Secreted in the dusty haven of Grapevine Canyon, Scotty’s castle is a story of friendship, folklore and America’s roaring twenties. But to begin this tale, we must start at the beginning of the 20th century with a man named Walter E. Scott or to most, Death Valley Scotty. Scott started adult life as a stunt rider, travelling across the US and Europe with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show until he married, had a son and sought to seek out a long term plan for himself and his family. After a long, fruitless foray into goldmining he turned his attention to the wealthy businessmen of the East Coast, using his quick wit and a brash, persuasive charm to convince these tycoons to invest in what were essentially imaginary mines. It was during this period that Scott met Albert M. Johnson.
Johnson, an eccentric Chicago millionaire invested over $5000 dollars into Scott’s fictitious gold mines and frequently visited the area, despite his health being poor and only getting worse. On visiting, he realised the dry, warm climate improved his health and so decided to build a winter home for himself and wife, Bessie. Scott’s genial stories of finding gold in the area attracted a wealth of guests, the house eventually becoming a retreat for the Hollywood elite, intrigued by the sense of extravagance in such a secluded location.
The house was built in Spanish Colonial Revival style and at first glance you may be forgiven for feeling as though you were touring the Basque hills or exploring the Balearics; it is to Johnson’s credit that the building feels at ease with its surroundings. It’s now owned by the U.S. National Park Service, whose rangers dress up in 1930s attire while taking visitors around the castle on various different tours. For $15, you are taken underground to the extensive basements below the castle and shown how living in a remote desert is possible, with technologies that were developed way ahead of their time in the 1930’s. The rangers are thorough and leave no question unanswered.
One last tip would be to not stop your trip to Death Valley here. There are thousands of acres of sublime, desert landscape riddled with photogenic ghost towns and atmospheric abandoned mines, each with their own story to tell. It may be hot, dry and involve a lot of driving, but trust us, it’s worth more than its own weight in gold.