One Perfect Day at The Oasis at Death Valley
The largest national park outside Alaska, Death Valley National Park in California spreads over 5,000 square miles of desert and mountains. That’s a lot of ground to cover. But during a stay at The Oasis at Death Valley — with its AAA Four Diamond Inn at Inn at Death Valley and family-friendly Ranch at Death Valley — you can have a perfect day filled with history and adventure without ever straying from the Furnace Creek area.
Learn About the Valley
Many people rush to the park’s Furnace Creek Visitor Center, grab information, and never take the time to examine its exhibits. But the center offers an incomparable introduction to Death Valley’s natural and human history, especially after a major remodel in 2012 that added new interactive displays. You’ll find all sorts of souvenirs and books about the area in the store operated by the Death Valley Natural History Association. And don’t miss the spectacular 20-minute film narrated by actor Donald Sutherland. Open 8 a.m-5 p.m. Information: 760-786-3200
Even though the 18-hole The Furnace Creek Golf Course at Death Valley earned a place on Golf Digest’s list of “America’s 50 Toughest Courses,” you’ll never play a lower round anywhere else. That’s because the par-70 circuit, redesigned by Perry Dye, sits 214 feet below sea level, making it the world’s lowest-elevation golf course. After recent revitalization work, the course is better than ever. If you’re more into birds than birdies, the course’s environmental stewardship efforts earned it certification as a sanctuary from Audubon International.
Explore Mustard Canyon
A graded gravel road leads through the low, rounded hills of Mustard Canyon, just north of the park visitor center. In many years, the spring wildflower display is spectacular on the canyon’s slopes. The route also leads to the ruins and displays at the Harmony Borax Works, which dates to the 1880s, when borax was processed here. Instead of driving the road, try a modest, roughly 6-mile round-trip bike ride from the Ranch. Rent a 24-speed mountain bike by the hour or for the day from Furnace Creek Bike Rentals.
Munch a Mulligan
Golfers swear by the big, juicy mulligan burgers at the 19th Hole, the golf course’s veranda-style bar and grill. Not only are the burgers delicious but from the veranda, you’ll get views of the Panamint Range beyond the oasis-like course. And the 19th Hole has another memorable feature: a drive-up ramp for golf carts. Open mid-October through mid-May. Hours are 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon-Fri, 7 a.m.-5 p.m. weekends. Information: 760-786-2345
See the Valley by Horseback
Explore the valley the old-fashioned way on guided trail rides with Furnace Creek Stables. The one-hour ride heads out onto the vast valley floor, while two-hour adventures climb into the foothills of the Funeral Mountains for even more panoramic views. Two nights each month, you can also experience Death Valley by moonlight during full-moon rides. The stables operate from October into May. Information: 760-614-1018
Discover Death Valley Mining History
Inside a wooden 1883 building (the oldest in the park), the Borax Museum at the Ranch at Death Valley tells the story of Death Valley’s “white gold,” first discovered here in the 1870s. The museum displays beautiful mineral samples, as well as arrowheads, baskets, and assorted Native American artifacts. Behind the museum, you can see stagecoaches, historic wagons that hauled borax, and a locomotive from the Death Valley Narrow-Gauge Railroad. Open 10-6 daily. Information: 760-786-2345
Take a Dip
Even on cooler winter days (and Death Valley does get them) the spacious, spring-fed swimming pools at the Ranch at Death Valley and the Inn at Death Valley stay a steady 82 degrees. Built in 1929, the historic swimming pool at the inn (open to guests only) is especially impressive, with its stone walls and two wood-burning fireplaces on the deck.
Keep It Classy
Elegant yet relaxed, the Inn Dining Room is the place for a memorable dinner in Death Valley. The experienced wait staff will guide you through an extensive wine list and a diverse menu that comes as a surprise in such a remote, rugged location. Impeccably prepared, the Colorado lamb with a rosemary demi-glace is a true delicacy. Dinner served 5:30 p.m.-9 p.m. Information: 760-786-3385
Listen to the Experts
Park rangers lead both outdoor and indoor evening programs, including stargazing sessions held at Harmony Borax Works and presentations on national park history and Death Valley’s night-time world in the Furnace Creek Visitor Center auditorium. Information: 760-786-3200; nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit
For information and reservations at The Oasis at Death Valley, visit oasisatdeathvalley.com or call 800-236-7916.
For travel experiences available from Xanterra Parks & Resorts and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.
Written By: Matt Jaffe
Specializing in California, the Southwest, and Hawaii, Matt Jaffe is an award-winning former senior writer at Sunset magazine and contributes to a variety of publications, including Los Angeles, Arizona Highways, and Westways. His books include The Santa Monica Mountains: Range on the Edge and Oaxaca: The Spirit of Mexico.