Belgium in the Mojave~

The Oasis Inn in Death Valley National Park lives up to its name. But there is so much more in the area. Come on, let’s go explore….

Check out The Goldwell Open Air Museum, established by four Belgian artists in 1984, just outside the boundaries of the park.

The artists created large scale outdoor sculptures which, in combination with the desert landscape, result in a truly unique visual experience.

The feeling this evokes, like the desert itself, is eerie.

This is one of the artist abodes. Check the museum out at: http://goldwellmuseum.org/

After we explore the remarkable museum and it’s ghostly sculptures by ourselves for as long as we want (there is no one here to bother us), we mosey on down the road to Rhyolite, Nevada, a gold mining ghost town that boomed and busted between 1904 to 1920.

At it’s peak in 1908, Rhyolite had a population of 8,000. By 1920, when the gold had petered out, the population stood at 14.

The post office, the bank, the store, the school, all were abandoned.

Can you imagine living in a desert that reached the hottest temperature on earth with no AC?


One home, built in 1905, was constructed almost entirely of 50,000 beer bottles. It is one of the most well preserved buildings in the ghost town.

You can see the bottle details in this section of wall. You could sing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall,” in this house, and actually be counting! For more on this unusual home see : http://www.nbmog.org/bottlehouse.html

Cheers to you from the fun to explore and always mysterious Mojave ~

218 thoughts on “Belgium in the Mojave~

      • In 1967 I visited “Architecture of USA” exhibition and the first time in my life saw the house have been built from the bottles. The uniqueness of that house was in no need of AC because the air is the most effective insulator from heat and cold .
        I can imagine how interesting to visit the place from your post.

        • I wondered about this. Whether the bottles provided effective insulation. It makes sense that they do. I know this house was made from adobe and bottles so it could expand and contract with temperature changes without breaking the glass. When people tried to repair the house with concrete, the bottles broke. How remarkable that you went to such an exhibition Alexander.

  1. Cindy – what a marvelous place to explore. A reminder that what was still has stories to tell us. I really enjoyed meandering with you. Thank you! Hugs and more hugs!

  2. With the quality of the photos, of those wonderful places, everything your eyes see is fascinating. We enjoyed it from a distance with its excellent description of the trip. Health

    • People who do creative things like these artists and the bottle house builder are inspiring. I love to be surprised by their genius. Thank you for your kind appreciation Sheila <3

  3. Perhaps the settlers spent the summer days in the mines where it was cooler? I can’t imagine living in that heat and what about a water source? Pioneer/prospectors were made of tough stuff!

  4. Going by the title, I thought at first I would see a photo of you in the Mojave eating Belgian chocolates. I love the artwork, especially the weird “people” by the bench. I suppose the walls of the little house were built as the beer was consumed. Understandable, since it would have been hot work. Great post.

  5. We visited Rhyolite with family from the area some years ago. We should keep boom-bust cycles in mind when building something that we expect to be sustained for generations, especially in challenging environments.

  6. Hey Cindy,

    Always curious to know a little more, the gold-mining town of Rhyolite – named after the area’s unique volcanic rock – came and went in the space of about 14 years between 1905 and 1919 after gold was found in The Bullfrog Hills. At its peak, it is thought upwards of 2,500 people lived in Rhyolite, which boasted schools, bars, shops, and an opera house. What is left is but a skeleton of its former past: building materials were removed and used elsewhere to construct other towns and mining communities. Rhyolite remains one of the most photographed Ghost Towns in the States and has been used as a backdrop for many films. I is by all accounts, both a scenic, and a hauntingly eerie place….perhaps such a feeling motivated the Belgium artists when they fashioned those spectral figures in hooded white garb.

    I’m rather taken by the figures set about the wooden bench. I imagine the one pair od legs sat on the bench would, depending on one’s orientation (and approach) to the bench, appear to fit all three figures whose legless bodies are actually behind the bench backrest? It’s a clever optical illusion: like a desert mirage perhaps that expands upon the ghost theme.

    But whatever, it’s a fascinating place to behold. Thank you for sharing part of it here.

