Travels in the American Southwest

US 95 Ghost Towns

Was up before the dawn, quickly struck camp and headed down Mt. Charleston on SR 156 towards US95. At that time of the morning, traffic was nonexistent and I passed my first stop without realizing it. A quick U-turn and I pulled of the highway, heading north on a rough gravel path. About a mile off the road was the remains of Carrara. It was marble that made this town famous, not the usual gold and silver as in the many other boomtowns in the state. Carrara marble was of fine quality and was used throughout the area for many buildings. The town even had a marble water fountain in the center of town, truly a rarity in this desert environment. Eventually, the marble became of lesser and lesser quality and the town was abandoned. No marble exists in the town anymore but looking up into the mountains, you can still see white streaks of inferior marble which was never mined.

Next on the tour were the twin towns of Rhyolite and Bullfrog. A few buildings still exist in Rhyolite, the Bottle House (made of empty bottles) and the Las Vegas & Tonopah Railroad depot are in the best shape. Born around 1905, Rhyolite hit its prime by 1912 having 3 newspapers, 2 churches, 2 hospitals, 18 grocery stores, opera house, swimming pools, symphony and 53 saloons. (Most ghosttowns I've investigated have more saloons than all other businesses!) Rhyolite also had a large Red Light District, too. Only a few walls and foundations of other building survive, notably some of the three story walls of the Cook Bank, built at the astounding cost of $90,000. The town was empty by 1919. The last train to leave Rhyolite carried the railroad tracks with it as workers tossed the track on a flatbed car and the train lurched forwarded under its increasingly heavy load. Today, the Friends of Rhyolite and Nevada Betta Mu help protect what's left of Rhyolite. Pamphlets and self-guided tour are available as are tours of the grounds of the Bottle House. These grounds contain miniature homes made of small pieces of glass. The miniatures were made decades ago and I'm pleased they're still around to be enjoyed today. Believe it or not, today Rhyolite has a telephone booth with a working telephone. Bullfrog is much overshadowed by its famous twin. Only an occasional wall betrays Bullfrog's location. The Bullfrog mine is still worked and the Barrick Gold Corp. has received awards for their environmentally conscientious operations. Between Bullfrog and Rhyolite is Gold Well Open Air Museum. This dream of Belgium artist Albert Szukalski. The collection features a ghostly "Last Supper", a large primitive structure of a woman and a structure made of chrome bumpers.

Stopped in Beatty to gas up and continued north, marveling at how easy it was to locate the ghosttowns. Turned west on SR266 and visited Bonnie Clare, a ghosttown which was also known as Clare, Bonnie Clair, Thorp and Thorp's Wells. Not much remains but I did stop at the Hardluck Mine and poked around the piles of tailings while capturing photos of the mining buildings and equipment left behind.

Next on the trip was Goldfield, currently home to some 350 residents - Down from 35,000 in its heyday. Back in 1907, $10,000 a day in precious metals was mined from the surrounding area. In 1997, Goldfield was still producing; 1,376 oz in gold, 435 oz. silver. Since the sun had just crossed the yardarm, I stopped by the Santa Fe saloon for a cold beer. This bar dates back to 1905 and the walls are covered with memorabilia. Have a beer with Wyatt Earp (or at least a mannequin dressed like the gun-slinging Marshall) but watch your step on the rough plank floors. There's a good chance that the real U.S. Marshall Wyatt Earp quenched his thirst (and possibly tripped a time or two over those planks) at the Santa Fe Saloon. His brother Virgil settled in Goldfield long after the famous gun fight in Arizona and it is known that Wyatt and his wife would visit Virgil here, traveling from their home in California. Virgil died in October 1905, but don't look for his grave in the local cemetary...He was buried in Portland, Oregon. I continued my  tour of  Goldfield, taking in the sights of old abandoned buildings. I was surprised to see that bottles were used as building materials here also, but nothing compared to Rhyolite's Bottle House.

