Christmas in Rhyolite, Nevada
By S.D. Gates
She had always wanted to visit the collection of sculptures in Rhyolite, Nevada – always. But Rhyolite is so far out of the way from anything, it’s about 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas, on a paved, but very bumpy road, which winds its way through a landscape littered with Joshua trees, desert sage and interesting rock formations. It is about 4 miles outside of Beatty, Nevada, but really that doesn’t serve as much of a point of reference, as probably 99.99% of the world’s population doesn’t know where Beatty, Nevada is either. Suffice it to say – Rhyolite is in the middle of desert, in the middle of nowhere.
With a love of all things strange; strange buildings, strange art formations, strange landmarks, she was always searching for the new, but old. She was drawn to ghost towns such as a nail is to a magnet. To her, it was like walking back into the past, seeing the old, decaying buildings, and wondering – why people would think the site they built their town on, was a good site, and considering – why they left it as they did.
In fact, it was while researching ghost towns, that she stumbled across some photos of Rhyolite, and the collection of statues nearby. Eerie, white statues, set against the backdrop of the desert. How strange, that a group of artists should have thought this was a good place to erect these statues, out in the middle of nowhere. And so on a trip back from Las Vegas, she decided that she would take a detour off the I-15, and head north to the town of Rhyolite.
After what seemed like hours and hours of being jostled about in her little car, she questioned her sanity in taking such a trip, without letting anyone know. She had spoken with her family the night before, and as far as they knew, she was hurtling her way towards them. It was Christmas eve, they were expecting her. There were traditions that must be adhered to, such as reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and watching “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”, traditions which hadn’t been deviated from in years. They knew nothing of the side trip upon which she had embarked. She knew she should stop and text them, at least to let them know what she was up to, but she felt she couldn’t stop. She was being to pulled to this site, where the creepy white sculptures stood, alone in the desert.
It was late afternoon, when she finally arrived in the town of Rhyolite. And as she pulled into the area, by the Visitor Center, she hit an exceptionally large pothole, and felt the back end of her car bottom out. Anxious to get out and explore, she thought nothing of the huge bang of metal, as her back end cleared the hole.
The town itself wasn’t that fascinating, nothing like the ghost town in Bodie, California. She wasn’t disheartened though, as she had really come to see the Goldwell Open Air Art Museum. The lady in Visitor Center was locking up for the day, and shouted out towards her, “We are closing up, it’s getting late. You should leave soon, it gets dark around here quickly – and I would not want to be navigating these roads at night.”
Our friend, who should almost be home to see her family, but wasn’t – nodded, and waved good-bye to the Visitor Center lady. She watched her drive off in her rugged sports utility vehicle, her lights being swallowed up by the rapidly approaching dusk and the dust disturbed by the motion of the truck. With the Visitor Center lady’s departure – she stood in the empty parking lot and considered her next move. She honestly had no idea why she was still there, surrounded by disemboweled buildings, and white statues with their heads bent, staring below their hoods at her. Going against everything she knew was rational and responsible she walked back to the row of white statues and took one last look.
She could feel them staring back at her, eyes unseen, hidden behind the voluminous hoods of their flowing cloaks, their arms outstretched, beseeching her to stay, not to go. She felt that they might actually be alive, but in a suspended motion, She sensed this about mannequins in the clothing stores, she was sure there were souls trapped within the plastic confines of the mannequin – they had a presence, which most inanimate objects did not.
Reluctantly, she walked back to her car. With her seat belt on, she started the car, but it idled for just a minute, sputtered and then died. She tried again – the lights turned on, the starter of the engine clicked, clicked, clicked – but the engine would not start. In a panic, she scanned her gauges and realized with a sinking heart – she didn’t have any gas. This was strange, she thought, with her heart now beating loudly in her ears – she had a full tank when she turned off the I-15. And with a sudden recall of the pothole and the loud metallic bang underneath her car, she knew what had happened. Getting out of her car and walking around to the side with the gas tank, she smelled gas. The rock must have punctured a hole in her gas tank and allowed the gas to pour our. Touching the sand under her car – it was damp. Her gas had escaped from the hole – and she was now stranded.
