Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Marta Becket’s Amargosa Opera House–And the Power of One

©Bert Gildart: Every now and then a spur of the moment decision opens a window that reveals the amazing impact one person’s life can have on many others. Such was the case for me this past Saturday night.

After making the 40-minute drive from Pahrump, Nevada, to the Amargosa Opera House located at Death Valley Junction, I encountered a group of veterans, all former army paratroopers, who said they’d had difficulty re-entering society upon completion of active duty in Vietnam. Contemporaries, they said, turned to alcohol, others to drugs.

For this group, however, salvation had been Death Valley, Marta Becket and her Amargosa Opera House–and the fun atmosphere this Grand Dame of the art world created. Trained in ballet, titles such as: “The Goodtime Cabaret,” “The Second Mortgage,” and “On With the Show,” suggest themes–and appeal. The appeal eventually become worldwide but more locally, it found its way into the hearts of a group of army veterans.

Amargosa Opera

Amargosa Opera House

The group met Marta about 20 years ago, and has returned every year, basing themselves at the motel associated with the Opera House. During the day, these aging men jog through the park, but come performance time (now confined to Saturday nights), all attend Marta’s iconic performance.

Vietnam Vetran Hank Humphreys

Vietnam Vetran Hank Humphreys

Hank Humphreys, one of the Vets, explained the circumstances in personal terms. “It took me a long time to grow up,” he said, “and because of Vietnam I guess you could say I didn’t mature until my late forties. But then we came to Death Valley, and after a failed marriage, when I needed inspiration most, there was Marta Becket.”

Hank continued his story, and the gist is that he felt a kinship with all that Marta had accomplished.


“Marta came here in 1967 when she was in her early 40s,” said Hank, “and when she and her husband arrived at Death Valley Junction, I believe she had an epiphany. They’d had a flat tire, but when she saw the old Adobe structure she saw something that no one else saw. You’ve got to wonder alright; out here–miles from nowhere; the wind can howl and some of her first companions were kangaroo rats.

“What made her stay? Who knows for sure, but she saw something, and she made that indifferent something work. I know it’s what inspired us.”

Judging from the crowd at last night’s performance, Ms. Becket did make it work, and at the evening performance, I learned yet more about Marta’s accomplishments and the lure of her setting.

Sold out

Sold out

Though now in her early 80s, her performance remains inspiring–beginning with the artistic atmosphere she created.


Seated in her opera house, you’re engulfed by paintings, and during the performance, she explains why she created them. She said that initially her performance attracted small crowds, sometimes only one or two people. “I wanted to feel as though I had an audience,” she says, “and so I painted the murals.”

Martas extraordinary murals

Marta’s extraordinary murals

If you have ever seen the murals that grace not only the walls but the ceiling, you know her work rivals some of the most accomplished artists of our times. Generally the heroic-sized paintings depict people she has known throughout the years., and except for one she has retained them all.

The one painting she eventually eliminated was of a business man, who, she says, was a scoundrel. He told her that he would invest in her talents and help immortalize her paintings. In so many words, Marta says the man lied and so, she talked about a grand metamorphosis–and how the wall with his likeness suddenly changed.

For me, that left the question of what her future might hold.


After the program, Hank introduced me to Marta Becket. I asked her if she would mind posing with the red scarf she’d used during the evening performance. She looked askance, but Hank quickly scrambled to the chair over which she’d draped the red scarf and gathered it up. Marta blessed him with a smile and me with an image that glowed.

When I asked Ms. Becket how much longer she’d perform she responded by saying no one knew when they were going to die. By that, I assumed she met “Forever.”

Marta Becket, icon of the West

Marta Becket, icon of the West

Hank then introduced me to Jack Meegan and to John and Susan Quirk. They said that Vietnam and a society that ignored their contributions to America, diminished their “first life.” Though they deserve credit for all they’ve overcome, they still say Death Valley and Marta was their inspiration for a great “second life.”

I departed that evening amazed once again at just how much one person’s life can impact so many other’s.

One Response to “Marta Becket’s Amargosa Opera House–And the Power of One”

  1. Sandy Scheller Says:


    Please come back to the Opera House and see this new creation called IF THESE WALLS COULD TALK am sending you this link to update you.
    Sandy Scheller