Scotty’s Castle is one of many historic sites in Death Valley National Park that are worth going the extra distance to check out. Unfortunately, a massive flash flood catastrophe occurred in 2015 and the result was major damage to the road that goes through Grapevine Canyon where this mansion is located. Scotty’s Castle also received extensive flood damage, but at least the buildings were left intact. The damage in the mansion necessitated a heavy mud and debris cleanup along with a big repair job, while the road was almost completely wiped out. Needless to say, access to Scotty’s Castle was closed after the flood and as of mid 2020, repairs on Scotty’s Castle Road are still underway. Scotty’s Castle is expected to reopen sometime soon, so this is something to look forward to in the future.
The construction of Scotty’s Castle began in 1920s and this classic Spanish mission style mansion has been a landmark ever since. Scotty’s Castle does cover a lot of ground and it takes plenty of footwork to see the entire spread. Of course everybody knows that the Death Valley summer temperatures can exceed 130ºF, so winter is the best season for sightseeing at Scotty’s Castle. Staying hydrated is the key to having a pleasant Death Valley experience any time of year, so be sure to carry a bottle of water during the tour.
This old Death Valley mansion does have a long history that revolves around a peculiar character named Walter Scott. Old Scotty was a gold prospector and con man that basically flimflammed a millionaire named Albert Johnson into investing in gold mines in the Death Valley region, which have historically never panned out. Scotty also conned the millionaire into buying real estate in Grapevine Canyon, California, which can be compared to buying swampland in Florida. The millionaire just happened to suffer from ill health and after the millionaire visited the Grapevine Canyon site a few times, his health actually improved. The millionaire’s wife suggested building a vacation home at the site and the construction of Scotty’s Castle soon got underway.
Scotty the con man actually put Albert Johnson in a precarious position in this real estate venture, because the mansion site was actually located on government land and the title dispute went to court for many years. The land ownership dispute was finally resolved, but at a costly price. To make matters worse, the stock market crashed in 1929 and as a result, the Scotty’s Castle construction project was never completed, but the main buildings were already in place.
Con man Scotty did take up residency at the incomplete construction project and lived there for most of his remaining years. When Scotty passed away, he was buried on top of a hill overlooking the castle, which was a fitting tribute for this old time trickster. On the flip-side, when the millionaire investor passed away, he set up a trust for Scotty’s Castle to be purchased by the National Park Service. For this reason, Scotty’s Castle is managed and maintained as a historic site and it has become a very busy tourist attraction in recent years.
Anybody that has seen this mansion in person will agree that Scotty’s Castle truly is an architectural masterpiece! The castle has a classic Spanish mission architectural theme and there are Southwestern style ranch houses, guest houses, a barn and large stables on the property as well. One of the most interesting features is the Spanish castle watchtower that overlooks the mansion. The watchtower castle is one of the parts of this vast mansion that was never completed and the bare concrete just bakes in the hot death Valley sunlight.
The lavish western furnishings and decorations inside the mansion are all from the late 1800s and early 1900s, so Scotty’s Castle offers a unique periodic museum experience. Those who opt to take the guided tour will find that there is a vast tunnel system underneath Scotty’s Castle with rooms and vaults that stay cool year round. The National Park Service offers guided tours inside the mansion and the tunnel system for a modest price, so it is well worth taking the time to do!
Scotty’s Castle is located in Grapevine Canyon near the Nevada border and only one road goes by this place, so it is easy to find. Gas stations are few and far between in this desolate desert region, so topping off the tank is wise to do before setting sail for Scotty’s Castle. Snacks and beverages can be purchased at the gift shop, which is stocked full of Death Valley memorabilia of every kind. Camping is available in the National Park and modern motel accommodations in Beatty are not too far away.
As mentioned earlier, Scotty’s Castle will be closed till at least late 2020 because of flood damage, so be sure to stay tuned for the grand reopening announcement at the Death Valley National Park website. Till then, old photos of Scotty’s Castle will have to do and all it takes is one look to see why fans of classic Southwestern architecture are captivated by this majestic mansion that an old west con man built!
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