Though there’s often snow on the distant pyramid mountains, it can be the hottest place in North America. In August, 120°F in the shade. If shade can be found, it’s hot enough to melt the pair of shoes.
A sign of bad water basin marks the lowest spot on the continent, a drop from Death Valley’s highest mountain 11,049 for telescope peak. The Bad water basin is twice the depth of Grand Canyon. There were large lakes here once in the prehistoric past, but the Earth’s climate changed and the lakes dried up. Yet Death Valley exudes a strange beauty all its own.
As America’s poet Mark Strand had discovered, its million plus areas of yellows, oranges, faint red and purple smudges of magha knees easily suggest a Martian landscape or what we believe the reaches of Mars to be like.
Precious water from rare desert springs sustains wildlife; humans were drawn here in the 1900s by the lands mineral wealth. Mines were constructed, and Borax a mineral with many industrial uses was extracted from the ancient salt crust lining the lakes that it once simmered here.
The Borax was hauled to the railroad and huge 20 mule team wagons, a tent city sprang up which gave way to settlements of wood and stone. Rhyolite is one of them, today rhyolite just outside the park is a ghost town and well worth a visit. Now, these ghost towns bleached the blazing sun until one day they simply fade back into the desert, but all isn’t ghostly. After a lengthy stretch of bareness of raw, harsh waste land a visitor encounters this beautiful castle in the middle of Mojave.
No, it isn’t a mirage or a sign of sunstroke. This architectural hybrid, part Spanish, part Mediterranean and part Hollywood Backlot is Scotty’s castle. The most famous man-made attraction in Death Valley, though he never really owned it. It’s named after Death Valley Scotty, the wildest two-legged critter ever to dwell in these parts, as a young cowboy Scotty travels with Buffalo Bills Wild West show. Scotty performs a trick rider and sharpshooter but these are not Scotty’s only talents, he has an inborn knack for you might say playing tricks with the truth, some folks might call it lying.
One of his imaginary grub staked is a pie-in-the-sky Gold Mine and a little-known valley. Scotty goes east to Chicago to sell shares in his pipe dream mind to an unsuspecting businessman. As luck would have it, he pedals 1/3 of the shares to Albert Johnson. The wealthy president of the national life insurance company. Scotty had corralled a real sucker; poor Johnson hadn’t seen so much as a single gold nugget.
Please with himself Scotty returns to Death Valley, leaving the swindled Albert Johnson behind in Chicago or does he!!
A telegram reaches Scotty, Albert Johnson is coming to Death Valley to see for himself this gold mine of which is now part owner. Scotty’s alarmed but can’t persuade Johnson from coming out. On route to Death Valley masked men halt Albert Johnson and Scotty in their route, it’s a holdup. Rumor has it that Scotty had the hold-up staged as a delaying tactic.
Johnson returns to Chicago, never having seen the bogus gold mine. Johnson makes another trip with Scotty beside himself; it seems that Johnson had some serious health problems and found the desert air healing. As a matter fact he hasn’t felt so well in years as he does in Death Valley, his visits become longer and more frequent, and soon he’s bringing his wife Bessie along. Bessie likes the desert, but she dislikes sleeping in a tent among rattlesnakes and scorpions. Bessie wanted something more comfortable, and so the 1920s construction begins on what comes to be called Scotty’s castle.
Today you can tour the opulently furnished rooms. The great hall, And the music room with its theater organ of 1121 pipes. The Johnsons allow their mansion to be called Scotty’s Castle, the three of them become fast friends and Albert Johnson let it be known that the castle’s construction was financed with profits from the Goldmine which never did exist.
Though touring Scotty’s castle is a stellar attraction. Death Valley offers sundry other activities, of the kind of tone the body. For the rugged, during the cooler months hiking is popular, and the Wild West horseback riding.
One can make Death Valley a golfing vacation, with a whole new take on golf. The 18-hole par 70 Furnace Creek course is the world’s lowest elevation golf course. There’s a noticeable difference in how the ball responds; this course is a challenge.
Seasonally the stubbornly dry desert yields to brief Desert Hills to brief torrents of winter rain, and the desert explodes. In the springtime array of exotic flowers, this is Death Valley when it is most alive.