Sunday, March 30, 2014

Vintage Vacation...Death Valley Days!

Greetings from Death Valley!
The first time George and I visited Death Valley was in the middle of summer...what were we thinking?  The temperature that day at the Furnace Creek Visitor's Center...elevation -196 ft...was 114 degrees.   Since we spend a lot of time in the Vegas area, how much hotter could it be, right?  It was brutal!  But we were going to see the sights!  We had a lot of water and a packed we were long as we stayed in the car.

Vintage travel ad...encouraging a trip to Hell.
The brochure reads..."It has all the advantages of Hell without the inconveniences!"

The Indians called it Tomesha...the "Ground Afire."  The heat of midsummer shows how perfect that name turned out to be.  In July and August, temperatures of 120 degrees are not uncommon.  The record hot day was in July 1913...134 degrees Fahrenheit.  It makes me wonder if Hell might be a tad more pleasant on a summer's day.  We visited the park this year on Valentine's weekend and the temps were in the pleasant 70's.

Twenty Mule Team Borax!
As a child I watched "Death Valley Days" on TV,  while sitting on my father's lap.  I remember handsome Ronald Reagan was the host and the sponsor was "Twenty Mule Team Borax."  I still buy that borax to make homemade laundry detergent. 

Not far from the visitors center are the ruins of the Harmony Borax works.  Part of the interpretive trail passes by some enormous wagons left from the days of the mule teams.  It is little wonder that the 20 mule team borax outfits of the late 1800's became world famous...they hauled 46,000 pounds of borax, their own water and hay through Death Valley over a 165 mile, ten day trip to Mojave by way of Wingate Pass.  I was just happy our car had air conditioning! 

The next time we visited Death Valley, it was in the spring.  We were hoping to see the wild flowers, but were a bit too early.  We did come across a strange...and colorful...sight at Zabriskie Point...a British pop group making a music video.  Their 12 man bicycle had broken in half and there was a lot of scurrying to and fro trying to make do, while their seamstress toiled over a sewing machine sitting in the middle of!

Scotty's Castle...
1940s Postcard of Scotty's Castle.
I found this old card in Aunt Jane's scrapbook...the one she filled with valentines, postcards and pictures of cute dogs.

A trip to Death Valley without a visit to Scotty's Castle would be like going to Disneyland and just peering through the gates...substituting Scotty's Castle for Sleeping Beauty's.

Death Valley Scotty and His Castle.

Death Valley Scotty did not own Scotty's Castle.  It was built by a Chicago businessman named Albert Johnson in the 1930's.  Scotty was a charming "flim flam man"...a con man and fortune hunter who was the Johnson's constant houseguest.  How he beguiled the Johnsons and managed to keep his exploits alive in the press for over 50 years can be found here...

I bought this in the Castle gift shop, but it is available on

Death Valley Scotty...
Walter Scott in his trademark hat and red tie.

Scotty's Room!
Scotty's Room at the Castle is filled with his personal belongings.  His clothes still hang in the wardrobe...his hats and trademark red ties are on a rack above the dresser.  On one wall hangs an autographed picture of Buffalo Bill.  In 1890, Scotty was discovered by a talent scout who signed him as a cowboy performer with the Wild West Show.  He did daredevil riding and roping stunts, branding exhibitions and the grand spectacle of the "Custers Last Stand" re-enactment.  This was only one piece of the puzzle that makes up the story of this fascinating scoundrel. 

A Quick Tour of the Premises... 
Scotty's Castle as it looks today.
California Mission is one of my favorite styles of architecture.

Tour Guides in Period Costume.
The man represents a CCC worker who helped build the castle.
The girl is standing in the Music Room.
Each guide tells you the story from the viewpoint of his or her character.

Living Room...
Scotty told his tall tales to the Johnsons and their guests while sitting in one of those leather armchairs. 

40's Postcard View of Music Room.
The rooms look as if the owners just stepped out.
The clothing and personal affects are still in their bedrooms.
I loved the vintage dishes and kitchenware.

Architectural Details...
I do the same thing at Disneyland...capture all the unique details of a place I love.

I am in love with these Mission-style shutters!

Courtyard View.

Unfinished Swimming Pool.
There is a small spring that waters this oasis...
But how could they ever justify filling this pool with precious water?
The blue tiles for the pool are still stored in an underground storage area.

This was only a short tour...too many pictures!
But I am so glad you joined us on this Vintage Vacation!


Little Susie Home Maker said...

What a wonderful journey! So happy to tag along! Love the, "Flim Flam man" stories! The pictures and details are great. Thanks for sharing!

chris mckinley said...

I love traveling along with you!! I've never been to Death Valley, but if I ever go it won't be in the middle of the summer!!!

Musings from Kim K. said...

When we traveled on our Route 66 trip this June/July we were also wondering our timing of AZ in the wicked heat. It was brutal, but it was the trip of a lifetime. Thank you for letting us tag along. Love your pictures.

Tammy's in Love said...

A road trip in a fun little package! Love reading your post about the trips!

vivian said...

I dont think I would be able to survive that heat! lol! but a trip at the right time of the year there would be fun. my son and daughter drove from ny to Az a few years ago and the air conditioning in the car broke.. it was a pretty brutal trip.
Have a great day!
vivian said...

Sounds like a fun trip! My father grew up in Needles, CA, plenty dessert-like!