Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Opera House in the Desert

At the intersection of CA 190 and CA 127 about midway between the eastern boundary of Death Valley National Park and the California-Nevada border, the map read "Death Valley Junction."

Before heading back to our RV site in Pahrump (NV), we turned south on 127 through town.

The eerie feeling that enveloped us carried with it the question: "Is this a ghost town?"
We drove the two-block distance to the edge of town and then, seeing no buildings around the curve, turned around to retrace our route through town.

I don't know what this building's purpose was--whether it was a gas station or related to the operation of the Death Valley Railroad, which carried borax between Ryan, CA and Death Valley Junction from 1914 to 1928, when operations ceased.

The only signs of the presence of others were the motorcycles parked in front.
Across the street from this building was the T&T Cafe. The sign in the window blinked "Open," but, once again, only the bikes and the car gave signs of others.

But it was this sign for the Famous Amargosa Hotel that moved the status of "ghost town" back to the "best guess" description of Death Valley Junction.

But on the left, with a sign reading
"Open" was the Amargosa Hotel. "During the years 1923-1925, the Pacific Coast Borax Company constructed a company town consisting of a U-shaped complex
of Mexican Colonial style buildings of adobe to house the company offices, store, dormitory, a twenty-three room hotel, dining room, lobby, and employees' headquarters.
A recreation hall was built at the northeast end of the complex and was used as a community center for dances, church services, movies, funerals, and town meetings. At the time it was known as Corkhill Hall" (
The name of the hall and the town itself were to undergo significant changes over the years.

"In 1967, a new culture came to Death Valley Junction. That was the year that a New York ballet dancer, mime and artist had a flat tire in Death Valley. She's stayed there ever since.

"Marta Becket opened a theater of dance in the nearly abandoned hamlet, inside what was once the sprawling Amargosa Hotel, then in sad shape" ( (She renamed Corkhill Hall; it would become the Amargosa Opera Hall).

She was tired of the stressful life of New York City and embraced the wide open spaces in which the tiny speck of Death Valley Junction sits" (

Behind these locked doors is the result of four years of Marta's work. She painstakingly painted an entire audience on the walls, filled with characters who might have attended an opera back in the 16th century. They included royalty, bullfighters, monks, cherubs, Native Americans, dancers, musicians and her two cats.

Marta Becket staged dance and mime shows from the late 1960s until her last show in February 2012. For many years, the curtain parted promptly at 8:15 pm every Friday, Saturday, and Monday night. One report stated that she had danced to audiences of "none, one and packed houses" (

Called a diva and Queen of the Desert, Marta retired earlier this year,giving her final peformance at age 87.

The vibrant colors still speak of the energy she brought to this corner of the desert,...but the paint was beginning to peel.

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