Death Valley National Park is a place of stark contrasts. You can summit Telescope Peak in a dusting of snow one day and then visit the desolate salt flat of Badwater Basin, sitting at 282 feet below sea level, the next. If Death Valley’s juxtaposed physical features are not enough to bend your mind, consider traveling to these three nearby spots to further that eerily weird feeling the Mojave desert can provide.
Located 8 miles outside of the park’s boundaries, Beatty (prounounced BAY-Dee) runs along the Amargosa River in Nevada. Originally a railway transit point for the adjacent Bullfrog Mining District, Beatty now has more of a romantic forgotten ambiance. It is a place that trucker’s travel through en route to another destination, but it also houses some fun gems if you know where to look. On the main road you will find the Beatty Museum and Historical Society. Founded by three women who once played on the nearby hills, this unassuming building houses amazing relics of the areas’s mining history. From wooden butter churns to original style dress of the times, the Beatty Museum gives you a great understanding of what it was like to live in the American West during the gold rush era.
After you take in the artifacts at the museum be sure to stop by Gemma’s Wagon Wheel Cafe in town. This is one of our guides’ top picks when we travel out to Rhyolite on our Death Valley Basecamp tour. Gemma’s Cafe is a typical “hole in the wall” small eatery that does not disappoint. They are known for their breakfast food and lattes. Order one of the hot skillet breakfast scrambles and plan your day in Death Valley National Park.
Rhyolite Ghost Town
If your travels take you to Beatty, you will inevitably drive right past the signed dirt road turn off for Rhyolite. Founded in 1904, Rhyolite was a gold rush boom town that had a bustling main road, active red light district, and a stop on the Tonopah railroad line. Once all the major ore was mined into usable production, Rhyolite quickly went bust around 1916 and became a crumbling relic to the desert. Much of the town’s infrastructure went on to become building materials for other nearby mining towns and were also transported to Beatty. Today you can walk in between the crumbling bank building, general store, and take photos near the old jail.
If you can find it on your walk, there is a gravesite adorn with old high heels, whiskey bottles and Mardi Gras beads. This is the grave of “Mona Bell”, a woman who made her living at night working as a prostitute in Rhyolite’s thriving red light district. She died at the hands of a revolver and her boyfriend. Her grave is eerily festive and something that is better appreciated in person.
Rhyolite is 35 miles from the Furnance Creek Visitor Center in Death Valley and well worth the side trip outside of the park boundaries.
Goldwell Open Air Museum
Adjacent to the Rhoylite ghost town you will find the Goldwell Open Air Museum. Founded by the late Albert Szukaslski and other prominent European artist, this outdoor art installation is weird and amazing. It features seven outdoor sculptures in the middle of the Mojave Desert. The installations include a haunting rendition of the last supper and a giant piece made of cinder blocks called,“Lady Desert”. Goldwell is a place where contemporary artists visit for inspiration as well as to seek out residency positions. If you are driving from Beatty to Death Valley National Park, this is on your way and a must see stop. Usually there is someone on site to offer information and the space is a free self guided tour. Not to be missed especially for the staggering photo opportunities it offers!
Death Valley National Park has so much to keep you busy, but if you find yourself yearning for those strange roadside stops, consider traveling outside of the eastern park boundaries for these quirky gems.