Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Photo Essay: Searching for Gold Under Scotty's Castle

One of the big draws for tourists to come visit Scotty's Castle - even while he was still alive, even while he was still "living" there - was the legend of Death Valley Scotty's infamous gold mine, which was supposedly located right under the castle, the trap door to it located right under Scotty's bed.

Of course, it's a bed in which he never slept, in a room which he never used despite being designated for him.

And of course, the clanging visitors would hear from under the floorboards was merely staged, any variety of staffers or friends being positioned downstairs to rap a metal pipe with a wrench during dinner parties.

So of course, there is no gold mine down there.

Or is there?

During my recent trip to Death Valley, when I spent an entire day exploring in and around Scotty's Castle, I headed underground to see what was down there.



One level below the ground, adjacent to the pool, is the bathhouse, and although it's outfitted with seahorse door handles...



...and seahorse chandelier...



...it's still, like the pool itself, unfinished.



An artist rendering propped against the wall shows what the castle was meant to become, if ever completed.



But another level down, beneath the basement (which also houses the laundry room), is a series of tunnels...



...which connect various parts of the ranch together in a naturally cool, dark route, particularly convenient for those scorching hot Death Valley summer days.



The tunnels also house exposed water and sewer pipes...



...for ease of maintenance...





...and convenient clanging.



The tunnels are themselves somewhat of an engineering marvel, dug out by one of Albert Johnson's steam-powered gadgets and built with poured concrete walls. But a visit to the tunnels also reveals the fascinating technology that powered the castle, which was able to thrive and sustain essentially off the grid for decades, by power of water (and the Pelton water wheel) and battery (specifically, nickel iron alkaline storage batteries, by Thomas Edison himself).



Perhaps most intriguing are the telltale signs of the castle's unfinished condition:



...piles of tiles...



...all stacked up in storage...



...waiting to be grouted into their final place of rest.



There are the utilitarian floor tiles...



...but also the colorful and ornate decorative Italian tiles...



...imported but never used.

We didn't find any gold down there, but then again, we didn't walk all the way down all of the tunnels, one of which reportedly ends in a big pile of dirt, unfinished in its own way.

But we didn't hear any clanging, either.

Related Post:
Photo Essay: Scotty's Unfinished Castle

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