Mar 31 66444 7:12
I get up at 6:00 and the wind is still blowing just as hard as last time. I will be glad to get out of here.
Topped off on fuel and headed towards Death Valley. Well the wind came right along with us. In fact it did not stop all day. Our first stop was at Furnace Creek Visitor Center. We got our window ticket for the RV, got the passport book stamped and picked up our brochures and maps.
After looking at the information we decided to get a campsite at Stovepipe Wells and not go all the way to Mesquite Spring, only 30 sites at Mesquite and 200 at Stovepipe. Both are “first-come, first-serve”, no reservations.
We find a campsite, no hook ups and the wind is howling. We leave RG to guard the RV and head off to Scotty’s Castle. It is 39 miles up the road.
We run into construction almost immediately. The first section is not too bad, about a 15 minutes wait and then we are driving on new pavement. The second stop however is only a 10 minutes wait but the next 3-4 miles is gravel and then uneven pavement. Glad we did not bring the RV up here. The flagwoman suggests that we return by the road out of the park, even though it is longer it will be faster as each construction stop is approx. 20 minutes long.
Our third and last construction are we hit just right and sail on through. We get to the castle and sign up for the house and underground tours. The next underground tour takes off in just a few minutes and as soon as we are finished we will head over to the house tour.
Death Valley is a study in contrasts. Areas nearly 300 feet below sea level to over 11,000 feet high. Mountains, dry lakes, wet lakes in the rainy season, cactus, flowers, abandoned mines and campgrounds and luxury hotels and inns. Then there is Scotty’s Castle.
The Castle was never built, owned, or lived in by Walter Scott, but he was a frequent guest there.
Scotty was an entremaneur who always had a “get-rich” scheme going. He bamboozled people all the time with his fake claims of a rich gold mine. Albert and Bessie Johnson may have been scammed at first, but they eventually saw through Scotty and took for what he was, a likeable, charismatic, friendly, cowboy. Scotty had been in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. He enjoyed the spotlight and could tell stories about the wild west as well as anyone.
Scotty had talked Albert Johnson into investing in his gold mine and after Johnson came west he fell in love with Death Valley and began to build the castle.
Johnson made his money with the National Life Insurance Company. In the early 20’s he was earning around $800,000 a year and lived a relative frugal lifestyle. Johnson’s health improved in Death Valley and so he began the castle. He installed electricity, running water, elaborate tile floors and tapestries. The furnishings are beautiful with a western, Spanish flare. Rooms are massive.
Some things however, were never finished, like the swimming pool. It would have been the largest privately owned pool anywhere, but the depression and disputes over land deeds put the pool on hold.
Bessie Johnson had gone to Stanford with Herbert Hoover and they remained friends all of her life. Hoover was a guest often at the castle along with other influential people from the East Coast. Scotty often held court in the living room, telling story after story of his adventures looking for gold.
Albert had been severely injured in a train wreck at a young age and doctors predicted he would not live past 40. He was so relaxed at the castle and indulged in much needed exercise for his injured back that not only did he surpass age 40 but died at age 72 of cancer.
In the underground tour we are shown the tiles that would have been used to finish the pool and also the elaborate tunnel system. Several natural springs were in the area and the water was used to run pumps, and generators for electricity in the home.
Several outhouses were also built, the cook house, stables, bunk houses, a water storage shed, and the bell tower.
Mrs. Johnson decorated the home in a Spanish motif with beautiful tiles on the floors, walls, and decorating waterfalls and fountains throughout.
Both of our tour guides were dressed in the era, Stephanie was in a skirt, blouse, hat and seamed hose. Audrey, our house guide, was dressed as a National Park Ranger of 1939. Both of these tours are a must see for anyone visiting Death Valley.
The natural wonders of the area are everywhere, shifting sand dunes, stones that seem to glide across the desert floor on their own, great salt flats and flowers and shrubs everywhere. The other constant this trip was the wind. As we returned to the RV we were pelted by some rain and snow drops and then the wind storms. Sand had managed to invade the RV even with the windows and vents closed.
We turned on the generator and vacuumed and wiped down all surfaces. The wind continued until nearly 8:00 p.m. before dying down. Now rain and snow are predicted at higher elevations, 4000’. The pass we need to cross tomorrow is nearly 5000’.