Friday, May 2, 2014

Scotty’s Castle

This attraction of Death Valley is worthy of a blog post almost of its own.  So let’s get on with the story of the only villa of Death Valley.

The story starts in the late 1800s with a young man named “Scotty” who when he turned 11 headed west and worked at a mule tender for one of the borax companies operating in Death Valley.  A few years later he joined Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show where he was a stunt rider for 12 years.  Thereafter, he basically became a con man luring Eastern investors into investments in various fictitious mining ventures.

DSCN1187-001One of Scotty’s victims was a wealthy Chicago businessman named Albert Johnson.  In about 1915, Johnson came to Death Valley to see Scotty’s mine and soon figured out that Scotty and the mine were frauds.  But instead of having Scotty prosecuted, Johnson forgave him and they became great lifelong friends.  Johnson felt the dry climate of Death Valley was very good for his health and he started acquiring land in one of the canyons leading down into the valley.  In 1922, Johnson decided to build a villa on his property for his winter visits. 


Construction on Death Valley Ranch started in 1922 and continued through 1931 but was never fully finished as Johnson lost most of his wealth in the Great Depression.   The swimming pond was one of the items never completed.  Scotty was a regular at Death Valley Ranch during all of the Johnson’s visits.  He even had a room available to him in the villa in addition to his nearby cabin.  Johnson would tell people the villa was “Scotty’s Castle” and it is know far more under that moniker than as Death Valley Ranch.


The Johnson’s died without heirs and left the property to the Gospel Foundation who operated it as a “bed and breakfast” with Scotty still as its main attraction until his death in 1954.  In 1970, the property was acquired by the National Park Service and they continue to conduct tours to provide funding to maintain the property.

The property was very innovative,  It was built down the canyon from a spring that pumps out 300 gallons of water an hour.  That water not only was used for irrigation but also to operate a power plant to provide electricity for the property long before most homes in the country were electrified.  There were indoor waterfalls for cooling although the Johnson’s mainly visited there during the Winters.

Scotty is buried on a hill overlooking the Villa next to his trusty dog.

We visited another fascinating feature of Death Valley in the area of Scotty’s Castle – Ubehebe Crater.  In geologic terms it is just a youngster at maybe only 2,000 years old.  It is about a half mile in diameter and is over 500 feet deep.  Hot magma moved toward the earth’s surface in the area and super heated the ground water until it all turned to steam and built up such intense pressure that it blew out and pulverized all of the rock out of what is now this crater.  You can see the pulverized rock all over the ground around the crater.



  1. Good tour, we thought that was a very interesting place:)

  2. WOW- Amazing that such a place exist in Death Valley - thanks for posting about it.