The tiny almost-ghost town of Death Valley Junction, with a population of about 20, has a remarkable story that makes it worth a detour. It sits in the California desert south of Death Valley National Park and only five miles from the Nevada border.
The town, built in 1923 by the Pacific Coast Borax Company, was in serious decline only a few decades after having a population of 350. Spanish Colonial Revival buildings, including a hotel and theatre, still remained in the center of town. In 1967, dancer and actress Marta Becket of New York had a flat tire while passing through the town on the way to a function.
Amargosa Opera House
While wandering away from the service station, she noticed something peculiar – a theatre. With her career in New York in decline, she talked her husband into renting the theatre and moving to Death Valley Junction permanently.
Becket began to make repairs and would often give performances to an empty theatre. She decided to paint murals of audience members on the walls and would often perform only for them.
Everything changed when National Geographic and Life magazines discovered her and wrote profiles about her. She was then receiving visitors from around the world who came all the way to the middle of nowhere to see her perform at the Amargosa Opera House. Celebrities such as Ray Bradbury and Red Skelton were among her admirers.
Becket was able to prolong her career and gave her last performance on February 12, 2012. She passed away on January 30, 2017, at the age of 92. The theatre continues to have performances sporadically throughout the year. Check the official website for more details.
If you would like to visit the theatre, stop into the adjoining Amargosa Hotel and ask at the front desk. Tours are given roughly every hour and cost US$5 per person (as of November 2017). You can also watch a short film about Becket’s life.
More murals painted by Becket are in the hotel. A 16th century Spanish garden is depicted in the dining room and more scenes are in the lobby. Many of the guest rooms have been painted as well, including Room 22, which was dedicated to Red Skelton (he stayed there four times). To make a booking or to see photos of the rooms, click here.
It’s very important that you fill up your gas tank when visiting Death Valley Junction. There are no gas stations for several miles around. For further reading about the hotel and opera house, click here.