They were two impressive leather chairs, languishing in shadows where the stairway twisted between floors in an elderly Montana hotel. Adjacent to them, sharing royal red and gold carpet, an upright piano waited for a song.
Their town is small, set amid historic and geographic hot spots; you have to want to be there, and there were few guests the night I stayed. No one ran their hands over the smooth, time-worn arms, no modern bottoms felt the deep satisfaction of sinking into the cushions. The piano remained silent.
But, for a few precise moments, as evening peered through a tall window and I paused in the hallway, the glow of forgotten grandeur reappeared, and history sang softly in my ear.
Toward the conclusion of my trip last autumn, nearing a highway junction for Death Valley, I spied a collection of buildings ahead, just beyond our intended right turn—a detour. I’d only driven eight miles that morning, and Ulrich and I were anticipating all we’d see in Death Valley. We didn’t get any farther than Amargosa.
A mostly-forgotten magnet for history buffs, artists, daydreamers, and tumbleweeds, it’s a place you think you’ll stop at for a few minutes, a picture or two, until you’re suddenly booking a room for the night.
The Amargosa Opera House and Hotel, and the artistry of Marta Becket, are the main attractions there. If you look closely, there are many intriguing details, such as a flower in a tutu (one of Ms. Becket’s originals).
The next day we moved on to Dante’s View (a beautiful sunrise) and then Zabriskie Point, where buses of tourists overran everything, selfie sticks in hand. Perhaps Amargosa wasn’t the detour, after all.
Marta Becket danced until she was 85 years old. On January 30, 2017, at 92, she passed away at her home in Amargosa. The link to her name features a short film on her life and art (on YouTube), California Dreamers.
The fine still images my friend Ulrich Rossmann took in Amargosa may be viewed on his online portfolio.
Still round the corner there may wait,
A new road or a secret gate.
—J. R. R. Tolkien
Eastward across Nevada, following Highway 50 to Ely, Ulrich and I stopped briefly in Austin and Eureka. Just enough time to scratch at the surface of both towns.
Whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping. —Bo Derek