one of the best school buildings in the state.  Unfortunately, when the school opened in the 1907-1908 school year, it found its classrooms nearly empty as the population of Rhyolite was in steep decline.

Rhyolite Schoolhouse

Rhyolite Schoolhouse

Rhyolite grew so quickly and so large that in no time at all, three railroad lines serviced the town.  The Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad steamed into town September 30, 1907.   The Bullfrog-Goldfield Railroad began regular service into Rhyolite June 18, 1907.  The third line, the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad didn’t have any depots in Rhyolite or Beatty, using but used the Bullfrog-Goldfield and Las Vegas & Tonopah facilities between 1908 and 1940.

The Las Vegas and Tonopah depot was built to last and is one of the few nearly intact buildings still standing in Rhyolite.  Stone block from which the structure was built was quarried and transported from Las Vegas.  The depot featured separate men’s and ladies’ waiting rooms, the men’s to the left of the entrance, and the ladies’ to the right. Operation of the Las Vegas & Tonopah Railroad ceased October 30, 1918. The rails were pulled up to support World War I efforts, though the depot still stands.  The lovely, mission style building served as a casino for a while as the Rhyolite Ghost Casino, but it stands in quiet decay now, behind chain link and barbed wire.

The backside of the Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad Depot, standing on the former Nevada street between Golden and Main Streets

Speaking of railroads, this Union Pacific caboose sits close to the Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad Depot.  Near the end, the LV&T was owned by Union Pacific.  The L.A. & S.L. on the caboose stands for Los Angeles and Salt Lake which was another railroad line that the Union Pacific later acquired.Eventually this car was pressed into service as a makeshift gas station.

Union Pacific Caboose with a bit of Rainbow Mountain in the background.

As you can imagine, with the rapid growth and the unstemmed flow of money, Rhyolite had its share of lawlessness.  Some of the headlines from the day were, “TWO MEN KILLED IN SHOOTING SCRAPE IN TOWN OF RHYOLITE”, “MINER MURDERS WIFE; IS SHOT DEAD BY THE SHERIFF”, and “BURRO THIEVES INFEST CAMP, OVER ONE HUNDRED STOLEN OUT OF RHYOLITE”, culminating in, “CAMP OF RHYOLITE TO HAVE A NEW $7000 JAIL”.  Frustrated citizens formed a vigilance committee to rid the town of objectionable and suspicious characters, who have been making that locality a rendezvous.  Apparently the sheer amount of scofflaws and ne’er do-wells made the jail a financial necessity as the miscreants were routinely transported to the nearby jail at Bullfrog at the cost of $15.00 per day to rent a horse rig for that purpose.

Rhyolite Jail with barred windows and iron doors

It might have been a good idea to more thoroughly examine the prisoners for weapons, as the jail door is pocked with bullet holes, from the inside out.  In case you are wondering, the doors are welded shut so there is no way anyone will ever see the inside of these cells again.

Jailhouse door. Can you see the bullet holes?

Nearly directly across the street from the jail are the remains of the adobe dance hall.  Both the jailhouse and the dance hall are standing in what was the Red Light district of Rhyolite.  The Red Light district was established in February 1907 and restricted to the north by Broadway Avenue, on the south by Colorado Avenue, on the west by the alley between Main Street and Amargosa Street and on the east by Ladd.  The business proprietors were given 48 hours to move, either in or out of the district.  Saloon keepers were notified that  women must be barred from saloons outside the district, or the offending places would be forced to close.  Women of a certain reputation were not allowed west of the boundaries, but could travel east as far as they desired.

The Adobe Dance Hall was a pretty rockin’ place in its day.  It boasted both a dance floor and a bar, and a long hallway ran along the dance floor leading to several small rooms in which some of the paid women entertained their male guests for short amounts of time.  It was one of the larger buildings in Rhyolite and the miners were parted from their hard-earned cash for a dance, a drink or a dalliance.

Walls of the Adobe Dance Hall

There is still one crib standing in Rhyolite’s Red Light District.  Inside, you can see evidence of both vandalism and recent rehabilitation efforts.  I wonder which will win out in the end?  If you peer closely at the window, you will see my jokester of a hubby grinning through the dirty window glazing and showing off something shadowy and indistinct.  What, you ask, is he doing?  Well, he is holding up a bent, twenty-two penny nail that he picked up out of the desert dirt.  That way, he tells me, he can say he got nailed in a brothel in Rhyolite.  Har, har.  I had the last laugh later when he sat on that nail, forgotten in his back pocket, complaining for two days that the seats in the car were wearing out and poking him in his posterior.  Yes, I had the best laugh in the end.

Two room crib in Rhyolite with a comedian within

Two room crib in Rhyolite with a comedian within

As I haven’t begun to make a dent in the images, I have saved some really good photos for tomorrow.  Come back to see more!



  1. Rhyolite in Black and White « Eponaleah's Photoblography said,

    […] details, or simply want to take in the multitude of color images, check out my previous two posts:  “Rhyolite – A Photographer’s Delight” and “Last Light at […]

  2. Renard Moreau said,

    [ Smiles ] Very nice pictures; I LOVE the one with the snake!

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