Galt's Gulch

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Galt's Gulch, also known as Mulligan's Valley or Atlantis (est. 2011), in Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, was the secluded community founded by Midas Mulligan and composed entirely of participants in the great strike of the men of the mind called by John Galt.

Spoiler warning
This article contains important plot information

Background of the site

The town of Ouray, Colorado[1] (elevation 8000 feet) began in 1873, when Chief Ouray, of the Tabeguache Ute tribe, signed a treaty with the United States government, ceding the land to settlers who had already begun to encroach. The Utes had named their village "Uncompaghre," meaning "hot springs," for the mineral-rich springs on the right bank of the nearby river. The town incorporated in 1876 and took Chief Ouray's name. The original settlers were miners, who had found gold and silver and other minerals in the mountains overlooking the Uncompaghre River.

In four years the town grew from a population of 400 to 2600. They built a school, several churches, a hospital, restaurants, saloons and brothels, hardware, clothing and supply stores for the miners, hotels and boarding houses. In 1888 the Denver-Rio Grande Railroad opened a narrow-gauge line through the town, connecting Ouray with Montrose to the north and Durango to the south.

Less than five years later (1893), the price of silver crashed. The miners first turned to gold, after Tom Walsh opened the Camp Bird Mine to the southwest. Eventually this mine, too, closed.

Thereafter Ouray became a tourist attraction, subsisting on income from the Ouray Ice Park to the south, and the original hot springs that are located halfway up-slope, on the right bank. In real life, this tourist trade continues today. But in the alternate reality of the novel, this trade failed on or about the year 2000, possibly coincident with the runaway Constitutional convention that saw the rise-to-power of the infamous Mr. Thompson and his hangers-on. Years later, Michael Mulligan of Chicago, known as "Midas" to his friends and associates, bought the now twice-defunct town, together with several miles of the Uncompaghre River Valley to the north and south. Midas Mulligan knew what others did not: governments come and go, but land, especiall mineral-rich land, holds its value. He reasoned that eventually he could finance some miners who might reopen the old Camp Bird Mine and prospect for other minerals in addition to gold or silver.

Or so he thought.

Background of the strike

The strike of the men of the mind began, of course, with John Galt. After completing his studies in physics and philosophy at the Patrick Henry University, Galt went to work in 2004 as a design engineer at the Twentieth Century Motor Company, founded by the late Gerald "Jed" Starnes. In 2007 he completed the prototype of a motor that could draw static electricity from the atmosphere and convert it to useful motion. But on the day that he built his prototype, Jed Starnes died. His children announced a new business model, by which all the workers would work according to their ability but be paid according to their needs.

John Galt would not accept this. After Gerald Starnes, Jr. announced the inauguration of the plan, John Galt said simply that he would stop the motor of the world. He would do this by calling all the men of the mind to go on strike against a code of "unearned rewards and unrewarded duty," as he would later describe it to a mass audience. His plan was simple: anyone having enough savings to live on, would retire. The rest would take the lowest jobs that they could find and earn only enough to live on. Never at any time did John Galt conceive of anything as collectivistic as a "strike fund."

Galt left his prototype behind, but stripped it of its key parts and took with him all his notes. The prototype technically belonged to the factory, but Galt wanted to make sure that no one would be able to duplicate it.

Galt's first two recruits were Francisco d'Anconia and Ragnar Danneskjold. Francisco set out to destroy the old family copper mining company that he had inherited, so that the world would derive no benefit from either his mind or the minds of his ancestors. Ragnar set about recruiting a crew (or perhaps Francisco recruited it for him) and eventually acquired a warship and became a privateer.

John Galt, in the meantime, continued his recruiting efforts. His next recruit was Hugh Akston, his old friend, professor, and chairman of the department of philosophy at PHU. (The head of the physics department, Dr. Robert Stadler, had earlier betrayed John Galt's trust by endorsing the establishment of the State Science Institute, so Galt did not even attempt to recruit him.)

Galt next sought to recruit William Hastings, his former immediate superior at the Twentieth Century Motor Company. That effort took longer than a year. Hastings had quit the Twentieth Century the same day that Galt had, and had gone to work for the Acme Motor Company. But within a year—in 2008—Hastings retired and accepted Galt's strike rules.

