Rhyolite, Death Valley National Park
There are at least 4 ghost towns either in the park or nearby. The best known and easiest to get to is Rhyolite which is located in Nevada just east of the park on Nevada Highway 374. The town of Rhyolite began when two prospectors; Shorty Harris and Ed Cross found gold in the mountains near the town in 1904. There is a lot of speculation that they misrepresented the value of the ore and the amount of gold available but a town sprung up quickly and the population swelled to 10,000 by 1908. The gold mines started failing and an earthquake devastated the San Francisco Financial District so the population fell to 675 in 1910 and to 20 in 1920. For a complete review of the town see my Rhyolite, Nevada Page (coming soon).
Rhyolite is a ghost town on the northside of death valley about 10 miles out of the park. Here is the cabin of a hermit who lived out here long after all the others had left. The wall of the cabin are made out of mud and beer bottles.
Rhyolite is one of the largest ghost towns in America, but gets overlooked as it is on the Nevada side of the state line, barely within the limits of Death Valley National Park. There are few attractions nearby, but I highly recommend you make the journey.
With a onetime population of 10,000, Rhyolite was once the third largest city in Nevada. Las Vegas, in fact, had a population of 800 at the time and was merely a shipping link for goods coming and going to Rhyolite.
As you can imagine, much of the town has crumbled, but you'll be pleasantly surprised by what remains. The main street of town retains many of the building facades, and there is a lovely train station intact, a jail, whorehouse...and the famous "Bottle House" - all included in my travelogue.
Like the rest of Death Valley, there are few restrictions on where you can wander - another huge treat for the kids. Just keep them away from the abandoned mines - mines that yielded no riches as had been promised and hastened the demise of Rhyolite.
What's amazing about Rhyolite is its fast rise and fall. Rhyolite's population peaked in 1907, estimated at over 10,000. It had hotels, stores, schools, hospitals, and even published several of its own newspapers and magazines. Rhyolite was by no means a small town. Then it was struck by financial panic, and people started leaving town. By 1910 there were only 611 residents, then completely abandoned. Today there is a small tourist office at the entrance, and the roads in town are well paved, mainly for tourists. It's a touristy ghost town.
In Death Valley National Park I planned to see some ghost towns. But the ghost towns inside the Park, such as Skidoo or Leadfield, all require serious dirt road driving. So I chose Rhyolite instead. Rhyolite is actually outside the park and in the state of Nevada. But it happened to be on my way to Beatty so it's convenient. The town was founded in 1904, and in 1907 it already had electricity. Walking around town, you will find many abandoned buildings made of concrete and steel bars, quite advanced for its time. The photo shows the abandoned 3-story bank building.