US road trip part 6: Death Valley, tipis and dancers in the desert

We last left you flying along the long, hot desert stretch of historical Route 66, stopping at adorable vintage stores, fifties-style diners that are fifties-style because they haven’t been changed since then and wigwam motels.

John and I like to think of ourselves as somewhat adventurous when it comes to our travel and when we signed up for a night in a tipi in the middle of the desert at Cynthia’s Tipis, we pictured ourselves completely isolated with nothing but the coyotes for company.

Imagine our pleasant surprise when we weaved between ominously large, sand-coloured boulders down a small dust path and turned a corner to reveal a lush oasis.


Next to an adorable 1920s cottage stood several luxury tipis, decked out with floral vintage fabrics and eastern-style candles and statues. Outside the tent was a date orchard just under the red mountainous terrain. It was one of the most beautiful, peaceful places I’ve ever been in my life.

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We were the only guests as it was off season – or so we thought. Along the way we met two gorgeous cats, a male and a female who were in love.

Seriously, they were like two halves of a whole, following each other around, kissing constantly, it was the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen. We verified this fact with the owner the next day who informed us that they also had lots of babies together. Now how heartbreakingly cute is that?

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After a home cooked dinner in the outdoor kitchen and an amazing night’s sleep in the tipis, we checked out and visited some local attractions on Cynthia’s advice.

This one in particular was irresistible because of the frankly incredible back story. Marta Becket used to be a professional dancer on Broadway and in her one-woman show. She married in 1962 and it was on her way to another engagement in 1967, when she was in her forties, that a flat tire started her on a bizarre journey with fate as she discovered what would later be her life.

She stumbled upon an old theatre, among the pirouetting dust devils, which was part of a company town constructed in the 1920s by the Pacific Coast Borax Company. Attached to a hotel was a recreation hall used as a community centre for town events.

Marta fell in love with the now-dilapidated hall and decided to rent it out, lovingly repairing it and even painting herself an audience on its previously barren walls, changing its name to the Amargosa Opera House. She danced alone there for three years until passing journalists from the National Geographic saw Marta performing alone to no audience in 1970. Her profile, followed by another in Life led to her international fame, and Marta began performing to visiting audiences from across the globe – the dancer in the desert. Her last performance was just two years ago in 2012.

It became quickly apparent that Marta was an inspiration – a true artist through and through with her beautiful paintings, love of music and dance and passion, regardless of an audience. This was one of the most moving stories I’d ever encountered.

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Sadly we couldn’t stay forever, and as much as I would have loved to have encountered Marta, now approaching her 90s, I bought a copy of her book: To Dance on Sands and we drove on, through the closed Death Valley national park and towards our next destination…

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