In 2009, John Galt attended a concert given by a piano composer named Richard Halley. Halley had earlier premiered his Fourth Concerto for piano and orchestra, but Galt could tell that Halley was already becoming disillusioned with his audiences. Then Galt attended a revival of Halley's opera, Phaëthon, that he had premiered nineteen years earlier. Then, audiences had jeered because Halley had audaciously changed the old Greek myth to have Phaëthon successfully drive the chariot of the sun. Now, they cheered—but Halley's disillusionment was complete. Galt met him back-stage and shared with him his philosophical insights, and Halley gladly joined his movement.

Midas Mulligan joins the strike

In 2011 came the meeting that changed everything for the old Ouray/Uncompaghre site: the meeting of Midas Mulligan and John Galt. In that year, the Twentieth Century Motor Company finally went under, as Galt knew it would. A feckless man named Lee Hunsacker sought to buy the factory, thinking, as he would say later to Dagny Taggart, that at last this was his "one chance at something big." He applied to Mulligan for a business loan, and Mulligan refused, citing his prior abysmal business record.

The resentful Hunsacker sued Mulligan and asked for a court order compelling Mulligan to grant the loan. The initial trial judge, Judge Narragansett, told the jury in his charge to them that he could find no precedent for granting the relief for which Hunsacker had prayed, and believed the law under which Hunsacker had sued to be unconstitutional. The jury, perhaps in a case of jury nullification, found for Mulligan. Hunsacker appealed. In a result that perhaps even John Galt found incredible, the appellate court reversed Judge Narragansett's dismissal and remanded the case for further consideration. A second jury found for Hunsacker, who now had a judgment against Mulligan.

John Galt went straight to Mulligan and told him that this sort of travesty of justice would continue so long as men like Mulligan continued to put up with it. Mulligan would later say that he took all of fifteen minutes to agree to join John Galt's strike. Like Francisco d'Anconia, Mulligan determined to liquidate his enterprise as he left. Unlike Francisco, the liquidation took all of twenty-four hours. He simply called in all his loans and then paid off his deposits and canceled their accounts. With that done, he vanished. A team of bank examiners later found that the books of the Mulligan Bank balanced exactly. The Mulligan Bank was wiped out, but wiped out in a manner by which not a single depositor had lost any money.

While this was happening, John Galt visited Judge Narragansett in his chambers. Judge Narragansett finally stepped down from the bench and vanished six months following the liquidation of the Mulligan Bank.

The founding of the Gulch

Midas Mulligan did not leave his bank penniless. He converted all his holdings into gold (how he obtained it, the novel never reveals), food, and livestock. He moved this to his landholdings in the Uncompaghre Valley, where he now planned to retire permanently. Mulligan cut off all means of access to the valley except for the northern road. He built a small house and a large stockpile of seed, livestock, and other provisions. As he later explained, he wanted "never again to look in the face of a looter."

John Galt immediately proposed an effective means of camouflage, and Midas hired Galt to provide it. This was a screen of heat rays and reflectors designed to project a false image of a rock-strewn valley five miles distant, plus a smaller version designed to camouflage the northern road. (Midas blocked the winding Million Dollar Road to the south.) Galt also built a powerhouse to provide electric power for these screens, and for Midas' house and any other house that a man might care to build in the valley. John Galt took great pains to keep his invention secret: even though he never expected that anyone would ever set foot in the valley who was not a part of his strike (an expectation that would prove moot later on), he kept his invention, and the power installation, locked down. He erected a blockhouse of granite, about half the size of a railroad freight car, and installed a special sound lock in the one and only door. This door would open only when someone repeated, slowly and with an inflection that would indicate understanding and wholehearted belief, the Oath of the Strike that John Galt had written. He carved this oath on the transom over the front door. It read thus:

I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.

In fact, in June of 2011, John Galt, Francisco d'Anconia, Ragnar Danneskjöld, Hugh Akston, William Hastings, and Richard Halley all built houses in the valley. They intended using those houses in annual visits every June. (William Hastings would use his house one more time, in 2012. He died shortly after he returned to his home on the outside.)

