Long after gold boom and bust, Beatty endures

A resilient survivor of one of the last great gold-mining booms in the West, Beatty persists as a commercial center and transportation hub in sparsely populated Nye County.

For travelers on busy U.S. Highway 95 through Nevada, Beatty offers a logical spot to break their journey about an hour and a half north of Las Vegas for fuel, food and services. The town also serves as a major entry point for visitors to nearby Death Valley National Park, as it sits at the junction with state Route 374, the eastern entry to the park through scenic Daylight Pass.

Beatty also sits astride the Amargosa River, a strange desert waterway that runs south many miles, mostly underground, before turning north to end at Badwater in Death Valley. The spot where the Amargosa starts in Oasis Valley north of Beatty and places where it surfaces along the way are lush with vegetation, trees, ponds, wetlands, meadows and pastures. The first settlers in the area were ranchers and farmers laying claim to a few well-watered places scattered through the hottest, driest desert on the continent.

Beatty took its name from early rancher Montillius Beatty. After gold was discovered near Death Valley in 1904, the Bullfrog Mining District was organized. About 100 mines were developed. A handful of mining camps began to grow in the surrounding area. Mine owner Bob Montgomery bought up several springs and the Beatty Ranch to create a town to be a service center. The old rancher Beatty was the first postmaster of the town named for him. Soon, it was a stopping point for three area railroad lines and the most prosperous of the camps.

Neighboring Rhyolite rapidly developed into one of the largest cities in Nevada during its heyday in the first decade of the 20th century. But its prominence quickly faded when mine output faltered after just a few years. One of the highlights of the Beatty area, the remains of old Rhyolite are just four miles from Beatty off state Route 374. The few intact buildings include the handsome railroad depot and a bottle house with walls built out of castoffs from the town’s many saloons. Other buildings are picturesque ruins, among the most photographed remains in the state. On your way to the ghost town, stop by the free Goldwell Open Air Museum, a repository of statues and other modern art. Access the rugged, one-way road into Death Valley through Titus Canyon from Route 374 south of the Rhyolite turnoff.

A visit to the Beatty Museum brings the history of the area to life. Located at 417 Main St., the museum occupies a midcentury church building, the third home for the expanding facility since it was founded in 1995. Concerned about the preservation of Beatty’s past, several longtime residents formed the Beatty Historical Society and gathered artifacts for a small museum. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the museum is manned by volunteers. Although admission is free, donations are welcome.

Oasis Valley and the Amargosa River are recognized as vital habitat for resident and migratory birds, a delight for serious birders. The region is also recognized as an environmental hot spot. The isolated creeks, pools and wetlands where the Great Basin meets the Mojave Desert are home to several creatures found nowhere else. They have attracted enough attention that The Nature Conservancy initiated its Amargosa River Project in 1982 to restore their habitat.

The Nature Conservancy recently bought ranchlands containing ponds and riparian habitat in the Oasis Valley on the Torrance Ranch. A boardwalk over tule marshes takes visitors to a pond and small stream, home to the Amargosa toad and other aquatic species. A longer marked path accesses stands of native cottonwoods and willows and streamside views. To reach the area, drive about eight miles north of Beatty’s small Chamber of Commerce building. Turn right on Boiling Pot Road and follow rough pavement a few hundred yards to the Torrance Ranch Preserve entrance. Close the gate behind you. Continue a short way to an unpaved parking area, an information kiosk and the two trails.

Margo Bartlett Pesek’s Trip of the Week column appears on Sundays.

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