Rhyolite, Nevada - ghost town or GHOST town?

Nothing says "Welcome to a Ghost Town" like an empty abandoned train car.

Nothing says "Welcome to a Ghost Town" like an empty abandoned train car.

Each and every morning when I wake up, I lie there a moment with my eyes scrunched shut and my head burrowed into my pillow. Before I let my eyes determine what color they will be that day, based on that morning’s light, I lay still and think two things. I think about what Henri de Saint-Simon was told every day: “Rise, for you have great things to do today”. I’m not sure I’ve necessarily done any great things recently, but for me, it’s always something to aspire to. Second, I lie there and wonder about what I know. I start with the basics: that I am alive, that my heart is beating, I’m breathing, and that my alarm is annoying. From there, I think about what I really know. The answer always surprises me: not much. That’s right, I’ll admit it, I don’t know much. Sure, I’ll concede by all exterior appearances, I know a lot. I’ve experienced things; and I’ve learned things through the course of my life, either by trial-and-error, or actual discovery.

Empty window, Rhyolite Jail: one thing to note - the jail door is intact, and locked solid.

Empty window, Rhyolite Jail: one thing to note - the jail door is intact, and locked solid.

But when I sit there and think about what I actually know, I realize it isn’t much.

That’s right: even when I’m talking about things I love, like little tiny bats singing songs about being vampires, I realize that I don’t know much about them, or other things. In this respect, I realize what I do know compared to the universe is basically zero. Rather than find this distressing, I find this inspiring: it’s a new day. It’s a new day to learn something, and it’s another chance and challenge to fill in what I don’t know with something unique. Sure, I may sit there for a second, wondering if my phone will ring, and someone on the other end will go, “meet me for a seminar on the beach, and I’ll tell you everything you don’t know”, but, so far that hasn’t happened – hello, Count St. Germain, you visited Guy Ballard, where are my answers? Then again, there’s always the chance that someone will call tomorrow or the next day, or the day after that while I’m waiting, and I’ll find out what answers they have for me. That, readers, is how I start my day.

Isabel Haskins grave: since she was the local working girl, the do-gooders of the town wouldn't let her be buried in the main plot. If you're willing to look around, you'll find her right next to the jail. While all of the graves seemed pretty popular, she seems to have the most fans in the afterlife.

Isabel Haskins grave: since she was the local working girl, the do-gooders of the town wouldn't let her be buried in the main plot. If you're willing to look around, you'll find her right next to the jail. While all of the graves seemed pretty popular, she seems to have the most fans in the afterlife.

Today, I was waiting for answers about a lot of things, but partly about ghosts. Sadly, no one called again with any answers – especially about ghosts or other astral phenomenon, and as of yet, I still don’t have any answers, but I’m still looking. Fact: I’m a skeptic about ghosts. But, that doesn’t stop me from looking for them, reading any books about them, watching any cheesy television shows about them, and watching any and all bad horror movies about them. I’ve been a lot of places, and I may have seen something strange or two, but the verdict is still very much out in my book. This last weekend, I decided to check out a number of things that I had wanted to see for a while. On the list: Rhyolite, Nevada – a ghost town that I was told had actual ghosts.

Don’t know Rhyolite? Fair enough. It’s no Tombstone in terms of popularity. It’s an old mining town that was abandoned in the early twentieth century that’s located in the south-western corner of Nevada. It’s about one hundred and twenty miles North of Las Vegas, but what it’s really close to is Beatty, Nevada (five miles to the West on the 374), and Death Valley. In addition to the ghosts, what’s interesting about Rhyolite is its history, and its boom and bust within a five year period. In short, gold was discovered in the area around 1904. With this discovery, the gold rush was on, and the town grew exponentially. By 1907, the town had approximately 4,000 residents, concrete sidewalks, electric lights, water mains, telephone and telegraph lines, police and fire departments, a hospital, school, train station and railway depot, banks, an opera house, a public swimming pool, and churches. I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty impressive to me for 1907. Probably the most impressive building was the three story John S. Cook bank building, which had all sorts of fancy features built into it. Then, due to a series of financial problems, and other external factors, things turned for Rhyolite, and by 1910, the town had a population of 675. By 1924, the town was abandoned, its last resident having died. Think about that for a second: you had a city that grew from 0-4,000, with all of the accoutrements of modern society in a three year period; and then in another three year period, despite these accoutrements still being there, the town was abandoned, which is the way it has remained through today. (More information about Rhyolite: here, here, and here).

