I’m just back from one week out West (United States). A business trip for sure, but I was able to peel away for excursions to a number of photo-worthy destinations – – expect my forthcoming Daily Photo Phix’ to be populated with images from this trip.
This particular post regards Rhyolite. According to wikipedia:
Rhyolite is an igneous, volcanic (extrusive) rock, of felsic (silica-rich) composition (typically > 69% SiO2 — see the TAS classification). It may have any texture from glassy to aphanitic to porphyritic. The mineral assemblage is usually quartz, alkali feldspar and plagioclase (in a ratio > 1:2 — see the QAPF diagram). Biotite and hornblende are common accessory minerals.
Apparently, in the late 1800s, there was a bunch of this stuff in the foothills of southwestern Nevada in what now occupies the uppermost corner of Death Valley National Park. The short version: when it ran out, so too did the people of the town called, of course, Rhyolite, Nevada.
For more images and a quick summary of the town’s history, read on…
The geographic area, known originally as Bullfrog, experienced a gold rush mad dash as wealth seekers, developers, miners and others flocked to the area. Many settled into the town of Rhyolite, which housed the Montgomery Shoshone Mine.
An industrialist named Charles M. Schwab (not Charles R. Schwab of brokerage firm fame) bought the mine in 1906 and began developing the town’s infrastructure, which included plumbing, electricity, and a railroad system. By 1907, the town was booming, with electric lights, telephone service, newspapers, a bank, a hospital, a school and even an opera house. By 1908, there were approximately 5,000 residents of Rhyolite.
Once the richest ore was exhausted, however, the mining business dried up and subsequently so too did most everything else. It didn’t help matters that San Francisco suffered a major earthquake in 1906 and the U.S. financial markets went into a moderate collapse a year later. That made capital hard to come by, hampering Rhyolite’s efforts to reinvent its industry and way of life.
By 1910, the mining company was in trouble… and it closed just a year later. By that point, the population had dropped to under 1,000 and by 1920, it was almost zero, save for a few hearty souls who tried to maintain their homes in the emerging ghost town.
Soon thereafter, Rhyolite became a tourist attraction and setting for movies. Some of the buildings were moved to nearby Beatty, still a charming and very (very) rural western town.
On the day I was there, it truly felt like a ghost town. There was nobody around, except for one couple who drove up the main road, jumped out of their car for a quick photo in front of the former bank (the top photo in this post) and then off they sped. There are a few seemingly abandoned trailer homes on the outskirts of Rhyolite, most in severe disrepair. Near one, however, I spotted a few modern era toys strewn in front of one of the doors. To say it was creepy would be a gigantic understatement. I had visions of living out a true-to-life Quentin Tarantino movie plot right there in Rhyolite. No thank you…
Photographically speaking, it was fascinating. And I experimented with various black and white effects on some of these photos, trying to capture the turn-of-the-century mood of this once booming mining town.
Stay tuned for more Western-themed images…
Posted by Rey
Fascinating story of the history of Rhyolite… I can see that it would be quite creepy to hang out there alone…I sure wouldn’t do it! Loved the background info and your photos are really awesome. Great capture of the era and feel for the current desolation there. Thanks for sharing this!
Thanks, Hillary. You’ll be happy to note I took all these with the NEX 5N.
What gear and lenses did you use for these? Really like the wide angle shots of this town!
Sony NEX 5N (see my recent review) with the 16 f2.8 and also Sony wide angle adapter lens. All in all, a very nice, small and light kit. Thanks for your comment.
Hi Rey. The interior shot looks like you used HDR techniques. Did you? Lots of contrast there.
Your NEX is doing a remarkable job.
I did a lot of business travel in my working days. I am jealous of your travel photo opportunities. I wasn’t so into photography at the time and missed a lot of potentially interesting subjects. On the other hand where I went I wasn’t allowed to have a camera with me anyway. Oh well.
Prentis – thank you for your comment. Yes, I did use HDR on a few of these shots… namely the auto HDR feature of the NEX. I don’t love business travel, but when it’s to an interesting place, I always jump on line to see what’s photographically interesting within an hours drive in each direction. Las Vegas, not exactly my kind of town, hits the jackpot, however, in terms of the “photographically interesting within an hours drive” test.
Nice shots and interesting history. I’m hoping you have a nice wide angle of the whole town. I’ll keep tuned in to find out.
Mark – you know… that would have been a very, very good idea. Dang…