One of many Death Valley ghost towns: Rhyolite

If you’ve been reading my blog now and then you know I’m a huge fan of lost places. Abandoned places emanate a special fascination. For me, it’s the bizarre beauty of decay that makes me discover, visit and photograph such places.

We don’t have many ghost towns here in Austria. And those we have are a well kept secret. Unlike the Death Valley ghost towns.

During a road trip from San Francisco to Las Vegas I drove through Death Valley and visited some of the places again that I’ve been to as a young boy decades ago like Badwater Basin, Zabriskie Point, Artist‘s Drive and Artist‘s Palette.

But this year I took some extra time and visited Rhyolite ghost town located near Beatty, NV, at the I374. Rhyolite allegedly was one of the major towns founded during the gold rush. The town was founded around 1905 and abandoned after only 15 years in the 1920s.

However, don’t compare the remains of Rhyolite with a ghost town like e.g. Bodie. Moreover, while Bodie is kept in arrested decay, Rhyolite is truly abandoned and decayed. Also, while Bodie is situated in the mountains and it can get quite chilly there, Rhyolite is in hot Death Valley.

But the remains of such a huge city in the desert makes it an interesting place to visit. It’s one of the most visited ghost town in Death Valley. You can only imagine the size of Rhyolite. But you’ll get an idea if you see the distance between the remains of this town.

What to see and find in Rhyolite

First and foremost: Rattlesnakes. There are signs everywhere that warn visitors about rattlesnakes. So be careful; you don’t want to be bitten by a rattlesnake in the middle of the desert, do you? I was quite relieved that I didn’t meet any of those inhabitants of Rhyolite.

The biggest, and unfortunately fenced-in and locked structure in Rhyolite is the former casino that you can only inspect from the outside. All doors and windows are furnished with planks and locked. You can’t get inside and you can’t even get a glimpse inside the old casino. At least in 2015.

 Former casino in Rhyolite. Not accessible.

Former casino in Rhyolite. Not accessible.

The next big structure in this ghost town is the former bank of Rhyolite. The building has collapsed and only the walls are left. From those walls you can tell that it probably once was a three-storied building.

 Former bank in Rhyolite

Former bank in Rhyolite

Right across the street of the bank is an old department store. Well, only the facade to be exact. I guess the store was mainly built from wood and so it didn’t withstand the elements as long as the bank that was built using bricks. Both places are great photo spots.

 Former store in Rhyolite

Former store in Rhyolite

Quite famous in Rhyolite is a small house built from bottles. But this one is also fenced in and can’t be accessed. I wasn’t too excited a out this one. It looks like a pretty normal house, except it that the walls are built using old bottles from the saloons.

 Bottle house in Ryholite

Bottle house in Ryholite

Finally, if you continue along the road towards the old school, there’s a wreck of an old pickup truck that has been parked here. Continue and you’ll pass by something that could have been a railway station and you’ll reach the remains of the old school building that you can see in the background.

Eternal Parking | Rhyolite, USA

Scattered around the place are more walls and remains of what could have been residential houses. By the way, a few scenes of the movie The Island were filmed in Rhyolite.

Rhyolite is definitely worth a visit if you’re in the Death Valley area anyway but I wouldn’t go there just to see the ruins. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to visit the other Death Valley Ghost Towns.

And: Is it just me or does any one else think that “ghost” town and “Death” Valley are a bizarre combination?

If you want to learn more about this ghost town, Wikipedia has a quite good article about Rhyolite.

How I added the clouds to the photo of the old bank

I really liked the old bank house in Rhyolite. But I found the pure blue sky a little boring.So I thought about adding some clouds. But wait. Clouds in the desert? Clouds in Death Valley? So I did a quick Google Image search and found hundreds of photos with cloudy skies of Death Valley. I just hope they’re not all compositions. Moreover, I read that one of the remains of a store in Rhyolite burnt down after a lighting strike during a heavy thunderstorm in 2014. So it rains and has thunderstorms in Death Valley.

I originally added clouds using Pixelmator for iOS. But as I’ve begun to move more and more towards Adobe recently, I recreated the photo and added the clouds using Adobe Photoshop Mix, which nicely integrates with Adobe Lightroom Mobile.

As you can see, I’ve built an extensive library of cloud photos over the years. So, if you haven’t done yet, download Adobe Photoshop Mix from the iTunes App Store.

 My cloud library

My cloud library

To begin, open Photoshop Mix and press the big plus sign to add the photo to which you want to add the clouds, in our case this is the photo of the bank in Rhyolite. After you’ve tapped the plus sign, tap „On my iPad“ to choose a photo.

 Tap the plus sign on the right side of the screen, tap "on your iPad" and select "image" to begin a new project

Tap the plus sign on the right side of the screen, tap "on your iPad" and select "image" to begin a new project

Next, we’re adding the cloud photo. On the right side of the screen you’ll see a miniature of the current photo with a big plus sign above it. Tap the plus sign to add a cloud photo. The cloud photo is now the top Layer. We need to change that. Tap and hold the miniature of the cloud photo and drag it below the main photo.

 Tap plus symbol to add a new layer from a photo. We'll use a cloud photo here

Tap plus symbol to add a new layer from a photo. We'll use a cloud photo here

 Ensure layers are ordered in the way displayed (right side of the screen). Main photo should be the top layer. Cloud photo the second layer.

Ensure layers are ordered in the way displayed (right side of the screen). Main photo should be the top layer. Cloud photo the second layer.

Then we need to do a cut out. Tap the cut out item in the lower toolbar. First make sure that the layer of the main photo is selected by typing it once. Make sure that smart selection is selected. Draw over the area you want to keep. In our case this is the desert and the building. If for some reason the smart brush is not smart enough, you can always google between add (+) and subtract (-). The first option, add, does as the name suggests. It adds to the selection. The subtract option removes from the selection. This way you can fine tune your selection.

 Tap "cut out" and paint over the area you want to keep. Add to the selection by tapping "add" on the left side of the screen or remove from the selection by selecting "subtract"

Tap "cut out" and paint over the area you want to keep. Add to the selection by tapping "add" on the left side of the screen or remove from the selection by selecting "subtract"

Speaking of fine tuning: the smart brush is called smart because it tries to detect edges. That works best if there’s a high contrast between the edges. In the upper right corner of my sample image here, the smart brush fails. So I need to pinch to zoom in and work slowly in the zoomed photo along the edges.

 Removed the sky. We need to fix the accidental cloud at the bottom of the pic. Make sure "add" is selected and draw over it.

Removed the sky. We need to fix the accidental cloud at the bottom of the pic. Make sure "add" is selected and draw over it.

 Re-position the background layer. Make sure it's selected in the layers palette. Drag to place it where you'd like to have it.

Re-position the background layer. Make sure it's selected in the layers palette. Drag to place it where you'd like to have it.

Once you’re done, tap the checkmark in the lower right corner. The portion of the image that you painted over stays and the rest is removed making the clouds visible. Now you can repositionthe cloud layer to fit your needs. Just make sure it’s selected by taping it once.

As I always crop my photo to square format, the square cloud photo already provides a good indication of the final image. Now I’ll export the final Photo to Lightroom for further adjustments. But that’s a different story.

And voila, clouds added to the ruins of the bank in Rhyolite.    

 Final shot after some adjustments in Lightroom Mobile.

Final shot after some adjustments in Lightroom Mobile.