Whispering winds of Nevada ghost town

Old outhouse with cactus growing in front of door, and row of old wooden falsefront buildings,...

Old outhouse with cactus growing in front of door, and row of old wooden falsefront buildings, including a 'Mercantile' and 'The Turf' saloon in the ghost town of Gold Point, Nev. IAN ROBERTSON PHOTO

Ian Robertson, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:25 AM ET

If you stand long enough in a Nevada ghost town, whispering winds may carry the voices of lost souls.

And while staying in a reportedly haunted hotel, as our group did on a recent visit, you may glimpse someone not quite there. Home to boom and bust mining towns, this state is rife with legend, lore and more than a few ghost stories.

TONOPAH

There are many tales of haunted happenings at the Mizpah Hotel in Tonopah (Pop. 2,478), halfway between Las Vegas and Reno.

Shortly after learning the story of the murdered "Lady in Red" -- a female guest reportedly killed by a jealous lover in a 5th-floor room -- a couple's digital recorder came on around 3 a.m.

No sound emerged.

"I've never experienced her," dining-room manager Bruce Jabbour remarked later.

Then server Nicole Scobee shared her photo of a woman's shadowy shape beside a smaller figure, who reportedly asked a cook "where's David?"

It all adds to the mystique of what, in 1907, was the most luxurious hotel between San Francisco and Denver. That was after miners hit paydirt in the former "Queen of the Silver Camps."

But the good times were fleeting, and the Mizpah eventually closed. New owners re-opened it in 2011.

Tonopah Historic Mining Park --where prospector Jim"ˆButler realized a rock he was about to throw at his lost burro was silver -- still has working machinery, rusting ore cars and minehead buildings.

GOLDFIELD

Much of nearby Goldfield (current population 268) burned in 1923, but many buildings in the former boomtown -- once home to 20,000 residents -- survived. A miner's saloon, vacant hotel, courthouse and high school, rustic cars, plus a mine locomotive date back to its heyday from 1903-40, when gold production totalled $86 million.

Visitors are sure to hear about swindlers and a short-term lawman --"ˆVirgil Earp -- who died there of pneumonia, after which his more famous brother Wyatt quit his job as a casino pit boss and left for California.

Despite the decline, gold exploration continues, off and on, in the area.

GOLD POINT

With Herb Robbins maintaining three old fire trucks, Gold Point's 27 residents feel safe.

Ranchers came first, silver miners in 1902, then gold-seekers in 1927. With little water, no railroad and claim-jumpers, however, the 1,000-population declined -- except for 17 reported ghosts.

"It's not open as a tourist resort,-ˆbut Robbins -- who bought half the town after winning $222,000 in a Las Vegas casino -- welcomes visitors.

The fire marshal, sheriff and mayor rents out five cabins and the small home of late Senator Harry"ˆWiley. Robbins also keeps the post office (closed in 1978) intact and has a memento-filled casino-bar.

"Everyone has full access to my house for showers and water," plus meals, the 61-year-old Robbins said.

You can also visit false-front western shops, including a mercantile.

And if you've ever had a hankering to buy a ghost town, for "$2 million cash I'd consider" selling (my share), Robbins said. (Esmeralda County owns the other half.)

RHYOLITE

Just west of the bustling town of Beatty, off State Route 374 in the Bullfrog Hills, Rhyolite is one of Nevada's most famous "ghosts."

A boomtown of 5,000 from 1904-08, Rhyolite had several stone and concrete buildings, hotels, 53 saloons, banks, an ice plant, two electric plants, foundries, newspapers, a hospital, an opera house and a stock exchange.

But predictions of gold riches turned to dust, and by 1916 the lights were dimmed and most people gone. Scores of wooden buildings were moved elsewhere. Hollywood later made films and the ruins became a tourist attraction.

Little remains, but visitors can see the ruins of Rhyolite's two-storey stone school, a three-storey bank, a 1906 house built with 50,000 wine and beer bottles, plus the de-railed railway station.

On the outskirts, the Goldwell Open Air Museum has a 3.2-hectare sculpture park filled with lifelike, ghostly white plaster figures sculpted by Albert Szukalski (1945-2000).

The Belgian artist's most eye-catching works are aptly named the Ghost Rider and The Last Supper, with the latter based on Leonardo da Vinci's famous 15th-century wall painting in a Milan, Italy, convent.

The nearby Red Barn artists-in-residence studio has an annual festival in ˆOctober.

TRIP TIPS

-- The Mizpah Hotel reputedly has other ghosts, including a noisy miner who opens windows at inappropriate hours. Nightly rates from $89-$129. See mizpahhotel.net.

-- For more on the history of Rhyolite, including the silent movies made there, check rhyolitesite.com. For the Goldwell Open Air Museum, see goldwellmuseum.org.

-- When exploring Gold Point, watch for broken glass. It's everywhere!

GETTING THERE

-- Air Canada flies direct to Las Vegas, where tours and rental cars can take you beyond the city. Tonopah is at Hwys. 6 and 95. Goldfield is on Hwy. 95 in eastern Esmeralda County. To reach Gold Point, turn west off State Hwy. 266 for about 24 kms. Rhyolite is west of Hwy. 374 and Beatty near eastern Death Valley.

-- For travel information, see travelnevada.com.


Videos

Photos