Thursday, May 14, 2009

Death Valley (Aptly Named)

Colorful Rocks, Mountains and Valley
We are below sea level, but where is the sea?? Wagons from a 20 mule team.
Oasis from afar and up close.
A couple of hardy flowers.
Scotty's Castle with a cross marking his grave on the hill at the right. On the left is an unfinished courtyard behind the castle.
Original Furnishings

We are now at the Pair-A-Dice Escapees Co-Op in Pahrump, Nevada. Because we arrived late Monday evening, after wanting eight hours while having the motorhome serviced in North Las Vegas, we boondocked the first night. This was a first for us and we were concerned about the heat but it was much cooler here than in Vegas so it was fine.

We took advantage of a not so hot day (102) and went into California to Death Valley National Park. Being here brought back memories of the old TV Western series Death Valley Days and the shows sponsor, 20 Mule Team Borax. The borax was mined in some of the 6000 to 10,000 mines for a large variety of minerals that are now abandoned within the park. The three-wagon trains hauled 24 tons of ore in two of the wagons and fresh water in the third on a 165 mile, ten day trip to the railroad using a team of 18 mules and two horses. This is a place with a very harsh climate that gets less than two inches of rain a year and where the temperature once reached a US record of 134 degrees. While surrounded by mountains, it is also the lowest spot in the United States at 282 feet below sea level in Badwater Basin. Other then diving into the waves at the beach this is the first time we have ever been below zero elevation. The land is beautiful in a surreal way with the various minerals in the rocks creating a large variety of color while a few hearty plants dot the landscape. That said, as we approached the Furnace Creek area we could see the tall green palms and other trees that are watered by the underground aquifer in this oasis. After enjoying the vista at Zabriskie Point we took a short hike up Golden Canyon for an up close view of the land.

Another must see in the park is Death Valley Ranch, better known as Scotty's Castle. This Spanish style vacation home, built in the 1920's for Albert and Bessie Johnson, is maintained exactly as it was when they lived there, from the furniture and dishes right down to Bessie's clothes hanging in the closet. Johnson, who was an engineer, used all the latest technology including a refrigerator, solar water heater and designed a hydro-electric power system for the home which was not connected to the grid until the 1960's. A large room built for entertaining has a theater pipe organ which we got to hear on the tour. There are parts of the property that were never finished, including the swimming pool, because of a land dispute that took seven years to settle. This put them into the middle of the Great Depression and the Johnson's were not quite as wealthy as they once were, thus bringing a halt to finishing the great estate. It is amazing to be driving through the stark barren land and come upon this beautiful home in Grapevine Canyon. While the tour of the house is worthwhile and very interesting it is the story of Albert and Scotty's long lasting friendship that provides the intrigue. Albert was a wealthy conservative businessman from a Quaker family in Ohio and Walter "Death Valley Scotty" Scott was born in Kentucky and lived the life of a cowboy including 12 years with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. He worked on mule trains and became a con man when he began selling shares in his nonexistent gold mine to investors back East. One of the investors was Albert Johnson who travelled to Death Valley and discovered the deception. Albert enjoyed the company of Scotty so much that he forgave him and made him the caretaker of the property and house he built. Since it was only a vacation home for the Johnsons, Scotty began telling everyone it was his castle, thus the name. Scotty is buried on the hill overlooking the castle and Death Valley. As we where leaving the park we were rewarded with the sight of a desert icon as a coyote ambled across the road. We had a great time here but it is a place with a lot more to see when the temperatures are not triple digits.

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