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Amargosa, the Borax Mining Boom

Just south of Death Valley, California lies Death Valley Junction, population four. This cluster of buildings, most crumbling, was once called Amargosa; “bitter” in Spanish. The taste of the local water inspired this name. Death Valley Junction is a stopover for travelers across the Nevada border and to Death Valley. There’s no gas station and no store, but there is the Amargosa Hotel.

The Spanish Colonial Revival style hotel was built during the nineteen-twenties, when Amargosa was the center of a borax mining boom. A fine establishment by the standards of its day, mine bosses and financiers and railway men stayed here on business. The white, thick adobe walls kept out the worst of the desert heat in a time before air conditioning, and still do today.

By the middle of the century, the Borax trade faded, and few visited here unless on their way to somewhere else. But in 1967, a famous dancer, singer, and choreographer, Martha Beckett with her husband, fell in love with the Amargosa hotel and settled in.

Becket turned the hotel’s assembly hall into an opera house where she performed there regularly until 2012. As the singer decorated the inside of the hotel with her art she painted on the walls the dozen attenders on her premier show.

The opera house possesses a welcoming atmosphere. Painted audience members you can visit include fine ladies and gentlemen in Renaissance finery, Shoshone dancers, armored knights, playful cats, among others.

The longer you stay, the more you focus, that more delightful details emerge. The opera house is reputedly haunted by a still-elegant Martha Becket. If you pass this way, consider an overnight stay. While not fancy, this special place may appeal to you.

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