Nestled in the bottom of Grapevine Canyon in northern Death Valley is the Spanish-style mansion known as Scotty’s Castle, or Death Valley Ranch. The massive home, complete with turrets, fountains, and a huge pipe organ, has a striking and unusual history that has captivated visitors for a century.
The mansion’s namesake Walter Perry Scott, otherwise known as Death Valley Scotty, was an ex-Buffalo Bill trick rider and learned well from the showman the art of publicity how to use it to promote himself as a rich gold miner from the mysterious Death Valley with a fabulous secret gold mine. Scotty collected thousands of dollars from investors that he claimed would go toward operations at his gold mine and to help develop other mines in order to produce a handsome return. The only problem was, Scotty didn’t own a single mine and never intended to!
While most investors dropped out after becoming wise to Scotty’s hype and schemes, a wealthy businessman from Chicago wouldn’t let it go. Albert M. Johnson, who had poured thousands into Scotty’s operation, discovered there was no gold mine when he visited Death Valley. Despite being swindled, he struck up a friendship with Scotty that would last the rest of their lives.
A PALACE IN THE DESERT
The dry desert air was good for Albert’s broken back, and after a while he seemed more amused by Scotty’s antics than his concern for the money Scotty had swindled. Albert and his wife Bessie spent many winters in Death Valley, and eventually she requested they build a home that would make their visits more comfortable.
In 1922 the couple started construction on the castle, where they built space for Scotty to live as well. Significant work on the castle had already been completed when the Johnsons discovered that the castle had accidentally been built on federal land instead of the land Johnson had purchased. By that point, the Great Depression had left Albert’s business bust and they couldn’t afford to redo the work, which was halted indefinitely.
The Johnsons gave the castle to the Gospel Foundation upon their deaths in the 1940s, and Scotty lived there until he died in 1954. He was buried on the hillside nearby. In 1970 the National Park Service bought the property, and started offering tours that give visitors a chance to see the intricate furnishings, tile work, and architecture of the castle.
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– INTRODUCING –
SCOTTY’S CASTLE IN VIRTUAL REALITY
Made possible by the DVC, Gold Creek VR, and the National Park Service.
GRAPEVINE CANYON FLOOD
Scotty’s Castle was closed to visitors in October 2015 when massive flooding washed out the access road and utility infrastructure, and damaged some of the buildings on the property. Over the course of five hours, three inches of rain fell in the area around Grapevine Canyon. Because the desert soil cannot quickly absorb such a massive amount of water, catastrophic flooding and washouts occurred, with mud and debris infiltrating some outlying buildings on the castle grounds.
Thankfully, the main castle building was mostly spared, and the mud and debris has largely been cleared from the property. While the park service is working to redesign and rebuild the road and repair the buildings and utilities, the site is closed to the public for repairs, but is expected to reopen in 2020.
FRIENDS OF SCOTTY’S CASTLE FUND
The Friends of Scotty’s Castle Fund supports interpretation and improvements at Scotty’s Castle that might not otherwise be possible. Projects such as the virtual reality tour are supported by the fund. Please consider donating to keep the adventures alive for future generations.
Thank you generous donors for making these exciting projects possible.