Francisco d'Anconia prospected for copper in the mountains near the old Ouray Ice Park. He found it easily and drove the first excavation in 2011.

Any economy needs a bank, and Midas Mulligan could provide one. He re-established the Mulligan Bank as a bank that dealt exclusively in gold and silver. Ragnar Danneskjöld then announced his plan to bring the proceeds from the sale of seized government "relief cargoes" to the valley and distribute these in various accounts that he opened in the Mulligan Bank, in the names of the existing strikers and also in several names in a long list of prospects that John Galt and Francisco d'Anconia drew up and maintained. Ragnar proposed to refund all income taxes collected from these people since John Galt's initial defiant announcement to Gerald Starnes, Jr.

When John Galt informed Midas Mulligan that Judge Narragansett had joined the strike, Mulligan offered the judge a permanent leasehold so that he could build a house and stay permanently. The judge obliged, and also started a chicken and dairy farm, using a loan from Midas. Shortly thereafter, Mulligan and Narragansett offered the same invitation to Richard Halley. Why Mulligan did this, the novel also never explains. However, Mulligan did have a selective art collection, and probably reasoned that the best way that he could enjoy the best music that anyone could write at the time was to become a music patron. Halley was having none of that, however: he planted fruit trees on his land, so that he could make a living selling the fruit to Midas and the Judge. Mulligan, for his part, grew wheat and tobacco and co-founded, with Hugh Akston, a company to make a special blend of cigarettes.

For a long time, no one but Mulligan, Narragansett, and Halley lived in the valley full-time. In June, other strikers would come to stay for one month out of the year. In September of 2016, Richard McNamara came to the valley, built his own house, and, with another contract from Midas, rerouted the electrical wires and water mains and even set up the telephone exchange. He did not stay permanently; Midas could give him a contract for a one-shot redo of the utilities, but no one could support sufficient regular fees. But when Dwight Sanders, a noted aircraft designer, came to the valley, he set up a hog farm and build the valley's first functioning airstrip. Those activities gave him enough income to stay permanently.

As a result of these activities, the valley not only had resources available for anyone having the knowledge to exploit them, but also capital available to lend to support this activity.

The Colorado debacle

As Dagny Taggart began her efforts to renovate the Rio Norte Line of the Taggart Transcontinental Railroad (and eventually take over the line temporarily as the John Galt Line), John Galt recruited several more men into his strike. Some of these were businessmen and inventors of the sort that could exploit the resources of the valley and thus enable the valley to support more of the strikers with full-time gainful employment. Richard McNamara and Dwight Sanders were only two of the recruits during that period.

The transformational event, the event that finally changed the valley from a simple place of refuge for Mulligan, Narragansett, and Halley—and a holiday resort for Galt and the other strikers—to a thriving community with many more full-time residents, was the disastrous decision by the United States government, in November of 2017, to promulgate a series of new laws and "directives" that effectively destroyed the boom that had begun in Colorado after the John Galt Line had opened. Capping the indignity was a direct tax, which would have been flatly unconstitutional but for the runaway Constitutional convention of 2000, specifically on Colorado's businesses. John Galt was on the scene, of course, and recruited several Colorado businessmen to join his strike, and to come to the valley where they could build new lives for themselves right away. The most spectacular defection was that of Ellis Wyatt, who had devised a method for extracting oil from shale. Wyatt set fire to his entire shale field and left a sign on his property explaining his actions:

I am leaving it as I found it. Take over. It's yours.

Ellis Wyatt and the others, quite simply, had to hide. So for them, living on unskilled-laborer's wages outside the valley was out of the question. Wyatt took the lead by converting whatever part of his wealth that he could keep safe into gold or machines, and bringing it to the valley. With abundant start-up capital and natural resources ready for the taking, Wyatt and the others started to exploit the valley in earnest. In so doing, they created permanent jobs for most of the strikers. McNamara had to hire three assistants to service a tremendously accelerated demand for utility services.

