During the Great American Frontier in the 1840s, migrants moved west in search of gold, farmland, and prosperity. They stayed for the lack of snow. Almost two centuries and 347 In & Out’s later the American West remains a territory rich in culture and scenic majesty.
As Las Vegans, we enjoy the amenities of living in a cultural epicenter filled with some of the highest acclaimed restaurants, live performances, and museums in the country. We also have the luxury of being embedded and surrounded by nature. You can go hiking at Red Rock Canyon, go sledding in Mount Charleston, camp out at Valley of Fire, or rent a boat in Lake Mead.
It’s four months into quarantine, and if you’re like me, you may have exhausted most of these nearby destinations. If you’re feeling wanderlust and ready for a road trip, all you need to do is take the U.S. 95 North a few hours to see more of what Nevada has to offer – ghost towns, abandoned gold mines, and desolate art installations.
On Thursday night, Nevada Govorner Steve Sisolak announced bars will be shutting down again in Clark and Washoe County. Take this time to explore outside new terrain. Learn some Nevada history, take in the scenery, upgrade your Instagram feed, and most importantly, get your drink on (legally).
Rhyolite, Nevada: 2-hour drive
Rhyolite settled in 1905 during the gold rush, by 1907 the town had electric lights, water mains, telephones, newspapers, a hospital, school, opera house, and a stock exchange. At its peak, the town had a population of over 5,000. After the richest ore dried out, the population was dropped to zero by 1920.
After 1920, Rhyolite and its ruins became a tourist attraction. Considered “one of the most photographed ghost towns in the West,” the land has also been used as a setting for major motion pictures The Air Mail (1925), The Reward (1964), Cherry 2000 (1987), Six-String Samurai (1998), and The Island (2004).
Aside from its ruins, Rhyolite’s main attraction is its outdoor sculpture park, the Goldwell Open Air Museum. Prominent installations include The Last Sculpture by Albert Szukalski, which features ghostly life-sized forms arranged in the style of The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. Lady Desert: The Venus of Nevada by Hugo Heyrman, a cinder block sculpture made of a woman made to look like pixels, and Icara by Dre Peters, a hand-carved female version of Icarus, the boy in Greek mythology who flew too close to the sun.
Second stop, Goldfield, Nevada: 2 1/2 hour drive
Another classic boomtown story, gold was discovered in Goldfield in the early 20th century and its mines produced more than $86 million worth of gold at the time ($1.2 billion in 2020 currency). By 1904, Goldfield became Nevada’s largest city with over 20,000 people. It had three railroads, five banks, five newspapers, two mining stock exchanges, four schools, and dozens of saloons.
By 1910 the mines were in severe decline experiencing one of the most dramatic rises and crashes of all the mining towns in the West. The final nail in the coffin was a catastrophic fire that destroyed most of the town in 1923. While not completely abandoned, Today, the town remains home to a population of 268 people.
Make sure to stop by the abandoned Goldfield Hotel built-in 1908. It is said to have been the most luxurious hotel west of the Mississippi River. Catering to elites and the newly rich patrons who struck gold, it was decorated with rich mahogany, black leather furniture, gleaming gold-leaf ceilings, crystal chandeliers, and most modern elevators in Nevada at the time. Soldiers and their families from the Tonopah Army Air Field stayed at the venue during World War II, but it has remained unoccupied since. Considered one of the most haunted locations in the nation, It has been featured in Ghost Adventures 4 times, and Ghost Hunters. It’s currently undertaking renovations.
While you’re in Goldfield, grab a drink at the Santa Fe Saloon, a bar with the oldest currently operating liquor license in Nevada. If you want the immersive Goldfield experience, plan an overnight stay at its sister motel next door. Other scenes include The International Car Forest of the Last Church. This this free, one-of-a-kind gallery comprised of over 40 cars, each with a unique design of its own.
Final stop, Tonopah, Nevada: 3-hour drive
Cap off your weekend in Tonopah, 30 miles north of Goldfield. Legend has it that the town was discovered when prospector Jim Butler lost his way looking for a burro that wandered off. When Butler found the animal, he picked up a rock to throw at it in frustration, he noticed the rock was curiously heavy. He stumbled upon the second-richest silver strike in Nevada history.
With a current population of 2500, Tonapah evokes the essence of fully operating small-town that got caught in a time machine.
Enjoy a ritzy dinner at the grandiose Mizpah Hotel. Built-in 1905, it was the tallest building in Nevada until 1927. This pop culture relic was once the workplace of legendary boxer Jack Dempsy, in addition to being the venue of business mogul Howard Hughe’s wedding to his second wife, Jean Peters. The Mizpah is reportedly haunted by a ghost deemed the Lady in Red and has been featured in Ghost Adventures.
If you’re a fan of oddities, stop by the famous Clown Motel. Craft beers are available at the Tonapah Brewing Company. You can swing by the Historic Mining Park or the Central Nevada Museum.