It was a beautiful day on our second day for the park, as we drove north first on U.S.95 thirty five miles to SR267 and entered the park from there.
The road wound through another picturesque canyon
that opened up into an oasis of green.
We had arrived at Scotty’s Castle. Anytime recently when we mentioned plans to visit Death Valley, the first thing everyone said was, “Be sure to see Scotty’s Castle”. After this morning, we knew why.
This place is amazing, truly a mansion, even by today’s standards, out in the middle of “nowhere”. Two ranger led tours are available, one takes you through the mansion, and the other takes you into the tunnels beneath the mansion to explore the elaborate technology incorporated for the structure when it was built in the 1930’s.
We took the mansion tour, and were fortunate to have Chris as a guide on our own personal tour. Hint: when you go, aim for the first tour of the morning… otherwise, you may be waiting an hour or longer just to get on a tour.
Chris was dressed as a tourist might have been visiting Scotty’s Castle in the decade after it was built. He played the part well, telling us countless stories about the charming rogue, Scotty, and how his lies caused the mansion to be built.
I won’t attempt to retell the stories Chris told us, but in a nutshell, Scotty (Walter Scott) after years of working in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, moved to the Death Valley area to try his hand at gold prospecting. Having no luck at locating a vein, he decided to weave a web of tales about the fantastic gold mine he had to interest prosperous investors.
One such investor he nabbed was Albert Johnson.
During a trip west to inspect his investment, Albert soon realized that Scotty had lied about having a gold mine (the way he found out was a comedic story in itself), but instead of being furious, he fell under the charms of Scotty. Albert loved the Death Valley oasis, and he and his wife, Bessie decided to build a summer home there. They more or less “adopted” Scotty, and let him continue deceiving others (and perhaps by then, almost himself) with the notion that he was rich from his gold strike. When he began to refer to the property as Scotty’s Castle, they did nothing to correct him. Perhaps, they just did not want to be in the limelight, as Bessie especially was a very religious person and wanted nothing about her to imply conceit. Her photo was never displayed in the house for that reason. More of the story can be found on several websites, including this one by the National Park Service.
And now, for our pictoral tour of the Castle :
Scotty’s Bedroom, although it is said he never slept in it, preferring instead to slip out the outside door to his rustic cabin a few miles away.
Another Sitting Room. What appears to be a fireplace is actually an indoor waterfall fountain (one of at least 2 in the house).
Another room includes several musical instruments, including this player piano. Neither the Johnson’s or Scotty played music, although several instruments are located in the home, many of them “self-playing”.
The Formal Dining Room includes an impressive display of the China created just for the castle.
Note the J and S (Johnson and Scott) and the DVR in the center (Death Valley Ranch). Scotty rarely ate with guests…instead, he sat in his armchair in the corner of the room, regaling them with stories throughout the meal.
The Kitchen was state of the art at the time, functional, yet with a Spanish touch of beauty.
The Bedrooms are upstairs. I love this daybed.
The Master Bedroom was also the Johnson’s Study.
The center of the house is open floor to ceiling, while the upstairs rooms surround the perimeter. A chandelier hangs above the living room amongst the huge timbers.
One of the Guest Bedrooms
Looking down from the breezeway
The coverlets were heavily embroidered.
The last room we entered was an impressive music room.
Remember, the Johnsons did not know how to play musical instruments. This was the first player organ I had ever seen. It seemed to be the musical equivalent of our modern keyboards. With over 1,100 pipes and a number of other instruments including a calliope, drums, glockenspiel, castanets, and chirping birds, the Johnsons could use any of over 400 rolls to fill Scotty’s Castle with music. It could even be set to play the outside chimes in the bell tower.
The circular staircase carries you back down and finishes the official tour. There is more to see outside.
Looking down from the stables.
The stables house several antique vehicles.
The water for the estate comes from springs that run continually providing a flow of 200 gallons per minute.
These gas pumps sit outside the visitor center.
A huge divided pool was started, but never finished due to the start of the war and lack of funds. It was to have been lined with thousands of Spanish tile, still stored in the underground tunnels.
The Spanish influence is evident throughout the grounds.
Still reigning over all is Scotty from his grave, marked only by a simple cross, high on the hill above the castle.
While Scotty never found his fortune in gold, he along with the Johnsons discovered other riches in death Valley. They found luxury and comfort in their luxurious home, beauty and tranquility in the serene desert and a lifelong friendship with each other.
Leaving the castle, we drove to the Ubehebe Crater. About 2000 years ago, rising magma often created extreme steam pressure until finally the ground exploded, creating a huge crater in the land. The explosion spewed shattered rock over a six square mile area here, in some areas to a depth of 150 feet, creating the largest of such craters in the area. Ubehebe Crater is a half mile across and about 500 feet deep. The crater was impressive, but the cold wind was so strong, we stayed only long enough to get photos.
We were glad we saw the park in the order we did, as today’s drive through it was not nearly as scenic as yesterdays. The miles stretched on….
…past alluvial fans and formations…
you can see the wind in the clouds and dust devils….
We had avoided the dirt/gravel roads, but wanted to walk the Salt Creek Interpretive Trail, and didn’t realize it was such a road until it was too late to turn around on the narrow lane.
Most people imagine Death Valley to be an arid wasteland, devoid of water and life, and a great portion of it truly is. But here you find a stream flowing on the valley floor, more than 200 feet below sea level. More surprising is to find it populated with the rare Salt Creek Pupfish, a tiny fish little more than an inch in length. The stream originates from brackish springs and becomes increasingly salty as it flows and evaporates until it becomes more saline than seawater.
An elevated boardwalk enables you to walk alongside the stream without damaging it or the surrounding area.
We were soon spotting dozens of the pupfish, so called because of their playful appearing movements.
Toward the end of the walk we noticed a professional photographer taking photos with a monstrous lens of something across the stream. When I enquired, she said she was taking bird photos. We finally spotted this killdeer with her young.