Hopped back into the van and continued north searching for Klondike and Divide. Well, my skill at finding ghosttowns was not as good as I'd thought. Back and forth I went but could find no remains. I shouldn't have been surprised. Most ghosttowns were made of canvas and wood. When the mines petered out, the canvas and wooden buildings were dismantled (as both were a precious commodities back then) and reassembled at more promising strikes.

Continued north on US95 to Tonopah grabbing a late lunch at a fast-food joint and continuing north to Candelaria. By 1880, Candelaria had stores, hotels and plenty of saloons. What it didn't have was water. With no nearby source, water cost $1.00 a gallon - more than whiskey. The absence of water contributed to silicosis which claimed many of the miner's lives and was known locally as "miner's consumption". In 1882, water finally arrived via a ditch from Trail Canyon, nine miles away. The price dropped to $.05 a gallon. I continued past Candelaria to SR360 and tried to locate Belleville but was unsuccessful.

SR360 joins US95 and I continued north, stopping briefly at Rhodes. Located next to the Rhodes Salt Marsh, this was the site for salt harvesting. Today, a large pile of salt sits on the edge of the marsh but all harvesting has ceased. Some structures still exist - stone walls held together with salt marsh mortar.

Slightly north of Rhodes is Sodaville. I couldn't find this site either, but history reports that it was a major switching point for freight as Sodaville was the end of the rail line. From the rails, freight and passengers were loaded on stagecoaches for the trip to Tonopah. It's said that the stagecoach trip was so dusty that a man would need a shovel to dig away the dirt and dust before he could recognize his wife!

Back in the van and north to Luning where I took SR361 to cover the final fifty miles to Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park where I arrived as sunset...In the middle of yet another summertime thunderstorm! The rain finally let up but I missed the guided tour of the park. Pitched camp and since there was no prohibition on open fires at the campsites, cooked up a fine hot meal as the stars came out. The next morning, I arose early, had a hearty breakfast and packed up the van. I then found "Oh darn #2". Flat tire. But a can of fix-a-flat and I was mobile again! I took the guided tour of the fossil site. I was amazed at the size of these creatures (ichthyosaurs). Sixty feet long with pointy teeth. "Think of dolphins" said the guide, "Dolphins with attitude!" Finished the tour in time to take the Diana Mine tour. This tour takes place deep in the earth. Many tools and carts which were abandoned by the miners have been preserved and during the tour, you'd swear that the miners had left for the day but would return to their diggings tomorrow. Coincidentally, the tour contained five geologists who were happy to share their expertise with this neophyte. I confess that much of the conversation was beyond me but I soon became an expert at finding geologic faults which riddle the mine and seeing different minerals in the surrounding walls. The gold bug got its teeth into me when I saw a glint amid the quartz blowouts. Excited, I called the geologists over but was to be disappointed when I learned that the "gold" was just a refraction of light from my headlamp. "Don't worry", they consoled me. "We've all been bitten by that nasty gold bug critter!" After the tour, I spent an hour or so taking the interpretive trail around the many buildings which are maintained in a state of "arrested decay". Because Berlin was in such an inaccessible location, most miners simply left their belongings rather than pay the exorbitant freight charges to transport their tools and supplies to more promising strikes. It's possible to look inside the old buildings today and see kitchen utensils, mining tools, tables and chairs and personal effects that the miners left behind. Berlin is the best "maintained" ghosttown I've ever visited. Although it's 306 miles from Las Vegas, it is an educational and fun place to visit.

Back in the van and off to Ione, "The town that wouldn't die". A dozen folks still live here, a town which was once the first county seat on Nye county. Ione is an interesting stop on the way to US50. Limited services are available in Ione. Took a dirt and gravel road north to US50 when "Oh darn #3 (flat tire #2)" occurred. Changed the tire and continued on to US50, west on US50 past Fallon and Fernley and finally north on SR447 past Pyramid Lake. For the next week I'd be camping in the middle of an alkali playa in Black Rock Desert. I was to participate in an annual Labor Day festival known as Burningman.

Part 3 covers the sights and sounds of this off-beat festival held in the middle of nowhere.

Main | Trip Reports | E-mail | Next Report