Monday, December 10, 2012

Photo Essay: Where Death Valley Scotty Actually Lived

So even though it's named after him, Death Valley Scotty - the infamous tall tale-telling cowboy - never actually lived in Scotty's Castle.

No, he lived about five miles down the road in a modest dwelling now known as Lower Vine Ranch.

Also located in Grapevine Canyon, where water flows aplenty, the Lower Vine Ranch is full of modern artifacts and buildings currently being stabilized, so it's cordoned off.



I managed to go there accompanied by a ranger with a key.



Walking down a long dirt road...



...along the fence originally erected by Albert Johnson, featuring his initial with Scotty's (as does the castle itself)...



...you reach a locked gate patrolled and protected by the National Park Service...



...beyond which is a muddy road, along which the plentiful water finds its way to lower ground.



If you can get through the mud, you reach a broken down wagon...



...a circular corral for Scotty's beloved mules...



...and an outdoor bathtub, the only place Scotty permitted himself to bathe, and rarely at that.



There is debris scattered everywhere, since Scotty's backyard was his trash can, discarding metal cans (presumably of pineapple rings, a staple of his diet) and broken pieces of china.



The ranch itself is in great condition, having suffered some water damage over the years, requiring some soaked wood slats to be replaced with lumber from the original building materials.



The inside has been cleaned up since being abandoned after Scotty's death in 1958, and virtually untouched until the 1980s.



The kitchen still features the original wood-burning oven...



...and the bathroom still features the toilet and shower which Scotty never used.



The guest room has been cleaned up tremendously...



...since finding it full of trash, including magazines once used as paper plates by Scotty, who loved to cook but hated to wash dishes.



In fact, the Lower Vine Ranch was once so overrun by rodents that one could not only find their droppings in Scotty's cooking pan, but also throughout the bedroom, in which Scotty only sometimes slept...



...keeping a mattress in nearly every other room, perhaps to have somewhere to softly crash after a few too many drinks.

The NPS would like to restore the ranch back to its original condition, full of eccentricity, including the trash can hamper where Scotty kept his nice clothes, and the clotheslines strung throughout the bedroom from which he hung the rest of his clothes, and which created a kind of rodent superhighway, high above his bed and belongings. (Let's hope they leave the rodents out.)

Visiting the Lower Vine Ranch is a bit of a creepy crawly experience, pestered by biting Buffalo gnats (who, like mosquitoes, must surely like the nearby water) and stalked by stinging wasps. But unlike the castle - which says more about Scotty's friend, partner and investor Albert Johnson than it does about Scotty himself - the Lower Vine Ranch gives a real glimpse into Scotty the man, the real man beyond all of the fantastical fabrications.

It's well worth a trip to Death Valley just to take a ranger-led tour of the ranch, and it's well-paired with tours of Scotty's Castle (both inside and out, and especially underground).

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