Regret for Rhyolite Ridge

Rhyolite Ridge Last Ray

Rhyolite Ridge, Esmeralda County, Nevada, currently threatened by an open pit lithium mining proposal

Update, 9-16-20:

LAS VEGAS— Conservationists discovered over the weekend that someone had dug up and destroyed more than 17,000 Tiehm’s buckwheat plants… As much as 40% of the flower’s global population, which exists on just 21 acres in western Nevada, may have been destroyed… An Australian mining company, Ioneer Corp., has proposed an open-pit lithium mine that would destroy the vast majority of Tiehm’s buckwheat’s habitat.

Never put off visiting or photographing a place you’re drawn to if you can help it. I learned recently that a Nevada landscape I was very fond of visiting is in the crosshairs of an open pit lithium mine proposal. I knew some exploration had happened in the dry lake bed down below, and I had heard of a controversy nearby, but I had it confused with a spot on the much less pristine east side of the Silver Peak Range. If this project goes through, the view above will see its lower ridges largely destroyed and chemical processing facilities added to the left.

The proposed mine location is in the northern Silver Peak Range in Esmeralda County, Nevada, in the midst of a string of very scenic and geologically interesting roadless areas: the Silver Peak Wilderness Study Area to the south, the (stunningly colorful) Emigrant Peak area to the north, and the Rhyolite Ridge area itself immediately adjacent. The scenery here is in many ways comparable to Death Valley, though it’s almost completely unknown. The northeast end of Fishlake Valley is generally a quiet place, with a little ranching, a little hot springing and little four-wheeling, but natural and beautiful overall. Nearby areas are known for impressive fossils and petrified wood.

Rhyolite Ridge Face

North face of Rhyolite Ridge

Lithium: we need it. I get that. Any way you slice it, a more sustainable future of renewable energy is going to need lots and lots of batteries and that means lithium. That’s why there are nearly 10,000 lithium claims in Nevada right now, plus a few projects in Utah and California. Although the Center for Biological Diversity has achieved some protections for a rare wild buckwheat species found in the Rhyolite Ridge area,  that agreement has not stopped plans to develop the mine. Even if this mine fails to come together, it will eventually be replaced by some other project in some other beautiful desert landscape, just as we currently get most of our lithium from beautiful landscapes in South America. Our appetites have consequences.


Rhyolite Ridge from the northeast. We used to get our Christmas trees up here. The proposed mine would be downhill and out of this view, but access and natural character of the area would be profoundly affected.

I always wanted to do some serious photography around Rhyolite Ridge, but I always put it off. The images you see here are simply fortuitous grab shots I found in my archives from times when I was passing by. They’re not really up to my standards, and they barely scratch the surface of the area’s photography potential. I wish I could say I was planning a trip to correct my past neglect, but such a journey is not in the cards for me this year.

Always seize what moments you can, especially in desolate and untrammeled landscapes. As we continue the shift to renewable energy, almost every place will become a potential resource, whether it’s for rare minerals or simply as open space to site wind and solar installations. Many landscapes will be lost in the coming years.

Rhyolite Ridge from Fishlake Valley

Rhyolite Ridge area from northern Fishlake Valley. Mining operations would be located in the foothills to the right of the image.

4 thoughts on “Regret for Rhyolite Ridge

  1. I hope you get a reprieve, Jackson. Lithium prices are in the basement at the moment. Lots of lithium miners going under especially in Australia. But the cycle will turn – China is funding lots of the marginal mines and acting as offtaker of last resort. EV is coming but until the infrastructure is there and battery life improves it won’t replace the ICE completely. There is no easy answer if we want to keep our cars.

    • Thanks, Andrew. A lot of the boom in Nevada’s lithium claims is surely sheer speculation. I believe that this project is one of two in Nevada that seem like they’re seriously pushing forward in the near term. The only mine in the U.S. that actually produces serious lithium is on the other side of this range (there’s been a lot more activity over there the last 4-5 years), and they like that these locations are relatively close to Tesla’s factory in Reno. I know these things don’t happen overnight and there are any number of things that can derail a proposed mine. But I wish this land had a constituency. Very few people have any idea what’s out there.

  2. I have often thought of the mountainous terrain near and around Yucca Mountain (visible when you drive along 95 through Amargosa Valley) as a photographic goldmine. Unfortunately that area is off-limits as well.

    • Yes, there would be great stuff out there. My wife got to tour the test site once, which sounded fascinating, but no cameras allowed. There is a fair buffer of public land along much of the highway, though. I always meant to stop sometime and shoot the Striped Hills by Amargosa Junction. I did manage to spend an evening next to Bare Mountain once – spectacular place!

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