The Dusty Jewel of Nye County
The first time I’d ever heard of a place called Beatty was on a trip to Death Valley with my father in 2005. While on our way to Scotty’s Castle in the northern part of the national park, we passed a road with a sign marking “Beatty” at the other end. Pops and I kept driving, though in retrospect I wish we’d turned down that road instead, as Beatty was celebrating its one-hundred-first anniversary that year, no small feat considering nearly all of the settlements that sprung up around the same time in this area have since died out.
Unlike most boomtowns erected in this area of Nevada and California around the turn of the century, Beatty is still a functioning community. Established in 1904 after a discovery of gold, Beatty and its nearby neighbor Rhyolite, once said to be the “Chicago of the West,” attracted thousands of prospectors, miners, and businesspeople, all hoping to cash in on the mineral riches unearthed on land perched on the edge of Death Valley.
More than 100 years later, Rhyolite, once destined for greatness, is a ghost town like the other abandoned settlements littering the Death Valley area. But Beatty survived. Now, in the 21st century, it boasts slightly more than 1,000 residents with a density of fewer than 10 individuals per square mile.
In 2011, I moved to Death Valley and began working at Scotty’s Castle. Shortly thereafter, I ventured to Beatty for the first time. The first thing I learned about Beatty was how to pronounce it properly — the first syllable is “bay,” not “bee.” The second thing I learned is that Beatty can be summed up in one word: underappreciated.
My year in Death Valley was sprinkled with the occasional weekend jaunts to Beatty, mostly involving trips to the cavernous candy store, soaking in natural hot springs, eating homemade pizza at KC’s Outpost, and carousing with the local cowboys and old-timers at the Happy Burro and Sourdough Saloon on the main drag.
Now it’s 2014 and I haven’t lived in Death Valley in over two years, but I’m back in town visiting my old friend Jacob, a park ranger who has been in Death Valley for over three years. Another old Death Valley friend, Lindsey, has since moved outside the boundaries of the park to a trailer in Beatty. Jacob and I decide to visit Lindsey on her temporary home turf, and I’m bent on revisiting my past favorite Beatty haunts.
Jacob and I set off on a Sunday morning from his ranger residence in Death Valley. We cross Hell’s Gate along Daylight Pass and follow the road’s curves toward Beatty. A colorful sign warmly welcomes us to the Wild West that is the great state of Nevada. The sign is riddled with bullet holes so we know we’re in the right place.
Beatty is a treasure-trove of American West history, Mojave desert culture, and general quirk. The residents seem to have a good sense of humor, exemplified by Hope Street and its close-by street-sister, Beyond Hope.
We arrive at Lindsey’s house by 10am. She shows me around her trailer, introduces us to her friendly pooch Buck, and lets us watch as she feeds a mouse to her snake Fuego. Lindsey has been living in her Beatty trailer for the past few months, working as a museum specialist nearby. At 25 years old, she’s one of the younger adult residents of Beatty, and as a single woman, she’s even more of an anomaly.
When I ask her what it’s like to be one of the few young, single women in this area, she comments on her general lack of a happenin’ social life. “I don’t meet many people my age. Living in Beatty as a young person can be challenging. Where do you go to meet people? The library has really difficult hours for me, and the bars usually have a lot of the same people in them on any given night, and they typically aren’t my age. But there are a couple guys about my age who live down the street.”
We watch her snake consume his weekly mouse meal, and she changes topics to what she likes about living here. “The scenery is beautiful, she starts, “and the weather is fantastic. The people are welcoming, and it seems like almost everybody has at least one dog. The bars are affordable and have a really nice, laid-back atmosphere, but…” she concludes with a laugh, “I often get mistaken for a tourist even though I’ve been a regular sight in town for most of the last three years.”
Beatty, though small, has its share of tourists, mostly due to its position on the edge of Death Valley. Every temperate winter and every outrageously hot summer, tourists from all over the world pass through Beatty on their way into the national park. Death Valley is huge, over 3.3 million acres and bigger than the state of Connecticut, and Beatty is only one of the many gateways into the park. However, Beatty boasts history, recreational opportunities, and charm that some of the other border towns of Death Valley lack. And today, I plan to drag Lindsey and Jacob along on my mission to sample as much of Beatty as I can fit into one day.
Lindsey Newhall first left her home state of California when she was 20, and has since called China, Thailand, and Alaska her home. You can check out more of Lindsey’s writing on Fightland.