Scotty's Castle Cookhouse Returns from the Ashes at Death Valley National Park

Superintendent Sarah Craighead readies for the ribbon cutting for the dedication of the Scotty’s Castle cookhouse. NPS photo by Naomi Gillespie.

Why does a castle need a cookhouse? A favorite attraction for visitors to Death Valley National Park is Scotty's Castle, and another part of the fabled building's story can now be told with the restoration of the historic cookhouse.

The tales surrounding the building of the magnificent Death Valley Ranch are as colorful as the man whose name soon became attached to the house: Death Valley Scotty. A park publication notes, "Scotty’s Castle is Spanish revival-style vacation home built by Albert and Bessie Johnson in the 1920s. Their friend, Walter Scott, better known as “Death Valley Scotty,” claimed the castle was built with money from his secret gold mine. The Johnsons fostered this tale, which is a sample of the colorful history surrounding the site."

Present-day visitors enjoy touring the home and grounds, but the large structure didn't simply spring from the desert overnight, and one of the first buildings constructed at the site was the cookhouse. In the early days, it provided lodging and meals for construction employees, and was modified several times by Albert Johnson. It eventually evolved from a simple outbuilding into a beautiful Spanish structure. In later years, visitors to Scotty’s Castle dined in the cookhouse.

For most of the past two decades, that important piece of the Castle's history has been missing from the grounds. Most of the cookhouse was destroyed by a fire in 1991, and the building remained a burned-out ruin for nineteen years due to a lack of funds to reconstruct and restore the structure.

The park was eventually able to accumulate enough money from the recreation fee program to complete the project, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held last month. There are plans to open the main dining room section of the cookhouse to the public in the future, and for some exhibits or a slide show about the building's history.

Scotty’s Castle itself is open 365 days a year for guided house tours, and separate "underground tours" showcase innovative technology designed for the Castle by Albert Johnson. If a trip to Death Valley isn't part of your plans in the immediate future, you can also take a virtual tour of Scotty's Castle by downloading the file at this link.

Incidentally, the large house dubbed Scotty's Castle wasn't actually his home; his benefactors and friends Albert and Bessie Johnson built Scotty his own place nearby at Lower Vine Ranch. Lower Vine Ranch is usually closed to the public, but the park is offering Ranger Guided Tours from January 19, 2011 to April 9, 2011. During those dates, tours will be offered every Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. and every Saturday at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Each tour is limited to 15 people; you'll find details at this link.