Summer Travel Map

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Travel Stop: Scotty’s Castle

Scotty’s Castle is a historic site managed by the National Park Service in the northeast corner of Death Valley National Park. We visited during March on a day trip from nearby (a relative term in these parts) Pahrump, Nevada.

Death Valley Ranch, also known as Scotty's Castle, was built in stages from 1922 until well into the 1930s.

Like many popular sites, it's often difficult to get photos without tourists in them. :-)

Several Joshua Trees are found on the property, but they were probably
imported as they don't appear to be native to Death Valley.

We visited in March, and the Joshua Trees were ready to bloom.

Actually named Death Valley Ranch, the property was built in the 1920s and 1930s in a blend of Mission Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival styles. Many of the materials were sourced from well beyond the local area, but were purposefully blended in to create an aura of authenticity. 

The main gate shows the attention to detail and craftsmanship involved.

The dinner bell was used to alert guests to meal times.

Much of the iron work was actually fabricated in Los Angeles and shipped in by rail.

When you take a tour of Scotty’s Castle, you quickly learn that most everything you might think is probably wrong. Walter Scott, the guy the place is named after, was a master storyteller and con man. He convinced a couple from Chicago that he had a gold mine on the property (nope) and told so many people stories about “his” castle (not his) that it eventually took on his name.

Docents in 1930s costume “channel” the personas of people actually involved in the development and maintenance of the property “back in the day” and do an excellent job of describing the history of the place in a very entertaining way. 

The docent on our House Tour (center, right) was narrating from the point of view
of a newspaper reporter sharing what he learned while writing an article about Scotty's Castle.

Originally developed as a vacation home, Death Valley Ranch became a destination resort
after the Great Depression left the developers, Albert and Bessie Johnson, in financial difficulty.

Depression or not, the Johnsons still managed to "get by". Several collectible vehicles were used on the property.

The interior blended "rustic" with elegant, and incorporated some innovative design elements.
The stone wall in the lower left of this picture was turned into a water feature during warm
weather, and acted like a built-in evaporative cooler.

Impressive fireplace!

The Battery Room got my attention on the Underground Tour. These Nickel-Iron batteries (there
is another rack below) were charged by a water-driven generator and used to supply even power throughout
the house, much like the systems in modern RVs. 

Albert Johnson liked to fiddle with new technologies, so the generator room has several examples. The original water-powered generator is in the lower left of this picture, and still works.

Although long decayed in the harsh environment, this was a solar hot water heating and storage
system that was somewhat ahead of its time.

Visiting Scotty’s Castle is a half-day adventure for those staying in the Park, but can be a full-day trip for those staying in Pahrump or other local towns outside of Death Valley. Multiple tours are available depending on the time of year, and the combination of the House Tour with the Underground Tour is designed to provide the most information. 

Tickets for the tours are available online and we highly recommend buying them in advance, even if it ties you in to a schedule. 

Parking is available for cars, RVs, and tour busses, and it fills up quickly on busy days. Although there are no specific restrictive signs, parking for large RVs over 30 feet is probably not going to be easy, so making this a day trip in a tow/towed vehicle is the best approach.

There is also a nice shaded picnic area near the parking lot. Depending on the time of day, tour busses use this as a lunch stop, so grab an open table early if you can.

Tour info:

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