Marta Becket, desert icon who made the Amargosa Opera House a destination

Becket, who died Monday at 92, spent decades presenting self-written, one-woman shows at the Amargosa Opera House, first in front of only empty seats and then full houses as fans drove deep into the desert to watch her perform.

The opera house in Death Valley Junction, a former mining hub seven miles from the Nevada state line, was at once a classic desert curiosity and a cultural beacon in the middle of nowhere.

A classically trained dancer who grew up in New York and danced at Radio City Music Hall, Becket made her debut at the opera house in 1968.

By her estimation, the population of Death Valley Junction was two — she and her husband. When he left her, the population shrank to one.

Aside from the occasional drifter, nobody arrived to see her performances. So she painted a large and festive audience on the walls and a Renaissance-style explosion of billowy clouds, cherubs and musicians in an ocean of blue on the ceiling.

“People asked why I did it, and I said ‘Well, I have to