Death Valley

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Johnson’s name appears on the deeds to Scott’s most extraordinary project. While travelling with Buffalo Bill in Germany Scott had been delighted by the castles along the Rhine. Sometime in the early igao’s he decided that he wanted a castle of his own, in Grapevine Canyon at the head of the valley. In 1924 a Moorish fantasy began to take shape in the desert. By the time “Scotty’s Castle” was finished, it had swallowed up three million dollars. It presides over Death Vallev with ultimate incongruity. Inside are baronial halls hung with tooled-leather draperies, a room devoted solely to housing the finest pipe organ west of the Mississippi, furnishings from Spanish cathedrals and palaces, a living room cooled by water trickling down a wall of jasper, and eighteen fireplaces.

Scott died in 1954, having outlived the glory days of the valley. He left his castle as a monument to his stagey career. It is now administered by a charitable institution established by Johnson’s will, and Scott would no doubt have been delighted to know that today 150.000 people visit it yearly.

Although Death Valley was proclaimed a national monument in 1933, mining is permitted there, and some prospectors still scramble up and down primeval canyons hoping for a strike. But most of the thousands who visit the valley are drawn to it by the awful grandeur of its landscapes. There is something at once threatening and reassuring about the fact that, just a few miles to the west of the neon blare of Las Vegas, there is country that has barely tolerated the works of man, and has been changed by them almost not at all.

—R.F.S.