Visit the “Ghosts” of the Bullfrog Hills

1200Tribute to Shorty Harris by Fred Bervoets, Goldwell Open Air Museum.jpg


 A Love Your Parks Tour Story by Nancy J. Reid & Lisa D. Smith


 … the quartz was just full of free gold… it was the original bullfrog rock… this banner is a crackerjack! The district is going to be the banner camp of Nevada. I say so once and I’ll say it again.” Shorty Harris

If you love exploring and photographing old ruins and abandoned towns, head to the Bullfrog Hills on the eastern edge of Death Valley National Park near Beatty, Nevada. Here you will find Rhyolite, one most photographed ghost towns of the West. We had heard about and seen photographs of the run-down old buildings of Rhyolite and the adjacent “ghosts” of Goldwell Open Air Museum, an outdoor sculpture park. Both places were high up on our bucket list, so on our drive south from Yerington on Highway 95, Nevada’s Free-Range Art Highway, we had to pull over and experience these iconic places for ourselves. 

In 1904, Shorty Harris and E. L. Cross were prospecting in the area when they found quartz up on a hill. Soon several mining camps spread out in this desolate area, including the townsite of Rhyolite. It’s said that over 2000 claims spanned a 30-mile area of the Bullfrog district, including the successful Montgomery Shoshone mine which was eventually purchased by Charles Schwab. 

Rhyolite boomed with buildings, hotels, stores, a school, foundries, machine shops, an ice cream parlor, a hospital, and of course, a thriving red-light district. The community enjoyed an active social life with dances and picnics, baseball games, and shows at the opera house. There was even electricity thanks to two electric plants.



However, Rhyolite’s success started to fade with the financial panic of 1907. By 1911, the Montgomery Shoshone mine and mill closed, and in 1916, the electricity was turned off. A decade later, Paramount Pictures used Rhyolite as the setting for their 1926 film, “The Air Mail.” They restored the Bottle House that miner Tom T. Kelly built in 1906 out of 50,000 medicine, beer, and liquor bottles. The region started getting travelers headed to Death Valley, especially when it was proclaimed a national monument on February 11, 1933. 

In 1984, at the southern entrance of Rhyolite, Belgian sculpture artist Albert Szukalski created his ghostly and life-size rendition of Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper painting. Today you can see it at the Goldwell Open Air Museum which spans almost 8 acres and features seven massive outdoor sculptures created by Belgian artists including a 25-foot pink woman made out of cinder blocks and the 24-foot steel prospector and penguin. The park is open to the public daily and there is no admission fee. The on-site visitor center offers exhibits, hosts events, and has a little gift shop. Goldwell Open Air Museum is ranked among some of the world’s most unique places to experience art. More:

You can explore the remnants of Rhyolite’s prosperous past by seeing the privately-owned old train depot, the restored Bottle House which is said to be the largest bottle house in the country, the old Porter Brothers General Store (HD & LD Porter, 1906), and the iconic three-story Cook Bank Building. It is astounding to stand in history and witness where hope, prosperity, and community growth flourished so fast, only to be snuffed out in less than a decade. More:

Plan your road-trip adventure along Nevada’s Free-Range Art Highway here:


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