A Desert Castle
Scotty's Castle was built as a vacation home for wealthy Chicago businessman Albert Johnson and his wife Bessie in the early part of the Twentieth Century. Walter Scott, or Scotty, was a local prospector and former member of a Wild West show who had befriended Johnson. Scotty, a colorful character, remained a long time friend of Johnson, and became the principal occupant of the estate.
The castle, a former oasis, offers a stunning contrast between the desert and early Twentieth Century wealth. The structure itself is a distinctive piece of architecture worth seeing. Tours are offered of the castle. We elected not to go on the tour as we arrived a bit late and still wanted to head off to the nearby Ubehebe Crater.
They have a gift shop. The gas station was closed when we visited. A trip to Scotty's Castle makes a nice pairing to a visit to Ubehebe Crater due to their close proximity.
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.
Frankly this is the only thing in Death Valley that I didn't care about. In my opinion it's just a house albeit a fancy one in the middle of the desert. They were charging $10 to visit the interior and we decided it's not worth it. There was a long line of people willing to pay the $10 so in fact it was $10 plus waiting. We visited the grounds instead.
The story about the castle goes like this: Scotty was a guy who pretended to have found a gold mine and be filthy rich; in reality he had no money but he persuaded his friend Albert Johnson, a Chicago millionaire who was searching for a quiet retreat, to build this house. The building started in the 20's but was never finished.
The so-called Scotty’s Castle was actually the vacation home of a rich Chicago businessman named Albert Johnson and his wife. The large home was built in a Spanish Mission style of architecture and cost over $2 million dollars to complete. Walter “Scotty” Scott was a slick talking conman, and former performer in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, who scammed Johnson and later became his life-long friend. Scotty convinced Johnson and several other businessmen to invest in a mine that never actually existed. Johnson and his wife invested lots of money in the mine and one day decided to come west and see it. Scotty arranged for some friends to pretend to attack the wagon carrying Johnson. The “bandits” were supposed to fire in the air but one of the bullets struck the driver (Scotty’s brother). Scotty yelled at them to quit firing because they had hit his brother and Johnson knew he had been conned. He promptly got back on the train and left for Chicago. Before he arrived in Chicago, though, he discovered that he had the best time of his life at Death Valley (Johnson always wanted to be a cowboy). Johnson returned and started his vacation home. Scotty spent a lot of time here and became great friends with Johnson. The only way to see Scotty’s Castle is by a guided tour, there are no self-guided tours. The tours take place every hour and last about 45 minutes. Your tour guide will be a ranger dressed in period costume. Reservations are a must, especially during the busy seasons. The tour costs $8 as of June 2010.
There is a visitors center located at Scotty’s Castle. It is a great place to get maps of the park, and brochures to tell you about the park to enhance your enjoyment. Here is also where you buy tickets for the tour of Scotty’s Castle. There are some neat, old, gas pumps out front. There is also a gift shop and a small museum on the grounds.
When Scotty died in 1954 at the age of 82, he was buried on a hill overlooking the castle that bore his name. The grave can be accessed via a short but steep paved trail. There is a nice view of Scotty’s Castle and the grounds from the hilltop.
Since the home was built near a spring, it had a hydroelectric generating system, powered by a Pelton waterwheel. Johnson designed the power system himself and improved upon it over the years. The powerhouse is located next to the home and is open for viewing.
When you first enter the home you are in the large Main Hall. It is two stories tall with stairs and walkways all around it. The hall is very impressive with a huge chandelier, lots of leather and wood, nice art and other decorations.
The next room is Scotty’s bedroom. It is decorated with a number of pictures including a large portrait of Buffalo Bill. There is also a large wardrobe in the room that held some of Scotty’s clothes. Scotty would come into the room after entertaining guests with his stories, change clothes, then sneak out the back door to go sleep at his own ranch. He would return very early, sneak back in, change clothes, then come out to greet the guests again. It is rumored he never actually slept in this room.
This was Mrs. Johnson’s favorite room. She used to sit in this room and read books. One of her favorite books to read was The Bible. If you look closely you will see two photos over the fireplace in Photo 2. This is Mr. Johnson and Scotty.
The music room with the pipe organ was a later addition to the house. It was designed for perfect acoustics. The decorations, with the coats of arms along the ceiling, the massive carved door, and the stained glass window was very pretty and impressive. The sound of the organ was great too.
Since the furniture and artifacts in the home are authentic, old, and very valuable you cannot touch any of them or sit in the chairs. There are blue chairs like this one in some of the rooms for you to sit in if you get too tired.
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
Scotty said this device was his own invention. When asked what this was he said it was a “shot spreader”. Scotty claimed that when bandits try to break into a room there is always one by the door and one standing guard on the other side. Using this device he could fire his shotgun out the small hole and get both bandits with one shot. What this actually is, is a device that is placed on both walls to force air flow and keep the room cooler.
In the middle of the desert the last thing one would expect is a castle. This well maintained castle is a treat to ones eyes. There are guided tours to the inside of the castle tickets to which cost $11 for adults (Yes, they have increased it by $2).
Other than the castle interior, you should walk upto Scotty's grave. The view from there is good. Also look up the Stable at the castle. The old cars (or whatever is left of them) are a good sight!
If you are planning to go there during peak season you might have to wait for as long as 2 hours before your tour starts. You can be smart and do it this way. Go to the castle get your tickets and then if you realise that you have a long wait, use that time to go to Ubehebe crater which is 8 miles from there. But if you want to spend enough time at Ubehebe then this 2 hours might not be enough.