Places: Death Valley Junction

The Amargosa Opera House stands at the corner of State Line Road and California Route 127, in a place now called Death Valley Junction. In the early 1920s it was Amargosa, a company town that supported borax mining interests. A U-shaped building contained a hotel, dining room, dormitories, company offices and a community center. The opera didn’t arrive in town until later.

When I talk to people about Death Valley Junction the word opera inevitably derails the conversation. Opera, in the middle of the desert? Far away from any population center?

In 1967 a flat tire left Marta (nee Martha) Becket and her husband waiting for repairs in Death Valley Junction. Marta explored the community center, then known as Corkhill Hall, and felt it calling her. That was the beginning of cultural institution that endures to this day. Becket rented the center for $45 a month, evicted the kangaroo rats that populated it, and rebuilt it into a performance space. Audiences were sparse to non-existent, so she began to paint murals on the walls that depicted a full house. Audiences and attention followed, as well as questions about the sensibility of building an opera house in the desert.

Am I eccentric?” she asked in an interview with The New York Times in 1999. “Is it eccentric to love your work so much that you would go anywhere in the world to do it?”

Today, the Opera House draws desert pilgrims and the curious from around the world. A new structure across the street showcases Becket’s wardrobe, the motel continues to operate and gets solid reviews, and the newly reopened café serves a very good BLT. Otherwise, Death Valley Junction is a ghost town, though the scenery has its own charm.

Death Valley Junction
A relic of the borax mining days


Death Valley Junction
The garage where Marta Becket and her husband traveled to fix a flat tire


Death Valley Junction
The Amargosa Motel


Amargosa Opera House
Amargosa Opera House


Death Valley Junction
A brief history of Death Valley Junction


A couple following their dream.

Fare wars

Christmas windows and skeptical bystanders

After a relatively slow summer for airfare sales, the last few weeks have seen competition heat up. Beth and I had a list of places we were interested in visiting this winter–Vienna, Amsterdam and Portugal were top of the list, along with Paris (no, we can’t quit that place). I kept an eye on fares, including tracking a few itineraries that fit timeframes that would work for us. We didn’t have to go anywhere at anytime, and decided that if the right opportunity showed itself we would make a decision.

That opportunity landing in my inbox a few weeks ago. Crazy low fares from Raleigh–a short drive from us–to Paris and return. We jumped on it and booked travel for our entire family.

Here’s the best part of the story: Earlier this year Beth had chosen to give up her seat on a flight to Chicago, and netted a thousand dollar travel voucher. Between that and the sale, tickets for the three of us were just over $300. Total.

I’ve seen even better deals the past week, from numerous airlines. WOW, which I’ve flown a few times, had round trips from BWI (Baltimore/Washington DC) to Paris for under $250. Super economy fares, for sure, but a few hours of less-than-stellar comfort could put you in the City of Lights during Christmas market season.

And fortunately the exchange rate with the Euro is still decent. That means our cost of traveling won’t be out of control, and we were able to book a two-bedroom apartment a block from the Metro, Beth’s favorite restaurant, and the only street in Paris for much less than a hotel. Paris for a fraction of the cost of a trip to New York, Chicago or many other US cities? Sign me up.

Pro tip: If an airline asks for volunteers to give up a seat, don’t jump at the first offer. Playing the waiting game can pay off. The offer for Beth’s seat started at $400 before landing at a much higher amount.