Monday, March 5, 2012
There are very few places to stay overnight when visiting Death Valley, if you're not going to camp. There are four places in the park itself - including the Panamint Springs Resort where I spent two haunted nights four years ago - and then there are a variety of small towns around the periphery of the park, all at least a half hour's drive from the park boundary.
After spending one uneventful night in the popular stopover town Beatty, NV, I spent the last night of my Death Valley weekend in a far more remote location: Death Valley Junction, a ghost town whose only remaining business is the Amargosa Opera House & Hotel.
Designated a National Historic Landmark, the Amargosa was originally built in the 1920s as a borax company town for local workers. It had residences, a coffee shop, a hospital, a rec hall, a store, and a garage across the street.
In the 1960s, actress/dancer Marta Becket moved from New York City to Death Valley Junction and rented out the original hall to turn it into an opera house, where she performed dances and mimes for over 40 years, until her retirement a few weeks ago.
I never got to see her perform, and now the opera house is officially closed.
But after a bit of begging, despite my late check-in, I managed to get myself a tour.
The walls of the opera house are covered in Marta's paintings...
...illuminated by lights hand-crafted out of coffee cans.
Many of Marta's personal possessions - including old costume pieces - still linger backstage, access to which is forbidden.
Apparently Marta, now in her late 80s, still lives onsite - somewhere - in an undisclosed location.
You can almost feel her watching, as her paintings stare out at you from the walls of the hotel hallways.
And you can still see her dance, on the TV screen in the lobby, which shows old VHS tapes of her performances.
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