    DN

    • I wish I could beam you over Dewin. I would love to see what your awesome imagination would lead you to write. There were other ghostly figures, including one with a bicycle, that was especially arresting to me which I didn’t include for brevity’s sake. You pass this open air museum enroute to the ghost town cemetery so the ghostly figures seem eerily appropriate. I noticed the legs and high heels too. My interpretation was that the ladies gams were getting ghostly attention! Cheers to you Dewin and thank you for your always fascinating thoughts.

      • The hypothetical notion of teleportation appeals to me no end Cindy! Whether travelling to Death Valley, or indeed any of the fantastical places you visit in the world, all could be reached within a split second: just imagine stepping through a doorway and taking a stroll on a sun-drenched white-sandy beach during a coffee-break at work…15 minutes rest-bite from an overcast, early January morning would be addictive! Someone really needs to invent it don’t they!? 😀

        I imagine one has to actually be in Death Valley, and spend some time there, to fully appreciate its unique character. Immersion in the environment is after-all food for the writer’s soul. It’s yet another place on the (growing) bucket-list of places I need to visit.

        I had a quick look on-line and found an image of the Ghost and Bicycle. It is especially eerie! Arresting is the certainly a great word to describe it. They appear to be made slightly larger than life, which no doubt enhances their physical presence and surreal, ethereal nature. I like the way the fabric of their being appears as if wind-blown and fluttering.

        I think you may be right in your interpretation of the group gathered around the bench. The seated lady certainly seems to be receiving a lot of attention from those discombobulated, prospecting gentleman who, no doubt, have either had a little too much sun or drank far too many bottles of beer constructing that house to notice she is currently headless! 😀

        Undoubtedly there are stories here to be told!

        DN

        • Cracking up….Some demented souls actually prefer their females with no brains, or so I have heard. Can’t you just imagine a whole army of ghosts on wheeless bicycles gliding through the desert on a moon rich night! I would lock the door at the Inn and hide under the bed…..unless of course the moon afforded decent photo opportunities.

          • They say there is a special someone for everyone, and if headless, or air-headed, is your ideal bag then good luck is what I say! 😀

            You’ve a very vivid imagination Cindy, a wonderful wit. and an eager eye for a photo opportunity 😀 Ghost Riders indeed! That would be quite a sight wouldn’t it and make for one hell of a picture! But joking aside, one might well wonder if that is what ghosts actually do in Death Valley (during their leisure time) when they aren’t standing about being statues for tourists to photograph!

            Thanks for the chuckle 😀

            DN

  7. I don’t think I’ve visited Death Valley since I was pretty young (way before the Goldwell Open Air Museum was created). Looks like I should put it on my to-see list. What time of year were you there? I remember it being quite hot, but we probably were there closer to summer.

  8. My expectation of a desert is what Frank Herbert described in Dune: seemingly endless, barren dunes rarely broken by harsh rocks/mountains. Seeing a museum in a desert is… most unexpected 🙂

    • Well said, it is quite original and evocative. There is another ghostly figure with a bicycle which I almost wish I included because it so struck me, a ghost on a bike! But, I already was well over my self imposed photo limit.

  9. I’m not good with heat so have never been there. Have driven through the Mojave Desert often enough but wouldn’t get out of the car unless forced. Now I’ll have to rethink that. Great photos of interesting structures and art! Hope you had a wonderfilled Christmas and a very happy New Year.

  10. OH, you’re bringing back memories from my brain’s archives! Rhyolite, the Oasis Inn, and the park itself are so unique, but the art pieces really were unexpected and make for interesting conversation and photographic subjects. Your images are wonderful! Thank you for bringing back the memories, and sharing your images.

    • You are most welcome and I am happy you enjoyed. I am so glad you have experienced Death Valley and environs for yourself. It really needs the full sensory experience.

  11. Absolutely amazing photos Cindy, Loved those white statues and the house of beer bottles.. fascinating museum. Have a wonderful 2020 dear Cindy, Have fun in your travels and explorations. Stay Blessed.. <3

  12. Once again, you have taken me on a unique journey.
    You have rare and wonderful talents that go hand in hand
    (writing and photography) and I feel blessed to have found
    your blog. What a joy!

  13. The open-air museum is really cool! It’s mind-boggling that within 12 years Rhyolite’s population went from 8,000 to 14. I can’t imagine how anyone could live in this environment without AC. Oh, and the bottle house is really interesting, gonna visit the link you provided. Thanks Cindy!!