The community now known as Galt's Gulch began to thrive. More and more strikers left off their outside lives and went to work for the most recent defectors. Thus in the period from November 2017 through May of 2019, the valley gained an oil field, a foundry, and an automobile factory, all its own. By then the valley was almost self-supporting; Mulligan maintained a channel to the outside to acquire the few goods that the valley residents could not produce for themselves. Whether the government could ever have compromised that channel would never be known, because the outside society collapsed before anyone in the government ever knew or suspected that Galt's Gulch existed.


John Galt did not ask anyone to name Galt's Gulch after him. The strikers did so probably for two reasons:

  1. John Galt's new electrostatic motor was the source of the valley's electrical power, and a more abundant source than any of them could have imagined.
  2. John Galt himself, as the prime mover of the great strike, was regarded as the man who made the Gulch possible.

But John Galt preferred to call the place Mulligan's Valley, after Midas Mulligan, who had bought the land and still owned it and leased it to all the others who lived and worked there.

Dagny Taggart gave the valley another name: Atlantis, after the fabled "lost continent" in the Atlantic Ocean.

Laws and customs

Galt's Gulch did not have many ordinances as such. The Gulch was in essence a feudal society. Midas Mulligan was the landlord (hence John Galt's custom of calling the place Mulligan's Valley), and all rents flowed to him. The community had no "village plan commission" or "zoning board." As the landowner, Midas made his own decisions about land-use planning and seems to have tried to be as unobtrusive as possible. Aside from such questions, under Judge Narragansett's guidance, the residents of the Gulch probably conducted their affairs according to the principles of English Common Law.

John Galt described the Gulch to Dagny Taggart as a place of rest. The Gulch had no police force or sheriff, because it had no crime. The closest thing it had to an executive authority was a three-man Committee of Safety, consisting of John Galt, Francisco d'Anconia, and Ragnar Danneskjöld. Indeed it was not a state of any kind, but a strictly voluntary association of homesteaders. Judge Narragansett's judicial activities were probably limited to the occasional Request for Judicial Intervention to ratify arbitration agreements. The judge might also have reopened his law practice to assist his neighbors with the drawing-up of contracts.

However, the Gulch had several unwritten customs which arose, as Galt also explained, as a reaction to the things that the residents sought to rest from. No one ever remained in the Gulch at another person's expense, nor asked nor granted any unremunerated favors. Every resident was expected to pay his rent to Midas Mulligan, or else pay room and board to the leaseholder of any house in which he stayed. Similarly, no one ever "borrowed" something belonging to another; instead one rented it and was expected to negotiate a rent with the owner. (And if one discovered that he was renting the same article often enough to make it a significant expense, then he might ask Midas Mulligan for a loan, if necessary, and buy the article.)

For example, when John Galt wished to take Dagny Taggart on a driving tour of the valley, he needed to secure a car, because he did not own one. (He didn't need to own a car in a place where he stayed only one month of the year.) So he asked Midas Mulligan for the use of his car. But he did not "borrow" that car in the usual sense; he rented it and actually paid a daily rental on it. Dagny thought that behavior strange, given that Mulligan, with his tremendous net worth, could scarcely realize a (to him) significant income by renting out his car for twenty-five cents a day. But Galt explained it as an example of "resting" from the constant stress of living in a society in which one's fellow citizens constantly demanded certain things of one and expressed no willingness to pay for those things.


Immigration to the Gulch was predicated on three criteria:

  1. The immigrant must be a striker,
  2. The immigrant must be prepared to find gainful employment in the valley, and
  3. The immigrant must under no circumstances reveal the valley's location or even its existence to the outside.

The Gulch did not recognize "collective commitments." That meant that even a husband would not be allowed to bring his wife in, unless she took the Striker's Oath herself. This is why William Hastings' wife never entered the Gulch, nor knew what or where it was or even that it existed, when Dagny Taggart visited her in early November of 2017.

The most famous marriage among the strikers was the marriage of motion picture actress Kay Ludlow to Ragnar Danneskjöld, in 2015. Even after that happened, Kay Ludlow Danneskjöld returned to her secluded house on the outside—until November of 2017, when the Colorado debacle exploded the resident population of the Gulch. Kay Ludlow came back when she knew she had a business opportunity. So he moved into her husband's house, and also opened a restaurant in the center of the town.

