Goldwell Open Air Museum, Rhyolite, NV. There are ghosts everywhere. The hooded sculptures of the Goldwell Open Air Museum shade the landscape from one end of the desert floor while the mostly abandoned mining town of Rhyolite crumbles stoically next door.
Belgian artists built the Goldwell Open Air Museum in the 1980’s. The desert is a good place for art—enough space to go around and enough sunlight to blind you into artistic genius. Their sculptures–The Last Supper, The Venus of Nevada, Tribute to Shorty Harris, locally famed prospector, all stand impossibly big against the desert landscape even in all that space. Burlap and plaster figures are hunched and hollow, crouching against the illusion of escape. The figure with the bicycle, tires deflated, knows you can’t get far across the sharp and barren terrain and anyplace from here is far.
Walk the dirt road up to Rhyolite and look at the banks once bursting with gold now monuments to air. Rhyolite was so rich the ruins are in two stories. In 1905 people ran for the Bullfrog Hills, named for their green spotted rocks, and exhausted the ore, funneling it into their pockets and an opera house, school, electric lights, and stock exchange for the town. By 1911 the mine had closed.
The two together tell a story of being drawn to the land to live out whatever our wildest imaginations can dream up—gold fever or unfettered art. If you’re willing to brave the relentless sky, the space is yours to fill.