Bill and Kit’s 2010 Excellent Adventure
Latitude: Wherever ••• Longitude: Who Cares
The Bill and Kit 2010 Excellent Adventure Journal-Issue #14
Thursday, February 11, 2010: This morning dawned cool with temperatures in the 50’s, blue skies and puffy clouds.
We discovered last night while poking around the Furnace Creek Visitors Center that the tallest mountain we observed yesterday was called Telescope Peak. The mountain received its unusual name because “One could see no further from the top even with the aid of a telescope”. The summit of Telescope Peak at 11,049 feet was less than twenty miles from Badwater Basin which sits at 282 feet below sea level. Quite a dramatic altitude extreme in a relatively short distance.
Today the plan is to head north on the Scotty’s Castle Road to, um, well…..Scotty’s Castle. I love these road names…..absolutely no ambiguity.
So we popped the Ken Burns National Park CD into the player and enjoyed more spectacular scenery on the trip through the northern part of Death Valley National Park:
Scotty’s Castle is an interesting place with an unusual history:
Actually, its proper name is “Death Valley Ranch” and was built by a Chicago millionaire by the name of Albert Johnson.
Walter Scott, better known as “Scotty” was a huckster who after being fired from Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show in the 1890’s set up camp in Death Valley’s Grapevine Canyon. Scotty dreamt up a fictitious gold mine then passed the rumor around that he had struck gold in the area. As proof, Scotty used a chunk of high grade gold ore his wife had been given some years earlier. Back in Chicago, Mister Johnson was looking for a good investment and gave Scotty a “grubstake” in consideration for the profits from his gold mine. After a while Mister Johnson became suspicious and visited Death Valley to see the mine and gold for himself. Discovering no mine and no gold but liking the area he decided to buy 1,500 acres and build a western retreat for him and his wife. Mr. Johnson forgave Scotty for his fraudulent scheming and the two became friends.
Death Valley Ranch was completed in 1922 at a cost of 1.4 million. It was very innovative for its time with an evaporative air cooling system, hydro power for electricity and passive solar power providing the domestic hot water needs of the house.
With Mister Johnson spending most of his time attending to business in Chicago, Scotty claimed that he himself had built the castle with money from his gold mine, and it became known as “Scotty’s Castle”. He lived in a small room in the castle and put in regular appearances to entertain the Johnson dinner guests with his stories…..spinning unbelievable tales about his life and his gold mine. Mister Johnson did nothing to discourage Death Valley Scotty, as he came to be known, regarding the stories as cheap entertainment.
Death Valley Scotty told everyone that the entrance to his gold mine was under his bed and he slept with a pistol and shotgun at the ready. He drilled a hole through the outside masonry wall and affixed a “shot splitter” over the hole:
That way, with one shotgun blast, he could get anyone standing at the door or trying to come through the window…..or both.
After Death Valley National Park was established, Scotty’s Castle was sold to the government. Albert Johnson died in 1948 of cancer. Walter Scott died in 1954 and was buried on the hill overlooking “his castle”. The smaller plot to the right contains Scotty’s dog “Windy”.
After an interesting and informative visit to Scotty’s Castle we returned to our campsite. There we enjoyed a meal of homemade quacamole, carne asada, fresh tortillas and Margarita’s. Life is good.
After dinner we took a walk around the campground and visited with some friendly and interesting folks from all over the US. What a great stay at Death Valley National Park!
Friday, February 12, 2010: This morning we reluctantly pulled out of our site at the Furnace Creek campground and headed for Nevada on US-190. Crossing the border we turned onto Daylight Pass Road toward the town of Rhyolite, Nevada.
Rhyolite is a ghost town…..with an interesting past. It all began in 1905 when gold was discovered and several mining camps sprang up. During the ensuing gold rush thousands of speculators, developers and other folks flocked to the area and the town of Rhyolite was born. By 1907 Rhyolite contained 4,000 souls and featured concrete sidewalks, electric lights, water mains, telephone and telegraph lines, newspapers, police and fire departments, a hospital, a school, railway depot, three banks, an opera house, 50 bars and two church’s.
Rhyolite declined almost as rapidly as it rose. The gold played out in 1911 and the workers moved away. By 1920 the population fell to zero and Ryolite ceased to exist…..except for the many buildings. Hollywood discovered this ready made “set” in the 1940’s and many westerns were filmed here. Some of the scripts called for explosions which resulted in damaging some buildings. Others fell to the ravages of time. What remains of the town of Ryolite is now under protection of the Bureau of Land Management.
A particularly interesting building in Rhyolite is the “The Bottle House” which is constructed with 51,000 beer bottles held together by adobe. The builder, Tom Kelly and being a good Irishman, helped empty many of the bottles used in construction. Old Tom chose to build with bottles because as he put it; “It’s very difficult to build a house with lumber from a Joshua Tree.” Most of the bottles formerly contained Busch beer and the home has held up pretty well. About 10 years ago some restoration was completed to keep this unique structure standing for many more years.
Oh, and if you don’t know what a Joshua tree is here is a photo of one in town:
It is said that the Joshua Tree could have been created by Dr. Suess…..Yea, I can see that.
Underway once again we headed south on US-160 through Pahrump, Nevada. Being that the road was flat, no curves, there was no wind and little traffic I figured it would be a great spot to check my fuel economy while towing my 7,000 pound home.
I do this about once a year to while away an hour or two while driving through a flat desolate place. I generally take readings over a ten minute period at five different speed levels. It is not very scientific but likely pretty accurate under real life conditions. Here are the readings from today’s fuel economy run:
At 50 MPH = 15.6 MPG
At 55 MPH = 13.5 MPG
At 60 MPH = 11.9 MPG
At 65 MPH = 9.8 MPG
At 70 MPH = 8.4 MPG
As an “oh by the way”, We generally travel between 55 and 60 MPH because we are usually on two lane back roads and very rarely in any kind of hurry and…..it is a heck of a lot cheaper!
It looks like the folks in Nevada are sensitive to the intrusion of cell phone towers maring the landscape as some of them are camaflauged to blend into the natural environment. The photo below shows just such an example. One can hardly notice this “pine tree-cell tower” nestled amongst the castus and sage brush of the surrounding countryside.
Being Friday afternoon, we noticed an increase in traffic. Mile after mile of RV’s, heading north, pulling trailers loaded with Jeeps, sand rails, four wheelers and other motorized toys. And the traffic going south were mainly sedans full of hopeful folks heading for the promised land.
Kit’s Corner: I totally enjoyed our time in Death Valley. It was much nicer than I could have imagined. However, I was very excited and anxious to get to Las Vegas to see Suzie & Co. After all, a big part of these winter “getaways” are all about family and we never seem to get enough time with our two youngest grandsons, Jack and Tucker. Onward to Sin City!!
Love, Dad/Mom, Poppy/Guma, Bill/Kit
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Thanks for the nice comment, glad you enjoyed reading about our travels.