Preserving Scotty’s Castle

Posted on November 18, 2019

Scotty’s Castle is a well-known Death Valley oddity. The beautiful Mission-Revival styled buildings, formerly known as “Death Valley Ranch,” rise from the desert like a mirage. Since the 1970s, when the National Park Service purchased the site, visitors have flocked to this castle in the middle of nowhere.

It’s also a GeoDesign project site! To learn more about how we’re helping to preserve Scotty’s Castle, read on.


First, some history: The titular “Scotty” was a friend of the actual owner of Scotty’s Castle, the wealthy and influential Albert Johnson. He eventually pegged Walter Scott for the con man he was (Scotty reportedly swindled him out of thousands of dollars), but the two of them struck up an unlikely friendship. When the opulent castle compound was under construction, Scotty loved to tell people he was the owner, which seemed to amuse Johnson. In the end, despite the fact that it isn’t a castle and never belonged to Scotty, the name “Scotty’s Castle” stuck. Built in the 1920s, the site includes: the hacienda, an annex, a guest house, stables, and a clock tower, in addition to the never-completed swimming pool.

The flood

Death Valley usually receives 3.5 inches of rain annually. On October 18, 2015, it received 2.7 inches of rain in five hours. Flash floods roared into the area around Scotty’s Castle, destroying parts of roads and heavily damaging some of the site’s structures.

The recovery

The restoration effort at Scotty’s Castle and the surrounding areas has been ongoing for several years.

We’re excited to play a part in the recovery of this historically important site. We provided geotechnical support for the construction of new protective structures, to ensure that future flood events do not damage the historic structures of Scotty’s Castle. Specifically, we evaluated subsurface conditions at the site and provided recommendations for the design of flood control structures.

The National Park Service hopes to reopen the area to the public sometime in 2020.

Note: GeoDesign’s AJ Atry was at the site and provided us with the pictures you see in this post. Check out our gallery below for more.

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