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The stories and secrets behind a popular Nevada 'ghost town'

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It's a desert mining town that went bust more than 100 years ago.

It's Rhyolite, Nevada.

"It's a unique experience to be here, right?" says Karl Olson. "It means a lot to me."

Olson is now the sole resident. He's the caretaker of Rhyolite, who makes sure visitors understand its stories and unique history.

From the well visited, yet empty grave of a murdered prostitute, "Actually she's not buried there and never was buried there," he says.

To the gold deposits that attracted prospectors in the first place.

Just 120 miles north of Las Vegas, Rhyolite was supposed to be the town that lasted.

"When they built these buildings people thought this was the next Virginia City," says Cassandra Albush an archeologist with the Bureau of Land Management. "This town was going to be here for years and this was going to be the next metropolis of Nevada."

The BLM is the federal agency that oversees Rhyolite, protecting the buildings that remain including a schoolhouse, general store and train depot.

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Built in 1907, the depot is one of the last of its kind in Nevada.

Albush says the plan is to someday turn into a visitor's center.

"If you can imagine doing a project like this it would be several million dollars," says Albush. "Not something we are funded for."

But if money is scarce, interest in Rhyolite is not.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began visitation has shot up from 250,000 people a year, to over one million as more Americans escape to the outdoors.

"It's awesome. Really nice structures and artwork, I love it," says Tracy Goins from South Dakota.

"Amazing. Definitely worth the drive coming from Las Vegas," adds visitor David Love.

In its heyday, about 4,000 people called Rhyolite home, although some estimates put the population much higher.

It was a town of dreamers, outlaws, and hardworking families.

It was here and then gone in the span of just a few years, deserted after the best ore was removed from the surrounding hills.

The Tom Kelly bottle house stands as a lasting reminder of old west ingenuity.

"He paid local children ten cents a wheelbarrow to collect bottles for him," explains Albush. "They just used bottles as you would a brick."

Still, the question that always comes up is one that gets a chuckle out of Olson.

Are there ghosts in the ghost town?

"None that I've ever seen," he says.

And not for lack of investigation. Ghost hunters are common in Rhyolite.

"They invited me to go with them once and I told them if you find a ghost, I live in the trailer down there come and get me. Nobody's ever came and got me," he smiles.

But if Olson has never experienced the supernatural himself, there's certainly a ghostly art installation right on the edge of Rhyolite.

It's called "The Last Supper", and has been baking under the Nevada sun for decades.

The piece depicts a row of faceless figures in flowing white gowns.

It was created by the late Belgian artist Albert Szukalski using human models with sheets or blankets thrown over their heads.

What he did, he took them and put them in the position he wanted and used sticks to hold them in that position," says Olson. "Then casted the plaster over the back."

It's just one of the many oddities that keep the curious coming back.

"I tell people when they're here, I remind them this (Rhyolite) is theirs," says Olson. "And I say if you really want to see something like this saved, you write your Congresspeople."

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It's part of Nevada's history, crumbling, weathered, and beating back time.

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