Monday, June 01, 2009

Town and Art museum

I found this note on a place to visit outside of the city if I rent a car again.

Beatty, 110 miles northwest of Las Vegas on US 95. Beatty was established in the early 1900s as a supply stop on the railroad line between Las Vegas and the gold-mining district of Bullfrog, centered on the boomtown of Rhyolite, four miles west of Beatty; today Beatty is a small desert town with a fairly spectacular setting in the bright-red Bullfrog Hills.

Rhyolite was a gold-mining town that grew to 8,000 souls, fourth largest population center in Nevada at the time, with proud stone-and-brick buildings built by prosperity for posterity, but it was short-lived; Rhyolite's boom lasted only five years or so (1904-1909) before it was pretty much deserted and left to the elements. Today, you can see the remains of the jail, school, bank, and mercantile, along with a well-preserved train depot. The coolest sight is the Bottle House, constructed in 1906 out of 30,000 (unwashed) Busch beer bottles.

At the turnoff to Rhyolite (heading north on US 95, take a left at the blinking red light in downtown Beatty, then drive four miles southwest on NV 374 and take a right onto the dirt road up to the ghost town) is a museum of sorts, called the Goldwell Open Air Museum and known hereabouts as the Ghost Museum. It was created by a group of Belgian artists, led by the late sculptor Albert Szukalski. Here, you'll find seven outdoor sculptures, including the two you remember: an interpretation of DaVinci's painting "The Last Supper" with white-concrete ghosts set on a wooden platform (this was the original installation, which I saw for the first time in 1988, though it had been there awhile) and your 25-foot-tall Pink Lady made of cinderblocks.

There are also a 24-foot steel prospector with his pet penguin; a mish-mash of chrome auto-body pieces (said to be "blossoming"); a colorful "sit-here" couch; a "winged woman" set atop two tall utility poles ("Icara," a female counterpart to Icarus); a "ghost rider" (one of Szukalski's ghosts holding a bicycle); and whatever temporary art has been set up out there. The Red Barn Art Center is an artist-in-residence facility between the museum site and Rhyolite where occasional goings-on include sculptors setting up stuff. There's also a rundown shack amidst the sculptures that was supposed to be the museum visitor center, but I've never seen it open -- fitting for a Ghost Museum.

Thanks for the reminder of this wild sight in the Nevada desert, definitely worth the detour of a ten-minute round-trip drive from Beatty and a half-hour of wandering and photo-taking along the road from Las Vegas to Reno.