Death Valley was an amazing place to visit. So much more beautiful than I ever thought. My friend, Becky, and I left Las Vegas early and drove two and a half hours on Hwy 95 to Beatty, which is the east entrance to Death Valley. Our first stop was the Rhyolite Ghost Town which was an interesting place. I did not know anything about this place when we arrived and there really is no information around at the site that tells you anything, so it wasn’t until later that I did some research on Google and found out more about Rhyolite that I will share with you. Two men, Shorty Harris and Ed Cross were prospecting in the area in 1904 when they found quartz all over a hill that was full of gold. In a very short time, thousands of people soon arrived and several camps were set up. A townsite was laid out and given the name Rhyolite for the silica-rich volcanic rock in the area. There were 2000 claims that covered an area of 30 miles. The most promising claim was the Montgomery Shoshone mine, which prompted everyone to move to Rhyolite. The town soon was booming with hotels, stores, a school, ice plant, electric plant, machine shops and a miner’s union hospital. A stock exchange and Board of Trade were even formed. The townspeople had baseball games, dances, church picnics, variety shows and pool tournaments at the opera house. In 1906, Countess Morajeski opened the Alaska Glacier Ice Cream Parlor and a miner named Tom Kelly built a Bottle House out of 50,000 beer and liquor bottles. In April 1907, electricity came to Rhyolite, and by August, a mill had been constructed to handle 300 tons of ore a day at the mine. It consisted of a crusher, 3 giant rollers, over a dozen cyanide tanks and a reduction furnace. The Montgomery-Shoshone mine had become nationally known because Bob Montgomery once boasted he could take $10,000 a day in ore from the mine. It was later owned by Charles Schwab, who purchased it in 1906 for a reported 2 to 6 million dollars. The financial panic of 1907 took its toll on Rhyolite and was seen as the beginning of the end for the town. In the next few years, mines started closing and banks failed. Newspapers went out of business, and by 1910 the production at the mill had slowed and there were only 611 residents in the town. On March 14, 1911, the directors voted to close down the Montgomery Shoshone mine and mill and in 1916 the light and power were finally turned off in the town. Today you can find several remnants of Rhyolite’s still standing……Mercantile Store, School, 3 story Cook Bank, and Overbury Building. The Las Vegas & Tonopah Train Depot is one of the few complete buildings left in the town, as is the Bottle House. After the town was completely abandoned the Bottle House was restored by Paramount pictures in January 1925 for a film. The bottle house is the oldest and largest bottle house in the United States. Rhyolite is not within the boundaries of Death Valley National Park.
Goldwell Open Air Museum
An outdoor sculpture park at the entrance of the ghost town Rhyolite.
The Museum began in 1984 with the creation and installation of a major sculpture by Belgian artist Albert Szukalski titled “The Last Supper”– a ghostly interpretation of Christ and his disciples set against the backdrop of the Amargosa Valley.
To make the life-size ghost figures, Szukalski wrapped live models in fabric soaked wet plaster and posed them as in the painting “The Last Supper” by Leonardo Da Vinci. When the plaster set, the model was slipped out, leaving the rigid shroud that surrounded him. With more refining, Szukalski then coated the figures with fiberglass making them impervious to weather.
Since then six additional pieces were added to the site by three other Belgian artists who, like Szukalski, were major figures in European art who chose to create in the Nevada desert near Death Valley in the early 1990s.
Shortly after leaving Rhyolite Ghost Town we entered Death Valley National Park. Death Valley is the lowest, driest and hottest area in North America. It covers more than 3.3 million acres of beautiful desert scenery, desert wildlife, undisturbed wilderness and sites of historical interest. Nearly 550 square miles lies below sea level. Death Valley was named by gold seekers, some of whom died crossing the valley during the 1849 California Gold Rush.
At Furnace Creek, there is a visitor center and headquarters of Death Valley National Park. Furnace Creek was once the center of Death Valley Mining and operations for the Pacific Coast Borax Company and the historic 20 mule teams hauling wagons of Borax across the Mojave Desert. There are a few remnants and ruins of the Harmony Borax Company as well as the 20 mule wagons. After the discovery of Borax deposits in 1881 business associates, William Coleman and Francis Smith obtained claims to the deposits which opened the way for the large-scale borax mining in Death Valley. The Harmony Borax Company became famous from 1883 to 1889 for the use of the 20 mule team-double wagons which hauled Borax along the Overland route to the closest railroad in Mojave, CA. During the summer, when it was so hot to crystallize borax in Death Valley, a smaller borax operation shifted to the Amargosa Borax plant which is near present-day Tecopa, CA. The Harmony Borax Company remained under Colemans operation until 1888, when his business collapsed. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 31, 1974
Salt Creek Pup Fish
As Becky and I drove along the main road of Death Valley we saw a sign that said “Salt Creek” and we could see off in the distance other cars so we decided to get off the main road down this white, dusty road to see what Salt Creek was all about. Little did we know that it was home to the “Pup Fish”. There is a one-mile boardwalk that loops along the creek through low thickets of pickleweed and saltgrass. The creek is a very shallow, slow running salinated creek. Looking at it you would wonder how anything could survive in it, but the Pup Fish are so very tiny and there are thousands of them and boy are they tough little fish who seem to survive in some pretty harsh conditions.
The Pup Fish cannot escape from this creek that fluctuations in temperature year round. The Pup Fish are among the most heat-tolerant of all fishes. They have been known to survive water temperatures at 112 degrees. The Pup Fish is so adapted to the warm water that they must burrow into the mud and become dormant when the shallow stream becomes cold in the winter. They also survive the high levels of salt in the creek. Pup Fish can survive in water 2-3 times saltier than seawater. Salt Creek evaporates in the summer and the dissolved salts become even more concentrated. Fish living in fresh water can absorb water through their body by osmosis, but the Pup Fish must drink to get their necessary water. Excess salts are then excreted through their kidneys and gills.