The only person, other than a permanent immigrant, to visit the valley was Dagny Taggart. Though she declined to stay, she agreed to keep the existence and location secret. Henry Rearden guessed the secret of the existence, not of the valley per se but of a place where the talented men who had quit and vanished had repaired to. But he would not learn the location of the valley until Francisco d'Anconia brought him to the valley in November of 2019.


Galt's Gulch had no defense other than its seclusion. John Galt's system of directed-energy beams, which he called "refractor rays," heated the air seven hundred feet off the ground and projected a false image. From above, any pilot looking down into the valley would see nothing but a desolate-looking crater ringed by nearly shear cliffs. In fact, that was the appearance of an actual rocky valley about five miles distant.

The only pilot ever to penetrate the screen uninvited was Dagny Taggart. She came in hot pursuit of Galt after one of his recruitment flights, and descended to 8700 feet altitude, lower than Galt or any of the other strikers thought that anyone would be brave (or foolhardy) enough to descend. The rays blinded her temporarily and shorted out her aircraft's engine. She came down in a barely controlled crash landing and was injured. Happily, her injuries were easily treatable, and by then Galt's Gulch had a resident physician. (He had joined the strike when the federal government had promulgated the socialization of medicine several years before Dagny's surprise visit.)

Henry Rearden came close to penetrating the screen and suffering his own crash landing three weeks later, when he searched for Dagny from the air. At the last minute he pulled up and left the valley without knowing how close he had come to making an electrifying discovery—or getting himself killed.

Technically, the Gulch had a one-ship navy, that being Ragnar Danneskjöld's privateering vessel. But Danneskjöld's activities were limited to seizing government "relief" shipping, destroying the ships of the D'Anconia Copper Company at Francisco d'Anconia's request, and a one-time shore raid on a steel mill on the coast of Maine, after Orren Boyle's Associated Steel Company attempted to make Rearden Metal at that site. For much of the history of the Gulch, these were the only offensive military actions that any member of the Galt's Gulch society took.


In September of 2019, Francisco d'Anconia completed his destruction of his old family firm, on the very day that the People's State of Chile attempted to nationalize it. But he did not come to the valley permanently. Instead he applied for a job at Rearden Steel as a furnace foreman. Henry Rearden was his personal recruitment project, and had been ever since Rearden had announced his invention of the Metal that bore his name.

Two months later, Henry Rearden joined the strike. With him came a large number of his regular employees, including a second physician for Galt's Gulch, to wit, Henry Rearden's infirmary director.

If the strike had needed to continue, this would still have been a transforming event. By all estimates made before his arrival, Henry Rearden had the potential to triple everyone's production. But the sudden defection of Rearden and his most talented regulars was a devastating blow to the "outside" economy. From that event to the final collapse of American society was now only a matter of time.

John Galt accelerated this decline with his three-hour speech. At the end of it, he called upon any man of the mind left on the outside to

Stop supporting your own destroyers!

With that inspiration, thousands of people seceded from the organized society and set up miniature Galt's Gulches all over the country. These were armed camps of hunters and gatherers, with about as much coordination as the TEA Party movement of 2009 (which is to say, next to none, despite various accusations to the contrary).

Then John Galt was arrested, and the government attempted to prevail upon him to take the post of "Economic Dictator" of America, which of course he refused. Ragnar Danneskjöld now organized the last and greatest offensive military action by the Galt's Gulch community: the rescue of John Galt. In this operation, Danneskjöld had the cooperation, and indeed active participation, of half the male population of the Gulch, in addition to his own ship's crew.

The rescue was successful, and John Galt returned to the Gulch on the day that the lights went out for the last time along the Eastern Seaboard.

Ragnar Danneskjöld had long ago brought his ship permanently into dock, having concluded that he would have no more "relief cargoes" to seize, because the United States government was no longer sufficiently organized to send any. He then announced his intention to retrofit that vessel as a passenger ship.

In the springtime following his rescue, John Galt made the final decision. The outside society was now collapsed, and as John Galt stated the case, the road was now clear. The strike was now settled—by default.