    • Yes, so was I, and the guy who built it, named Kelley, ran a town pub, and built two other bottles houses. It seems there are excellent insulation. Quite a prescient person.

  14. I love Szukalski’s ghosts! They tend to pop up in the most unexpected places, like looking down from the roof of a not too tall appartment building in the city… 😉 Or, like in your case, in the middle of nowhere… 😀
    No idea who the others are… do you have their names?

      • Hugo Heyrmann, Fred Bervoets, Dre Peeters are from Belgium… David Spicer ? Found a bunch of them, among others a rugby player… 🙂 The only one that might (doubtfully) fit in could be the jewel maker among them… ? He seems to be from your side of the ocean. Sofie Siegmann is from Albany, CA… To have a bit of background… 😉

        • That sounds right because I heard there were four founders from Belgium. You might want to contact the museum website for more info. My husband met the guy who we think inherited the museum at the site. I was too busy taking photos!

  15. Now this (these) would make the drive almost insignificant. I think I’ve past my chance, but I really do enjoy the experiences you share. Broadens my mid-western perspective.

    • Ah, thank you for your kindness. My parents and grandparents are from Chicago (and very proud of it) and my husband and family from Iowa City (and very proud of it), Knoke Iowa too…Knoke is not a big town, laughing… The midwest is wonderful and I love to broaden my perspective when I visit your part of the world. But, I hear you about the distance…..if you do undertake a long drive to a place I post about, please talk to me before you go so I can try to make it worth your effort.

    • Yes, the same happens to me. I think the reader limits how many posts you can view, blogs you can see. It would be nice if they informed us of the limitations in the interest of transparency.

  16. Wow, Maybe building house out of beer bottles would be a way to house the homeless!!!
    Fun and fascinating post. You bring me the world of nature and interesting art. Thanks.

    • I hear the bottles make wonderful insulation from both heat and cold. We definitely need to do more to house the homeless. Using recycled materials to build energy efficient homes sounds like a very good idea.

  17. “Ninety nine bottles of beer on the wall…” I will have that song in my head all day. The house is amazing. I’m headed over to click on the link. And the couch must provide a beautiful view against the stark landscape. Fabulous, Cindy!!

  18. This is really fascinating! Thank you for sharing your experience, I feel like I have been there too. I love that house made of glass bottles, it makes me want to make a house of bottles myself. 🙂

      • Yes, it must be what they did instead of recycling. On the website you linked to it said the town funeral director made a house out of embalming bottles. What a great idea. It makes me want to build a house out of bottles. 🙂

  19. In the 80s I had to go to Death Valley a couple times a year for work. There is a small Native American tribe that has its HQ in the park. Unfortunately, because of the high hotel rates higher than my per diem, I usually had to go in the summer. Hence, I never took the time to explore the area much more than driving through. 118 degrees was just to much for sight seeing. 🙂

    • How interesting that must have been and yes, they are The Timbasha, a small group of Shoshone located at Furnace Creek. We visited them several times to eat their wonderful fry bread and I got leads from them to find the wild donkeys.
      They have battled with the National Park Service to have some of their ancestral lands returned to them and finally succeeded in getting 7,000 acres in 2000. Here is what Wiki says:
      “Despite their federal tribal recognition and diminutive 1982 reservation, the Timbisha still faced difficulty and conflict with the Death Valley National Park’s National Park Service in regaining more of their ancestral lands within the Park. After much tribal effort, federal politics, and mutual compromise, the Timbisha Shoshone Homeland Act of 2000 finally returned 7,500 acres (30 km2) of ancestral homelands to the Timbisha Shoshone tribe.[3] Currently the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe consists of around 300 members, usually 50 of whom live at the Death Valley Indian Community at Furnace Creek within Death Valley National Park. Many members spend the summers at Lone Pine in the Owens Valley to the west.”

      • Hey. Great info. So glad they finally acquired land. When I worked in the grant program that provided funds to the tribe, it had the small settlement in the park. The tribal chairwoman was a determined leader.

  20. I did not know any of this existed. I have Nevada on my radar as a place to visit, and these sites are definitely included on the list. Thank you pointing them out.

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