Scotty’s Castle & the Gas House Museum – (75 miles from Panamint Springs Resort) This Mediterranean hacienda in the northern part of the park, and is Death Valley’s premier tourist attraction. Visitors are wowed by the elaborate Spanish tiles, well-crafted furnishings, and construction that included solar water heating. Even more compelling is the colorful history of this villa in Grapevine Canyon, brought to life by park rangers dressed in 1930s period clothing. Don’t be surprised if the castle cook or a friend of Scotty’s gives you a special insight into castle life.
Construction of the “castle” — more officially, Death Valley Ranch — began in 1924. It was to be a winter retreat for eccentric Chicago millionaire Albert Johnson and his wife Bessie. The insurance tycoon’s unlikely friendship with prospector, cowboy, and spinner-of-tall-tales Walter Scott put the $2.3-million structure on the map and captured the public’s imagination. Scotty greeted visitors and told them fanciful stories from Death Valley’s early hard-rock mining days.
The 1-hour walking tour of Scotty’s Castle is excellent for its inside look at the mansion and its exploration of Johnson and Scotty’s eccentricities. Tours fill up quickly; arrive early for the first available spots ($15 adult, $7.50 senior pass holder, and $7.50 child fee).
Titus Canyon has it all—rugged mountains, colorful rock formations, a ghost town, petroglyphs, wildlife, rare plants and spectacular canyon narrows as a grand finale! Visitors to Titus Canyon often include a stop at Rhyolite ghost town before starting the one-way drive. Don’t expect solitude on this trip. Titus Canyon is the most popular back-country road in Death Valley National Park. Two-wheel-drive vehicle, high-clearance recommended; four-wheel-drive may be needed after adverse weather conditions. Two-way section from west OK for two-wheel-drive, standard clearance vehicles. Distance 27 miles; last 3 miles on west end are two-way. Time needed is 2 to 3 hours. Start form Nevada Highway 374 (Daylight Pass Road), 2 miles east of park boundary Road.
Rhyolite, Nevada, was a mining boomtown built to last, a stone and concrete city intended to be a great metropolis. It included three story office buildings, banks, churches, even an opera house. The town had dozens of blocks with plumbing, electricity, and telephone service. Yet its life was as short and frenzied as any mining boomtown; it just took longer to fade away. The town was born in 1905 and was at its peak in 1907 with possibly 10,000 residents. The 1910 census showed 675 residents and the 1920 showed 14!
Rhyolite was the culmination of the gold rush era. With one mining stampede after another in the west, people were ready to believe any get-rich-quick promotion, especially those who had missed out before. When some exciting samples of gold-laced rock were found in the local Bullfrog Mining District in August, 1904, the Rhyolite frenzy was on. Sharp operators didn’t need actual gold to make a killing. Besides the inevitable real estate boom, stock promoters went wild selling very speculative shares in Rhyolite ventures from New York to San Francisco. In the end they were all worthless.
Near Scotty’s Castle is Ubehebe Crater (80 miles from Panamint Springs Resort). It is known as an explosion crater — one look and you’ll know why. When hot magma rose from the depths of the earth to meet the groundwater, the resultant steam blasted out a crater. Ubehebe Crater is a large volcanic crater 600 feet deep and half a mile across. We often hear mistakenly that “Ubehebe” means “big basket”, but the Paiute name Ubehebe was first applied to the 5,678 ft. Ubehebe Peak, 24 miles southwest of the crater. How the name Ubehebe became associated with the crater is not known. To the Timbisha Shoshone Indians, the crater has been known as “Tem-pin-tta- Wo’sah”, meaning Coyote’s Basket. Although applying this translation to the word Ubehebe has produced a great deal of confusion, but comparing the crater to a basket is appropriate.