Abandoned buildings, Rhyolite

Abandoned buildings, Rhyolite

When I worked for the Park Service in Yosemite, I heard from a friend who knew a person who worked at Death Valley who swore that the town was haunted. (More information about that here, here, and here).  Since that seemed like a pretty reliable source, I decided that someday, I would need to see this “haunted” town for myself. On Saturday, I arrived at the outskirts of town during the gloaming hour – around 7:00 p.m. I figured that if I was going to experience any ghostly activity, my odds would be better at night. At first, it seemed like a good theory. As I drove into the town, abandoned buildings stood half in shadow, and half in the setting sun, and it seemed to me that any number of ghosts could be looking at me through those empty, shaded windows. I parked my car, and set out on foot to walk around the entirety of the town.

More abandoned buildings, Rhyolite

More abandoned buildings, Rhyolite

As I walked, all I could hear was the sound of my boots crunching against the rock, as there was no breeze. There was nothing present but myself; the desert; and the remains of the town. I kept my ears open for two things: rattlesnake noises and ghost noises. But as I passed by the jail; and Isabel Haskins grave, and lingered around the entrance of the mine, I still heard nothing. By the time I arrived back at the main road, and circled the Cook bank building, I began to feel a little depressed: it was getting dark, and nothing was going on. Nothing. The only thing going on was me walking around the ruins, taking pictures, and watching the moon rise. The only thing that seemed to be going on in Rhyolite was a lesson about the impermanence of the works of man; and the transitory nature of life – things were good one minute and bad in the next. It made me think of my Percy Shelley: “Nothing beside remains/Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare/The lone and level sands stretch far away
”.

The Cook Building. Watch the lower right corner, with the steps. Now you see the ruins behind the steps...

The Cook Building. Watch the lower right corner, with the steps. Now you see the ruins behind the steps...

Since I’m stubborn, I wasn’t about to give up. I sat in the wreck of the general store, and watched the moonrise above the mountains. Nothing. At this point it was around 9:00. I decided that I had to take things to the next level. No, I did not bust out the Ouija board. Instead, I walked under the moon down to the town graveyard, which is currently surrounded by a chain link fence. Surely, I thought, if the town was/is haunted, surely, I would see something or hear something in the graveyard at night. With a small amount of horror movie induced trepidation, I opened the gate, walked in, and spent thirty minutes examining the graves, old and “new”. Then, since there was a handy bench next to the graveyard, and I had things to think about, I sat down, watched the graves, the moon, and the stars and waited. After waiting for, gosh, a while, I realized that nothing was happening. I considered staying until 3:00 a.m., which, according to every horror movie I’ve ever seen is the “devil’s hour”, but then I realized I’d rather be sleeping. With a sigh, I walked away from the graveyard, back to my car, and went to find a spot to camp.

The Cook Building. Again, look at the lower right corner, with the steps. Now you don't see the ruins behind the steps?

The Cook Building. Again, look at the lower right corner, with the steps. Now you don't see the ruins behind the steps?

You’d think that this would be the end of the story, and I’d simply say, “what I learned that day was myth busted”. But no. After I made camp and was lying down, I started flipping through my phone to look at the pictures I had taken that day. And that’s when I saw the mystery: when darkness fell, I had been at the Cook building. I had been shooting photos, and while I had moved slightly at one point, I had been on the street, looking into the building. The left rear of the building, to my eye, had been completely destroyed. But the right side had an area that was still intact. Yet as I looked at the photos, it was right side present; and then two photos later right side gone. Full disclaimer: I did not alter the photos you are about to see; and they are from a slightly different angle. What you should look at is the lower right corner: right above the steps. Behind it in the first photo is rubble; behind it in the second photo is nothing. Uhhh – say what? And that’s what I mean when I say yesterday there’s magic everywhere, and that’s what I mean today when I say I know nothing, because I’m a skeptic, but I’m not quite sure how to explain these different photos. What do you say readers? Call me some morning to let me know how to explain it?