Death Valley Part III: Scotty's Castle
We left the Stovepipe Wells area and drove toward the northern end of Death Valley to visit Scotty's Castle. Scotty's Castle is a two-story Spanish-style villa built by millionaire Albert Johnson as a vacation home in the 1920's.
The next tour of the castle was scheduled to begin about 20 minutes after we arrived, so we had a few minutes to look around the grounds. The next photo shows the guest house.
And the next photo shows the stable. On display in the stable are several old vehicles including the 1938 Dodge sedan that once belonged to Death Valley Scotty, for whom the house was named. We'll tell you all about Scotty shortly. Margery even found a seat carved from solid stone. When our tour began we entered the courtyard between the main house (left) and the annex, and sat on benches in a shady alcove at the far end on the right. Our tour guide, who was really a ranger in period costume, was an excellent story teller. She began with a background and history of the people and events behind Scotty's Castle.
And the next photo shows the stable.
On display in the stable are several old vehicles including the 1938 Dodge sedan that once belonged to Death Valley Scotty, for whom the house was named. We'll tell you all about Scotty shortly.
Margery even found a seat carved from solid stone.
When our tour began we entered the courtyard between the main house (left) and the annex, and sat on benches in a shady alcove at the far end on the right.
Our tour guide, who was really a ranger in period costume, was an excellent story teller. She began with a background and history of the people and events behind Scotty's Castle.
Scotty's Castle was built by Albert and Bessie Johnson. Albert Johnson was from a prominent, wealthy family in Ohio, and Bessie was the daughter of a wealthy fruit and nut rancher from California. Although he was trained as a civil engineer, Albert Johnson made his fortune in insurance. Albert Johnson married Bessie in 1896.
As a civil engineer Albert had an interest in mining. He also had a strong interest in the west and dreamed of being a cowboy. After successfully investing in a lead and zinc mine, Albert convinced his father to accompany him out west in 1899 to investigate other mining claims for further investment.
trip the train on which Albert and his father were riding was
rear-ended by another train. Albert's father was killed, and Albert
suffered a broken back. The doctors initially thought Albert would die; but when he didn't, the doctors told him he would be permanently paralyzed below the waist. Fortunately, Albert made a miraculous
recovery and within 18 months was able to walk, albeit with a limp. He also had some other physical limitations.
Following his recovery, Albert and Bessie moved to Chicago.
Albert Johnson was approached in 1904 by an intermediary for Walter Scott, a.k.a. Death Valley Scotty. Scotty was an interesting character. He was a cowboy, a prospector, a performer with Buffalo Bill's Wild West, and somewhat of a con man. He was known for having supposedly discovered a mysterious gold mine in Death Valley. He also was good at soliciting wealthy investors to "grubstake" his mining operation.
Johnson and another man agreed to invest in Scotty's fictional mine.
After a few years of receiving no return on his investment, Albert
decided to visit Scotty's mine. Of course, Scotty had no mine, so he and
his friends concocted a scheme to stage a mock bandit attack to scare
off Albert. When Scotty's brother was accidentally shot in the fake
robbery, Scotty had to call off the ruse.
Albert realized he had been duped; but he still he wanted
to believe in the mine, and he continued to visit Scotty in Death
Valley. By visiting Death Valley he could in some way fulfill his dream of being a cowboy. The hot, dry climate seemed to improve his health, and the experiences helped relieve the depression that resulted from his earlier accident. He eventually forgave Scotty for bilking him out of his
money, and he and Scotty became friends. In fact, Albert continued to bankroll Scotty.
In 1915, Albert bought a ranch in Grapevine Canyon, which is a side canyon off Death Valley toward the northern end. The following year he built a small shack that he and Scotty used for camping. Eventually, Bessie became curious about Death Valley, and she began to accompany Albert on his winter trips.
Bessie, however, was appalled at having to sleep on the ground or in a dirty shack with snakes, scorpions and spiders. So in 1922, Albert Johnson began constructing what was to become Scotty's Castle.
After our history lesson, we entered the great room. Everything in the castle is original including the clothes still hanging in the closets!
The fireplaces at each end of the great room are surrounded by decorative ceramic tiles made in Spain.
