Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley – A Mirage Turned Reality

Death Valley – Desert Mirages are common but always give an illusion of mystery. Desert Mirage

Emerging almost as if from a mirage, in the beautiful and cool oasis of Grapevine Canyon in the far northern portion of Death Valley, is a wonderful place to visit called Scotty’s Castle or as some might call it, Death Valley Ranch.

Scotty's Castle, Death Valley Ranch

It is though, the dream home of a wealthy engineer, his wife’s vacation home and a man of mystery’s hideout and getaway. That mystery man was Walter Scott.

Although it’s not really a castle, just an unusual and magnificent house with a tower, Scotty never owned it. Its formal name is Death Valley Ranch, but everyone calls it Scotty’s Castle. This unique home in the California desert has an interesting and colorful history, all related to the man for whom it’s named, Death Valley Scotty.

Death Valley Scotty or Walter Scott convinced everyone that he had built the “castle” with his own money from his secret gold mines in Death Valley. However, Albert Mussey Johnson actually built the house as a vacation getaway for himself and his wife Bessie.

The two men involved were as different as night and day, from different worlds and with different visions, but who both shared a common attraction for Death Valley and its mysteries.

Scotty was a bit of a mystery himself. He was a cowboy, and entertainer, but he also became a close friend to the Johnsons. Albert Johnson was the brains and the money behind the construction of the “castle” which started construction in 1922 but it was never finished.

Scotty, born Walter Scott, was also a wild-west-show performer at one time. He claimed to own a gold mine in Death Valley, California. Albert Johnson, president of Chicago’s National Life Insurance Company at the time invested in the mine, but grew suspicious and went west to California for a visit to check on his interests. Their meeting then led to a lifelong friendship between the two men.

When Johnson’s health improved during the visit to the California desert climate, he decided to build a vacation home there. Johnson visited only occasionally, but Scotty was the one who took up primary residence in the house, claiming he built it with his gold mine proceeds and calling it Scotty’s Castle.

Due to the stock market crash in 1929, construction on the house ended. The Johnsons died without heirs and in 1970 and ultimately the National Park Service purchased the “castle” for $850,000.

Walter Scott died in 1954 and was buried on the hill overlooking Scotty’s Castle next to his beloved dog.

Scotty's Grave

Walter Scott was a man of mystery, adventure and vision. His name will be forever tied to a mirage turned reality in the hostile environment of Death Valley, called Scotty’s Castle.

For more information

Scotty’s Castle – Death Valley National Park – California – 760-786-2392
Scotty’s Castle website

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