The novel gives few hints of the future history of Galt's Gulch. Doubtless Midas Mulligan decided to keep the Mulligan Bank's central offices in the Gulch, and the other strikers decided to maintain a presence there at least as long as it had resources to exploit. That, furthermore, Galt and Mulligan would decide to keep the location of the Gulch secret is only logical to suppose; the experiences of the strike would convince them that they would need a place to retreat to, should their newfound fortune reverse itself yet again. Contrary to the ridiculous accusation by Whittaker Chambers, John Galt never intended to be a dictator, "technocratic" or otherwise. His goal had been liberation, not conquest. And because there can be no such thing as conditional liberty, he could never be sure that future generations would not decide to revert to the same failed principles that had destroyed their world once before. (William Bradford might have been shocked to learn that today the people of the society that inherited his own legacy are now repeating exactly the sort of experiment that he himself tried, and then discarded, while serving as governor of the Plymouth Colony, namely to run it as a collective farm.)

In the film adaptation

At present, one motion picture adaptation has come out, of the first third of the novel. Atlantis bears mention twice in this film, once in a brief description that John Galt gives to Richard McNamara, and then again in a much more detailed description that Galt gives to Ellis Wyatt.

Atlantis is a place for heroes, and a place for those who wish to become heroes.

But the film also suggests that Midas Mulligan quits the world at about the same time that Henry Rearden is trying to introduce his Metal to the world. This would indicate that, in the film version, the foundation and development of Atlantis took much shorter than the eight years that the novel gave it.

Spoilers end here.

Probable location

Ayn Rand herself wrote to a friend[2] that the real location of Galt's Gulch was the town of Ouray, Colorado.[3] At present, and in the time that Rand wrote her novel, Ouray is and was a thriving town, though its chief industry was tourism. Presumably the town had lost most of its people, and Midas Mulligan would have acquired it quietly, piece by piece, until he was ready to retire to it.

Ouray has four roads heading into and out of it: US Highway 550 (north-to-south, through-and-through) and County Roads 17 (Oak Street, north), 361 (southwest) and 16 (southeast). For Midas Mulligan to cut them all off, the town would definitely be a "ghost town" before he moved in. He would likely allow only the northern road, and camouflage that.

Literary parallels

The notion of a technological genius leading a retreat from the larger society into which he was born is not limited to Ayn Rand, nor to Atlas Shrugged. Ayn Rand herself explored the idea earlier, in Anthem, whose hero reinvents the electric light, discovers that his society will not and indeed cannot appreciate it, and escapes to an abandoned house that he decides that he can fortify.

Nearly a century earlier, Jules Verne explored the concept in many of his projects. The most celebrated of Jules Verne's novels that explore this concept are Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Master of the World, and Robur the Conqueror. However, in each of these cases, the genius defector is clearly a villain, pursuing an insane and vindictive policy that might be described as vigilantism in the context of international law—specifically, an attempt to impose a peace on the world by using an impervious vessel, either a submarine or an airship, to destroy the abilities of various nation-states to make war. (At least one motion picture project recast Jules Verne's most famous villain, Captain Nemo, as an anti-villain—a sympathetic character who still pursues his goals in a single-minded manner. In this version (Captain Nemo and the Underwater City), Captain Nemo's mission is simply a retreat from the world to an impregnable and indeed undetectable position, and does not include any offensive action.)

Attempts at imitation

Since the publication of Atlas Shrugged, several students of Objectivism entertained notions, from time to time, of imitating Galt's Gulch. Nathaniel Branden reported that a number of them once proposed to "buy or lease an island, establish a free-enterprise society on it, and become so prosperous as to spread the philosophy of capitalism by example." (emphasis in the original.)

No one is currently proposing to establish anything quite like Galt's Gulch today. But certain elements of the militia movement have proposed to imitate the spontaneous secessions from society that take place immediately after John Galt makes his three-hour speech.


  1. "Ouray, Colorado - History," retrieved February 18, 2012. See also History of Ouray (PDF)
  2. "Atlas Shrugged FAQ," Objectivism Research Center. Retrieved 7 February 2012.
  3. Ouray, Colorado Welcome Center. Retrieved 7 February 2012