And there is a massive chandelier hanging from the two-story, redwood ceiling.
During the tour, our guide continued her story about the house and about interesting relationship between Albert Johnson and Scotty. Although the
official name of Death Valley Ranch is carved over the door, the mansion
has always been known as Scotty's Castle. Scotty was a flamboyant story teller. He had convinced everyone he had built the castle with gold from his mine. Scotty told everyone Mr. Johnson was his banker. Albert Johnson didn't seem to mind and allowed the stories to continue.
Albert even installed whimsical, prospector weathervanes in Scotty's honor.
Not only didn't Scotty's Castle belong to Scotty, it isn't a real castle either. Although elaborately decorated inside and designed to look like stone outside, the walls are stucco over a wooden frame.
Although Scotty had a room at the castle, he didn't sleep there. The Johnsons were devout believers and had too many rules for Scotty, like no drinking or smoking. Albert built a 5-room cabin for Scotty about 5 miles away on property known as Lower Vine Ranch. Scotty would go to the castle to help entertain guests with his outrageous stories. After dinner, he would retire to his room, which had a door to the outside. He would slip out and drive to his own cabin to spend the night, then he would return in the morning in time to change clothes (the housekeeping staff at the castle would do his laundry) and have breakfast. The next photo shows Scotty's room.
Scotty liked to cook, and the castle had a well equipped kitchen complete with more Spanish tile.
The kitchen even had a refrigeration unit installed in the icebox. The ranch had a spring that produced 300 gallons of water a minute, and Albert used some of the water to power a water wheel to generate electricity.
Albert built a library at the castle because he loved to read. However, Albert eventually converted the library into a dining room. Scotty would eat beforehand in the kitchen so he could sit in the corner and entertain guests with his stories while they dined.
Work on the castle slowed with the start of the Depression. In 1930, President Herbert Hoover named Death Valley a national monument, after which it was discovered the Johnsons had built their ranch on land that wasn't theirs due to an earlier surveying error. When that was discovered, all work on the castle ceased. In fact, in the first photo showing the outside of Scotty's Castle, the weedy patch below the wall in front of the house is the unfinished swimming pool.
After much negotiation, the government finally allowed the Johnsons purchase the land their house was sitting on in exchange for conducting tours of the house and renting out rooms to tourists. The annex on the opposite side of the courtyard from the main house is where the the guest rooms are located that were rented out. Rooms rented for $45 a night, which was a lot of money back in the 1930s; but guests didn't seem to mind because the rent included meals which also included Scotty's famous stories.
After the death of Bessie in 1943, Albert wasn't as interested in staying at the castle, and he attempted to sell it to the Government. The Johnsons had no heirs due to Albert's injuries. However, the United States was in WWII at the time and had no funds with which to purchase a castle. Albert created a charitable organization called the Gospel Foundation receive all his assets, to care for him until his death, and to care for his property after his death. Albert died in 1948, and the foundation continued to rent rooms afterward. The Government eventually bought the castle from the foundation in 1970.
Death Valley Scotty died in 1954 and is buried on the hill overlooking Scotty's Castle.
Albert and Scotty had a very unique friendship that lasted for 40+ years for such diverse backgrounds. Albert loved to read. Scotty's education ended when he left home when he was 11. However, Albert always wanted to be a cowboy, and Scotty always wanted to be rich. Through their friendship, they both were able to realize their dream.When we left Scotty's Castle we had one more thing we wanted to see in the northern part of Death Valley. Ubehebe (YOU-bee-HEE-bee) Crater is located about 8 miles northwest of the castle. Ubehebe, which is the largest of several craters in Death Valley, is about 500 feet across and almost 800 feet deep. It was created by steam explosions that occurred when hot magma reached the water table. The entire area is covered by a layer of cinders up to 150 feet thick, most of which came from Ubehebe.
We left Ubehebe and drove back up Grapevine Canyon and through Grapevine Pass out of Death Valley. The road intersects with U. S. Route 95 about 30 miles north of the campground, so is was a fairly quick trip back to the motor home from there. We still have more to see in Death Valley, so look for our next post.