Sunday, October 10, 2010 Sunny and 85 degrees
Several people told us to make sure we saw Scotty's Castle when we came to Death Valley, and now we know why. It's the story and the house, both of which are fascinating. Walter "Scotty" Scott was a cowboy who wanted to be a millionaire and sold shares of his fictitious gold mine to gullible investors. Albert Johnson was an erstwhile millionaire- businessman who wanted to be a cowboy and was conned by Scotty. When Albert went to Death Valley to check on his investment, a botched, staged robbery revealed Scotty's duplicity. Although Albert was angry, he realized that he had more fun when he had been with Scotty than at any other time in his life and so began a lifelong friendship between the two men.
Eventually Albert and his wife Bessie built Death Valley Ranch in the desert. The Johnsons were very religious and didn't want their friends to know how much money they had spent on their extravagant vacation home. When a newspaper reporter interviewed Scotty who was now the caretaker, he called it Scotty's Castle, and the Johnsons allowed the name to stick to protect their privacy.
Built in a Mexican style it is exquisite in its details. The tiles, the fireplaces, and the hand-hewn details in all of the wood beams, trim, doors, etc., are unique and vary from room to room. It had its own electrical and water systems, and a surprisingly modern kitchen and seven bathrooms.
On the grounds are a swimming pool, unfinished because of a land dispute with the government, a chime tower, a guest hacienda, garage, bunkhouse, cookhouse, and stables. The spring that provides water to the castle runs in a watercourse through the center of the complex. It truly must be seen to be appreciated. We were so fascinated that we wandered about after our tour, taking it all in.
Our final stop in the Death Valley NP was at Ubehebe Crater. More than 300 years ago a massive volvanic explosion released cinder and dust up to 600 feet deep over the area. But it was the people we met at there that we found more fascinating than the crater itself. First we noticed two young men (Ubekistanis we found out later) who had a flat tire and a ruined spare tire. An English couple (Penny and Bill Howe) in an old, garishly decorated Mercedes conversion van, ala 60's hippie-type, were helping them. Phil joined in, and with the tools Bill had, they were able to repair the flat.
What's so interesting about all that? Well, Bill and Penny are on a three year trip around the world. They had their van shipped from Liverpool to Baltimore. They drove cross-country and had been to the North Slope of Alaska prior to working their way to Death Valley. They plan to continue through Mexico to South America and then have the van shipped to Australia as they continue on their way. But this is not their first trip around the world. They have already done it on bicycles!!!!!!! On the van's top, sides, and fenders, etc., are the names of all the countries they have been to: Russia, Hungary, Germany, Lithuania, etc., plus numerous states. They are 76 and 70 and have a small "cottage and garden" at home. They call themselves "The Ageing Overlanders" and have a website we intend to follow. Now they are real role models for those who want to live their dream of travel.
Eventually we headed out of the park to Tonopah and on to Ely (ee-lee), NV. It is 163 miles between these two towns and there are NO services along the way. As we drove east, we could see miles in every direction passing through one mountain pass after another into one valley after another. Wild horses and cattle graze on the open range and military installations, including a missile test range, are also along US 6. The mountains are colorful, lava is strewn about, and long, straight highways stretch across wide, desolate valleys. Yuccas and sagebrush were the only plants on the high desert until we reached the scrubby trees of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. We were enthralled by the scenery the entire three and a half hours of the trip.
Tomorrow we plan to visit Great Basin NP before we cross into Utah.
TODAY'S ROUTE: from Beatty, NV: NV 374W to and through the park to Scotty's Castle and Ubehebe Crater, then NV 267E to US 95N to US 6E to Ely, NV