2014 Nevada-Mojave Trip



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Bonnie Claire, NV

The Mill

I spent the night near the ruins of a vast mill and smelter at Bonnie Claire, NV. In the morning I explored the mill site and its stone cabins, then went to the mine at the old townsite on the valley floor.

The Bonnie Claire townsite was built in 1904 on the valley floor near the Thorp stage station, and replaced an earlier camp called Thorp’s Well. At first the town was called Thorp, then Montana Station. In 1906 the newly built Bullfrog Goldfield Railroad arrived, followed about a year later by the Las Vegas & Tonopah Railroad. The LV&T built a depot here.

A new, larger mill was built north of the townsite, on the slope of a hill. This was the Bonnie Claire Mill, and it was built to process ore from several mines in the Gold Mountain area a few miles away. The town boomed briefly after the arrival of the railroads, but the mines it supported never turned into big producers. The LV&T was abandoned in 1928 and the town soon followed. There was some minor activity between 1940 and 1954, but nothing since then. Currently there is a small sand and gravel quarry at the site, right next to some of the old stone buildings.

Bonnie Claire, NV  

The Mine

Today all that remains at the townsite are a wooden cabin and the ruins of a small mine and headframe. The cabin has two front doors, side by side, leading me to believe it was a sort of duplex. Later the dividing wall was removed, and the cabin was expanded with an extra room added at the rear. A tiny, early-vintage travel trailer has been grafted onto the end of the cabin.

There are two graves located a few hundred feet from the mine. One is the grave of Dorothy Patnoe, a four-year-old girl who died in 1911. The other is the final resting place of Dora C. Black, a female of unknown age, born in 1898. The date of death is obscured by damage to the marker.

Right: A rare, riveted oil drum made of heavy-gauge steel and reinforced with bands that aid in rolling. You can see more photos of this, and other steel drums and barrels, on my Modeler’s Resource page:

Reference Photos - Steel Drums.

Thorp’s Well, NV

A small stamp mill was built here in the 1880s to serve mines in the Gold Mountain area. It operated until a new, larger mill was built at Bonnie Claire in 1904.

All that remains today are some low stone walls and foundations, and a bit of rubble.

On the outskirts of Beatty, NV I saw some wild burros casually grazing near the side of the road...

Rhyolite, NV

I’ve been to Rhyolite several times before but it’s been a long time since I last saw it. I also had not gotten many photos of it before, so I wanted to spend some time there on this trip.

Rhyolite is possibly the most famous, and most visited, of all the Nevada ghost towns. It’s easily accessible, has many large, photogenic ruins over a wide area, and has been featured in many newspapers and magazines. It’s even been used for location shooting in movies.

Although it’s not a state park like Berlin, NV  or Bodie in California, Rhyolite has been somewhat protected by various caretakers over the years and by the historically inclined residents of Beatty. Since 1990 it has been in the care of the Bureau of Land Management.

Rhyolite began in 1905 after a gold strike in the nearby Bullfrog Hills. Gold fever had already been whipped up by big strikes in Tonopah and Goldfield, so Rhyolite boomed big. By 1907 the town had running water, electricity, telephones, a hospital, a school, banks, and railroads. Eventually Rhyolite was served by three railroads: The Bullfrog Goldfield RR, the Las Vegas & Tonopah RR, and the Tonopah & Tidewater RR. Peak population was somewhere in the range of 3500-5000, plus many more in the surrounding area.

But the boom quickly turned to bust. The initial strike had some rich ore, but the rest was low grade. By 1910 the largest mine, the Montgomery-Shoshone Mine, was losing money. The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and the financial panic of 1907 also had an impact, hurting investors and making it difficult to raise capital. By the time the big two-story school was completed, there were no longer enough students to fill it.

In the 1920s Rhyolite was already becoming a tourist attraction. The unreinforced concrete buildings were beginning to crumble and had been stripped of their finery. Many of the smaller buildings had been moved to nearby Beatty or to other boomtowns, or were scrapped for salvage.

Above: An overview of the townsite, as seen from a mine on the hillside.

Right: A wooden miner’s cabin.

Below: The Las Vegas & Tonopah Railroad station.

Above: Detail of the railroad station.

Right: An old wooden caboose that was used for many years as a gas station.

Above: The famous bottle house, built by 76-year-old Tom Kelly in 1905-06.

Death Valley Junction, CA

This little town east of Death Valley was a railroad town, the junction of the standard gauge Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad and the narrow gauge Death Valley Railroad.

Right: Ruins on the east side of town.

Below: The former garage and gas station.

Left: An antique fire hydrant, with a crude repair.

Below: The windows of the cafe at the Amargosa Hotel.

Danby, CA

My final stop was this former railroad and mining town in the Mojave desert. I arrived shortly before midnight, and camped a few hundred feet from the BNSF railroad tracks. Even at that distance, when you’re lying on the ground the trains sound like they’re going to run right over you! But it was fun to see and hear the trains going by.

Danby was a built in 1883 as a water stop on the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad (later absorbed by the AT&SF). For many years the oldest and most interesting structures were two or three wooden cabins near the tracks, possibly dating back to the site’s origin. Sadly, these buildings were gone when I visited Danby in 2014.

The remaining ruins include a sprawling miner’s cabin from the 1950‘s. A bit farther from the tracks, behind the site of the original cabins, there is a ramshackle, home-built mill which was apparently used to process ore from a mine a few miles away. This equipment appears to have been in operation in modern times, perhaps as late as the early 1980’s.

That concludes my 2014 Nevada-Mojave trip. Thanks for following along, I hope you enjoyed it!

Lesson Learned: Next year I plan to print out more detailed maps of the specific sites I intend to visit, to supplement the larger-scale maps I normally use.

Skip to:   Part One   Part Two   Part Three   Part Four   Part Five   Part Six

Note to modelers:

Many of the structures I’ve photographed would make great additions to your model railroad. It is my hope that these photos can be a useful reference resource. If you need larger, higher resolution images, just let me know. Also, in some cases I have additional detail photos that have not been posted online.

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