Better known as Scotty’s Castle, although it was neither a castle nor Scotty’s.
Death Valley Ranch, more commonly known as “Scotty’s Castle” was built by Albert Johnson, an insurance broker from Chicago. Johnson was lured to Death Valley by promises of a (fraudulent) gold mine investment with one Walter Scott, known as “Death Valley Scotty”. His wife’s insistence on him staying for his health kept him there.
Scotty, born in Kentucky and once a member of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, is best described by Richard E. Lingenfelter: “Death Valley Scotty was a ham actor, a conscienceless con man, an almost pathological liar, and a charismatic bullslinger.
Tired of their modest cabin, the Johnson’s began building the Castle – Albert’s dream home, Bessie’s desert retreat, and Scotty’s con-man hide out in 1922.
The original grand entrance.
Johnson invested $1.4 million dollars into the project. While the castle was under construction, he agreed to act as Scotty’s “banker”, and Scotty in turn told potential investors from the city that he was building a $2 million dollar home funded by his gold mine – the same fraudulent gold mine he had conned Johnson into investing in.
Scotty’s con came up short with the abrupt end of the Roaring 20s in 1929’s stock market crash. President Hoover created the Death Valley National Monument in 1930, encompassing the land Johnson was building on but did not own. Johnson’s insurance company went belly-up in 1933. Although Johnson was eventually able to buy the land under his castle, he was unable to complete its construction.
The Johnsons died without heirs and had hoped that the National Park Service would purchase the property, and in 1970, the National Park Service purchased the villa for $850,000 from the Gospel Foundation, to which the Johnsons had left the property. Walter Scott, who was taken care of by the Gospel Foundation after Johnson’s passing, died in 1954 and was buried on the hill overlooking Scotty’s Castle.
Not many people trek up the long windy hill in 108 degree weather but I did to pay my respects to the man, myth and legend known as DVS. “Death Valley Scotty” remains near “his” castle, watching from his burial site on the hillside above it next to his beloved dog Windy.
I believe one of the national park employees lives in the clocktower, which keeps perfect time and is extremely loud when you’re next to it when it starts to chime.
Insulated glass skylights for the powerhouse below.
Castle double doors in one of the turrets below the clock tower.
Death Valley turret view.
The springs of Grapevine Canyon provided the water supply for the ranch and were used to generate electricity.
The springs, located about 300 feet (91 m) higher than the villa, generated enough water flow and pressure to turn a Pelton wheel, which ran the generator that furnished the villa’s electricity. The power was regulated and backed up by a large bank of nickel–iron batteries in the house’s tunnels.
The springs provided enough water to meet all the needs of the ranch, with enough left for other uses. A water fountain was constructed in the Great Hall, where water dripped down a rock face creating evaporative cooling and into a catch basin for recirculation.
Decorative detail outside of the powerhouse.
A 1930’s solar hot water heater, much larger than today’s solar water heaters, is near the main house, and a large stock of railroad ties salvaged from the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad is also strewn around the property.
Porch overlooking the pool.
I didn’t have time to tour the inside the house but would love to go back and check out the underground tour of the property, cause I’m weird like that. Both tours cost $15 each but you can check out everything else for free.
On October 18, 2015, a storm caused extensive flash flooding in the Scotty’s Castle area in northern Death Valley National Park. Initial assessments the next day revealed damage to roads, utilities and some historic structures. Clean-up and repair projects are now taking place to return Scotty’s Castle to its former glory. Scotty’s Castle is CLOSED until further notice due to flood damage, and is not likely to re-open to the public until 2019.