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Keywords:California, Death Valley
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Hold Your Destiny

Hold Your Destiny

“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” ~ William Shakespeare

Just outside Beatty, Nevada, between it and the Northern section of Death Valley, I spent two evenings at a famous ghost town, by the name of Rhyolite. Pictured here are the ruins of the Cook Bank building, with the starry sky in the background. While photographing this and spending my evenings in Rhyolite, I often thought about how the residents here over 100 years ago must have felt when the town was at its peak; as if their immediate destinies seemed rich with only the sky as the limit. And then in just a few short years to realize that their destiny was not placed in themselves, but instead controlled by things much more out of their control – almost like realizing their destiny was held in the stars, rather than in themselves. I also often thought about how life repeats itself and wondered why we as humans give our power away, and so often allow our destinies to be controlled by something other than ourselves. Is there a microcosmic lesson in humanity here I wondered?

Rhyolite is a ghost town in Nevada. It is in the Bullfrog Hills, about 120 miles (190 km) northwest of Las Vegas, near the eastern edge of Death Valley. The town began in early 1905 as one of several mining camps that sprang up after a prospecting discovery in the surrounding hills. During an ensuing gold rush, thousands of gold-seekers, developers, miners and service providers flocked to the Bullfrog Mining District – Many settled in Rhyolite. Industrialist Charles M. Schwab (Does the name sound familiar?) bought the Montgomery Shoshone Mine in 1906 and invested heavily in infrastructure, including piped water, electric lines and railroad transportation, that served the town as well as the mine. By 1907, Rhyolite had electric lights, water mains, telephones, newspapers, a hospital, a school, an opera house, and even a stock exchange! Published estimates of the town's peak population vary widely, but scholarly sources generally place it in a range between 3,500 and 5,000 in 1907–08.

Rhyolite declined almost as rapidly as it rose. After the richest ore was exhausted, production fell. Also, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the financial panic of 1907 made it more difficult to raise development capital. Then in 1908, investors in the mining operation, concerned that it was overvalued, ordered an independent study. When the study's findings proved unfavorable, the mining company's stock value crashed, further restricting funding. By the end of 1910, the mine was operating at a loss, and it closed in 1911. By this time, many out-of-work miners had moved elsewhere, and Rhyolite's population dropped well below 1,000. By 1920, it was close to zero. After 1920, Rhyolite and its ruins became a tourist attraction and a setting for motion pictures. Most of its buildings crumbled, were salvaged for building materials, or were moved to nearby Beatty or other towns, although the railway depot and a house made chiefly of empty bottles were repaired and preserved.