Randy Johnson, Marta Becket and Albert Johnson carved their dreams out of an area that we might dismiss, on first impression, as nothing more than a desolate, barren desert.
These visionaries dreamed of homes in a desert, castles and an opera house. Although most of us expect to find real castles in foreign countries, one of the most famous desert castles is Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley. This castle is about a three and a half hour drive from Las Vegas or Los Angeles and an overnight trip from San Francisco.
Scotty’s Castle (123 Scottys Castle Road, Death Valley, Calif.; 760-786-2392), however, should rightfully be called Albert Johnson’s Castle. Walter Scott, aka Death Valley Scotty, was a con man who tricked Johnson into buying shares in a non-existent goldmine. When Johnson came to investigate the mine, he ascertained that he was being tricked. It has been said, however, that he enjoyed Scotty’s tall tales and company. Johnson was a wealthy man from Chicago who made his money primarily from insurance, but he was also an engineer by education. When he invited his wife to attend one of his camping trips with Scotty, she suggested that Johnson build accommodations more worthy of their status. Johnson hired an architect for the basic design, but was hands-on in designing many unique and advanced innovations, including a Pelton water wheel to generate electricity. Johnson appointed Scotty to oversee the construction in his absence. It didn’t take long for the place to be called “Scotty’s Castle.”
Scotty’s Castle, which is located in the Death Valley National Park, is a popular tour site, and advance reservations are suggested (http://www.nps.gov/deva/historyculture/house-tour.htm). The house tour runs daily and the docent guides will make the tour worthwhile. There is also an underground tour given seasonally that goes under the house to explain how electricity was generated and stored and water and sewage systems operated, etc.
I recommend the Longstreet Inn and Casino for a nearby stay http://www.longstreetcasino.com at 4400 South Highway 373, Amargosa, Nev.; (773) 372-1777. I stayed there long ago and I thought that the rates were a bargain and the location convenient to make day trips into Death Valley.
Not far from the Inn and Casino is the Amargosa Opera House (California 127, Death Valley Junction, Calif.; (760) 852-4441; www.amargosa-opera-house.com) at Death Valley Junction, a unique building in a desert town, where Marta Becket followed her dream. She was a New York City dancer who in midlife decided to move to Los Angeles in 1967. While visiting Death Valley, her car had a flat tire and the ranger directed her to Death Valley Junction to have it repaired. Walking about the town she discovered an abandoned theater that was in a poor condition. She and her husband rented it, began repairs and painted a renaissance audience on the walls. She began performances every weekend without fail and sometimes her only audience was the painted one.
A two-man National Geographic team (writer and photographer) was doing an article about Death Valley in 1970. They chanced upon the Opera House and wrote about Marta Becket. The publicity from the article brought travelers from around the world.
Unfortunately, she is now too frail to perform, but others stepped forward to perform in her absence. The structure is a show in itself.
Only about 20 miles away from Scotty’s is another castle that few know about. It is the Hard Luck Mine Castle (1 Hard Luck Castle Access Road, Nev.), that was built and owned by Randy Johnson. It is more than 8,000 square feet, with four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a dining room, rooms that house two huge organs, two kitchens, wine cellar, battery storage area and more.
A friend of mine volunteered without pay to help Johnson build his dream. Johnson bought the 40-acre site in 1998, and then embarked on building his dream castle. He was a plumber by trade and had never attempted a project like this. Nevertheless, the project is pretty much complete and is a testament to what one can accomplish when they have the drive.
Johnson lives there and gives tours but you must call ahead at (775) 772-2413. The tours are available from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and a $10 donation is appreciated. Full details and video can be viewed at www.hardluckcastle.com/tour.html.
I suggest you bring plenty of water and pack a picnic lunch. This is an ideal trip for younger people who may be inspired to pursue their dreams, but it is amusing and instructive for all ages.
Las Vegas Tidbits
McCarron Airport has had free wi-fi for some time. Now downtown Las Vegas Fremont Street also has free Wi-Fi. Strip hotels will probably not follow suit because they want to squeeze every last cent from tourists.
The Kaeru Kid lives in Las Vegas and hopes readers will send him comments at KaeruKid@yahoo.com. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.The Kaeru Kid lives in Las Vegas and hopes readers will send him comments at KaeruKid@yahoo.com. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.