our visit to Death Valley my friend Jae and I decided to attend a
performance at the Amargosa Opera House in Death Valley Junction, just
outside the boundaries of the national park. The opera house sits
at one end of a large u-shaped arcade built in 1923 by the Pacific
Coast Borax Company as a kind of company town. It incorporated
living quarters, offices, a hotel, a dining room and a community
center, which is what the opera house started out as.
When New York City dancer Marta Becket and her husband chanced upon the
complex in 1967 it was a deserted ruin, but Marta imagined the
community center as a theater in which she could exercise her
art. She and her husband leased it, renovated it and gradually
bought up the rest of the complex, reopening the hotel and presenting
shows in the “opera house” every year from November to May, all
She's still at it, though at 84 she can no longer dance. She
gives a seated performance these days, in which she reminisces and
sings songs of her own composition.
While waiting for curtain time we drove seven miles north to the
Longstreet Casino, Hotel and RV Park. Like everything else in
these parts, it's in the middle of nowhere. As I learned from a
bartender there, the casino's fortunes rise and fall with the numbers
of RV campers who stop in on tours of Death Valley and the American
There only seemed to be locals on hand when we visited. “Why do
people live out in places like this?” I asked myself. The answer
came to me after a while — “There are no yuppies here.” It
Jae and I had some decent burgers at the casino's coffee shop, and I won 57 cents at a slot machine.
Then we headed back to Death Valley Junction for the show.