There are many jobs at Scotty’s Castle, but every person who works here leads tours. Now that Tom and I have completed our two weeks of training, we started leading tours this last week. Scotty’s Castle is a living history museum, which means that all the guides dress in period-authentic clothing. Tom is Powerhouse Operator Tom. I am Ruth, a church friend of Bessie. The year is 1939 forever at Scotty’s Castle.
There are three kinds of tours at Scotty’s Castle. You can lead house tours, which last an hour and take visitors through most of the rooms at the Castle. You can lead underground tours, which also last an hour and talk about the technology required to build and run a castle in the middle of Death Valley. You can lead Lower Vine Ranch tours, which last three hours and take visitors on a hike to the Lower Vine Ranch. I am leading house tours and Tom, the engineer, is leading underground tours.
Depending on which position you have, you lead three or four tours a day. This is three to four hours of intense interaction with people. You are trying to tell them the story of Scotty’s Castle, answer their questions, and lead them around in such a way that the tour ends on time. On busy days the house tours begin every ten minutes. On slower days there are 20 minutes between tours. But if you run over, you mess up all the tours that follow you.
During my first week of leading tours I have met people from all over the US and the world, with the largest groups of people coming from California and Nevada. For most of them, it is their first – and probably only – visit to Death Valley. Scotty’s Castle, especially, is not an easy place to get to! Yesterday I led a tour where everyone was in Death Valley to escape the winter weather – the people on the tour were from Alaska, Minnesota, Michigan, Montana, and Long Island.
Leading the tours is really interesting because there is so much to think about; so many things going through your mind at one time. One of my first tours had a screaming three-year-old. It was naptime and he wasn’t allowed to touch anything. I didn’t blame him for screaming! He was so loud that it was disrupting our tour, bothering other tours, and Tom even heard it on his underground tour! Because I was new at doing this, it took me a few minutes to remember the protocol: escort the family out of the castle. Leading tours is fun but it is also exhausting. After talking so much we come home at night worn out and reluctant to talk anymore.
But leading tours is really rewarding. You are giving a group of people a glimpse into an interesting and unique past. You are helping them appreciate something of cultural and historical interest. If the tour is successful, you are helping them make an emotional and intellectual connection to the place and the people in the story. I enjoy how engaged the visitors are. They have paid for the tours and they are trying to get their money’s worth!
Leading tours is an awesome responsibility and a joy. And I am determined that every tour will be better than the last. By April I should really have this down.