She pulled her phone out of her back pocket, there was no signal. Not one bar. She got out of her car, and holding her phone up towards the heavens, she walked around the property, searching desperately for an area where the elusive bar would pop up on the screen of her phone and muttering the whole time, “Please, please, please, let there be a single bar.” But that did not happen. And with a sinking heart, she walked to her car, clambered in, and sat, with her forehead against the steering wheel, and cried.
By now, the sun had disappeared behind the mountains in the distance, and with a final brilliant show of colors spanning out across the skies, had disappeared and then it was dark.
But then, the moon appeared, and it was bright, brilliantly bright. Despite her awful circumstances, she couldn’t help but lean forward towards the steering wheel, and stare up at the skies, through the front window shield. The stars scattered across the skies and glittered, like a multitude of silver sequins on a dark blue evening gown and the moon shone brighter than she ever, ever remembered.
And as she sat there, staring up at the skies, dazzled by the beauty, she caught a movement out of the corner of her eye. She averted her stare, toward the figures on the wooden platform, and stared intently, scanning and searching for any twitch, any slight motion, she half-heartedly convinced herself it was just a figment of her imagination, possibly because of the duress she felt. She stared so hard, without blinking, until her eyes burned, from being tired, from being frightened, from being fascinated.
And then, there was a movement. She was sure of it. Without moving a muscle, she continued to stare, and then each statue moved, lowering their arms. The three statues frozen in a sitting position, slowly rose to a standing position. All the white robed statues now turned to their left in unison and walked in a line off the wooden plank. One right after another stepped off that wooden platform and slowly marched towards her car.
Now at this moment, she knew rationally – she should have been petrified. But she wasn’t. It was because of these statues, she had made this side trip. This is why the gas had leaked from her tank and left her stranded, in this out of the way, isolated place. And now these white robed statues, whose robes glowed in the bright moonlight, moved towards her car, and before she knew what she was doing, she climbed out of the car, and walked towards them, as they continued to approached.
The now mobile statues, circled around her. She watched as their robes swirled with their movement. They stopped, all facing her. The tallest statue – moved to the center of the circle, and spreading his arms wide open, he moved closer, and engulfed her body in his embrace. And then the most vivid images flashed in front of her eyes – Christmas as a child – the umbrella she received as a present, and she took proudly to the beach on Christmas Day. She felt the warmth of the sun, she smelled the brine in the ocean air, she felt the thrill of being a child, running in the sand. The statue released his embrace, and backed into his position in the circle. The next statue spread his arms, and embraced her and she saw the snow falling, and saw the Christmas tree in the window. She felt the chill in the air, and the excitement in her heart, the anticipation of Christmas morning. And each statue hugged her, and progressed through her more memorable Christmases – the time she was all alone, the time her first born spent Christmas in the hospital, the time she spent with her Grandmother, and her British relatives – playing charades, eating Christmas pudding. And through all of this she felt so loved, and she realized what an extraordinary life she had led, and how she had been so honored and privileged to have so many uniquely wonderful people around her.
And when every statue, had shown her a part of her life, they broke from the circle and returned to their platform. She walked back to her car, and climbed into the back, and under her coat, fell into a deep slumber. When she awoke the sun was shining, and her companions from the night before had returned to their assigned positions. She remembered it was Christmas Day and she was not home. She knew her family was sick with worry, and she must get back to them. She needed to start the trek to Beatty – the nearest town, so she could call her family, and let them know, she was coming home, one way or another.
But before she left – she went into the trunk of her car, and pulled out boxes of Christmas decorations she had purchased at the outlet mall while in Las Vegas. And after walking over to the statues, she placed an ornament on each statue, and whispered thank-you – to each and every one of them.
As she walked away from Rhyolite, away from the statues, she stopped and turned back to wave at them. Their ornaments glistened in the morning sun, sending shards of colored light onto their white robes. She wasn’t sure – but she thought the statues stood taller, and they held their heads higher.
She turned towards the road, heading to Beatty, heading to her life and her family. She would never, ever forget the Christmas Eve she spent in Rhyolite, Nevada.
About the author:
SD Gates has been blogging for about 3 years now. She loves all things strange and different. And she is always, always honored to write for her blogging friend, Solveig’s Advent Calendar.