Way the heck at the north end of the park is Scotty's Castle, a mansion that was built in the 1920's. On the grounds, you'll find restrooms (Hallelujah!), a ranger station with a small gift shop, and the opportunity to join a ranger tour of the castle. There's a small hiking trail that has the trailhead in the picnic area right off the parking lot as well. Personally, I wasn't interested in taking the tour, but this is a good place to stop if you are going to enter through the northern part of the park since you can get a map and use the facilities.
Scotty was an adventurer--an experienced prospector, sportsman, and longtime member of Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show. He became friends with the Johnsons, a family from Chicago who had made a fortune speculating in commodities. So he persuaded them to come to Death Valley and invest in a bogus silver mining venture.
It never really panned out. But the Johnsons loved the area for its climate, and built this Spanish-style home in the middle of the desert. Officially named the Death Valley Ranch, it is better known as Scotty's Castle. Today, it serves as a lodge; it has a snack bar and other basics. Guided tours are given daily.
Like a mirage rising from the desert heat Scottys castle is the only mansion in Death Valley and well worth a visit. The castle was built by Albert Johnson, a Chicago millionaire, who , for health reasons had to move to a warmer climate. But Walter Scott an old prospector and performer with Buffalo Bills Circus show, boasted that he built the castle with the proceeds from a secret gold mine in Death Valley.
Whatever story you believe its worth the effort. $11 adults and $6 for children entrance fee.
Scotty's Castle is an elegant Spanish Mission-style mansion that was built in the early 1900s in an oasis in the northern section of Death Valley by Albert Johnson, a wealthy insurance executive from Chicago. Scotty's Castle gets its name from Walter Scott, nicknamed "Death Valley Scotty" a local character who befriended Albert Johnson and convinced him to invest in a legendary local gold mine, that existed only in Scotty's imagination. Despite the fraud, the two men became friends and Scotty lived at the castle for the rest of his life with the Johnsons, who enjoyed his stories and exploring the valley with him.
Scotty's Castle was acquired by the National Park Service after the deaths of Scotty and Mr. and Mrs. Johnson. Guided tours of the castle's rooms are provided approximately every hour and last for about 45-60 minutes. In addition to the castle, there is a gift shop and a small museum on the grounds. On busy days, you may have to wait for over an hour for the next available tour. If you do have a long wait, you can drive over to Ubehebe Crater (a 15 minute drive), which is worth seeing.
Scotty's Castle is a large Spanish style house built by Albert Johnson, who was a wealthy Chicago man. The mansion was named after Walter Scott, a scam artist, nicknamed Death Valley Scotty. Scotty would convince wealth men to invest in his gold mine---one that never existed. Even though Johnson figured out that he had been swindled, he fell in love with Death Valley and became good friends with Scott. The house is very beautiful, with carvings, lovely tile work, fountains, and antique furniture. The tour lasts about 50 minutes, and is a historical guided tour through the inside of the house. A self-guided tour of the Castle grounds is available. Ask at the Castle Ticket Office or visitor center for information and a guide booklet to help you as you walk around on the grounds of the home.
The Visitor Center contains exhibits from the Castle Museum Collection, which cover the interesting history of the Castle.
We thought this activity was well worth the $20 per ticket and the trip up to the northern part of the park. This museum is open all year from 8:30 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. For more photos and history about Scotty's Castle, visit my Scotty's Castle travelogue
The castle is a popular diversion in the northern portion of the park. Many make the trip to see the castle's Mediterrenean style architecture, striking anywhere but particularly so in this remote desert location. The castle's ingenuity extends beyond its construction and is evident in the implementation of the castle's solar water heating.
The castle derived its name from Walter Scott- a frequent guest of the wealthy Chicago millionaire Albert Johnson who once owned the castle. Tours of the castle are offered every hour. The tours fill up quickly as this is a popular attraction.
Walked around the grounds of Scottys Castle and I saw landslide over the years push to the edge of the structure. Although the Park Service built resistance walls, one would wonder how long the castle can survive the power of nature.
When I visited in Nov, 2003, Scottys Castle was going through major construction. New towers were being raised. It was a project Scotty never finished. And now the Park Service is following through. I hope the Park Service spends the money on maintaining and paving the dirt road around the park to make it more user-friendly, instead of building something with no historic significance.
On the second floor of Scottys Castle you'll find the Upper Music Room. It's the entertainment center of the whole castle. As shown in photo, the Music Room features a rare theater organ, with more than 1000 pipes concealed behind the screen.
I was surprised the Park Service runs such a touristy place. I put it in the "must see" section only for the completeness of my visit to Death Valley. But I would suggest you only see it once, especially after I learned about the life of Walter Scott, the guy the castle was named after.
To go inside the castle you have to join the guided tour. The tour costs $8 (as of Nov, 2003) on top of the $10 park entrance you already paid. If you don't join the tour, outside the castle there's not much to see besides the souvenir shop and a staple. Fortunately, not too far from the castle is Ubehebe Crater, a much more interesting natural wonder that I strongly recommend (see my other tips).
So I joined the tour. The guide in costume actually looked like Walter Scott!. So who's this Walter Scott character? He was nicknamed Death Valley Scotty, but never struck gold in the valley as he claimed. He's not an entrepreneur who built his own empire. He did not even spend his own money building the castle. Yet his name is now attached to the castle forever. Walter Scott was a run-away boy from Kentucky, and later became a con man in the wild west (literally, as he toured around with Buffalo Bill's "Wild West" show in his early days).
The photo shows the dining room inside the castle. I took a close look at the plates on the table and they all had "J & S" printed on them. J is for Albert Johnson, and S for Walter Scott.
A millionaire from Chicago, Albert Johnson was the guy who spent the money building the castle. He believed in Scott's gold mine story and made investment with Scott. He never struck gold as Scott promised. But he became attracted to the desert himself so he built the castle to stay here comfortably. When Scott and Johnson were both alive, the castle was occupied by Scott, and Johnson (and his wife Bessie) only stayed here during vacation.
Without air condition, how did Scott and Johnson survive the hot desert? Well, inside Scottys Castle we saw this indoor waterfall where cool water was brought in and circulated. This solved both the dryness and the heat problem in the summer. Pretty smart design.
In fact, if you don't feel you've been conned enough by the $8 guided tour, there's another "technology tour" you can join to see all the innovative designs of the castle.
When Walter Scott ran this place in the early 20th Century, it was called Death Valley Ranch. And he used to give castle tours to the visitors for $1.1 each. If he's alive today, he must be happy to know the castle is now named after him, and even happier to know the castle continues to con tourist money as in his time.
The photo shows the main living room viewed from the second floor. Everything was original: the sofa, the fireplace, the carpet, and the chandelier. As we were finishing up our tour, the next group already started.
Walter Scott is buried at the top of a small hill behind Scottys Castle called Windy Point. Walk up the hill to his grave, and get a great bird's-eye view towards the castle. Enlarge the photo to see Scotty's bronze tombstone. Notice he still got a brown nose even after his death?
Inside Scottys Castle we saw Bessie Johnson's bedroom. Bessie was the wife of Albert Johnson, the guy who really built the castle (not Walter Scott). Bessie liked to study in bed, so she designed a folding table as seen in photo. When she's done reading and writing, she can just fold the table up and turn to sleep. Pretty smart design.