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Rhyolite, Nevada

If you go there now Rhyolite looks like nothing more than a configuration of old buildings, fascinating but far from impressive. But if you would have seen this town in its heyday, about a hundred years ago, you would have seen a bustling large boom town which sprung up as a result of gold discovered in the nearby mountain. This mountain (later called the Bullfrog mountain) attracted thousands of prospectors all hoping to get rich. These prospectors settled in boomtowns around the mountain, the biggest was Rhyolite. The area in which all these towns sprang up became known as the Bullfrog district.

On August 9th 1904 Eddie Cross and Frank "Shorty" Harris discovered gold in Bullfrog Mountain (not that it was called that at the time). Word of their discovery spread quickly, and before long prospectors were rushing over in hopes of getting their share of the fortune. Early reports were good, samples extracted from the mountains showed a gold deposits estimated at a value of about $3,000 a ton (equivalent to about $73,000 in 2009). Because of these positive signs steel magnate Charles M. Schwab bought the areas largest producer, the Montgomery Shoshone Mine, which he invested in heavily. He added piped water, electric lines, railroad lights, water mains, telephones, newspapers, a hospital, a school, an opera house, and a stock exchange to Rhyolite in hopes of attracting people to the town so they would work in his mine.

However, unfortunately for him the early signs were mistaken. Soon the mine was only producing low quality ore and Schwab was bleeding money. The 1906 earthquake and the financial panic of 1907 only buried him further into his hole. Finally, in 1908 the major stockholders of the mine got together and, fearing that it was overvalued hired an independent British specialist to examine the mine. The specialistís reports weren't good; apparently the mine contained only low-grade ore. After this unfavorable report the stocks of the mine crashed from $23 in historical values to a mere 75 cents. Needless to say Schwab was unhappy with the large low-grade mine he wasted so much money on. He managed to keep the mine open until 1911 when it was finally closed. The end of the mine was disastrous for the already deteriorating Rhyolite, 90% of the towns citizens were now jobless. As a result the town began to die. The banks closed, the population plummeted, the newspapers left, and the electric companies removed the power lines. The last resident still living in the town was a 92-year-old man living there in 1924.

Rhyolite is your stereotypic ghost town - empty, old, and deteriorating buildings are everywhere. A large amount of the material in the town was recycled to make surrounding towns and mines. But today the future for the town looks more optimistic. It is now maintained and protected by the Bureau of Land Management, and has become a tourist attraction. Now it is one of the most photographed ghost towns in the West. Which isn't to surprising as Rhyolite contains several weird features including buildings made of beer bottles. In the days of the Nevada gold rush miners were broke, so they used whatever they could to make themselves dwellings. Funnily enough the dwellings made from empty beer bottles are among the best-preserved buildings in the town today. Another interesting detail of the town is the statues of the last supper that stand in its streets. These statues were created by Belgian artist Albert Szukalski and now are among the most interesting things in the town.

Tourism has swelled rapidly in Rhyolite. Today it is one of the most visited ghost towns and reason enough for some people to come to Death Valley. It is even possible to buy souvenirs there now of rocks and ancient beer bottles. The film industry has also used Rhyolite as the back drop for many films including Ultraviolet (1992), Six-String Samurai (1998), and Twice as Dead (2001). Rhyolite is located in Nye country Nevada and is open for tourists daily. So if youíre ever in that part of Death Valley stop by and see what life was like in the old West.

Sources: Wikipedia; www.ghosttowns.com

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