NEON LIGHTS TO STARRY NIGHTS IN UNDER THREE HOURS; LAS VEGAS TO DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK IS QUICK, RUGGEDLY BEAUTIFUL ROAD TRIP
DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, Calif., August 12, 2013 — If there is such a thing as an opposite of Las Vegas, travelers will find it in California’s remote-but-accessible Death Valley National Park.
It doesn’t take long to leave the bustle of Las Vegas behind. Just 15 minutes after departing the McCarran International Airport, road trippers will find themselves driving through a red rock canyon that seems surreal, particularly after the sensory overload of Sin City. And 30 minutes after that, they will see the first clues to the desert experience that awaits. A volcanic mass here. An abandoned mine there. For travelers who enjoy open roads, big skies, varied landscapes and quirky towns, getting to Death Valley National Park is part of the fun.
And travelers will know they have arrived at a desert oasis when they reach the end of long winding stretch with canyon walls on both sides and are greeted by their first glimpse of the Furnace Creek Resort. Constructed of hand-made adobe bricks, featuring Moorish-influenced stonework and surrounded by Deglet Noor palm trees, the elegant Inn at Furnace Creek somehow seems to belong to the desert.
“The drive is in the eyes of the beholder,” said Rich Jones, general manager of Furnace Creek Resort. “Many guests describe the landscape and the drive as ‘otherworldly’ because at times you really do feel like you’re on a different planet. And travelers who believe the journey is an important part of the experience are rewarded with a drive that is memorable and unlike any other.”
The drive from the Las Vegas airport to Death Valley is also surprisingly easy, with only four roads to travel and few vehicles sharing the road during the final leg of the journey. From Las Vegas, travelers simply take I-25 to Rainbow Boulevard; State Route 160 to Pahrump, Nev., the only town along the way; then Bell Vista Road to Death Valley Junction; and Calif. Highway 190 to Furnace Creek.
While some Las Vegas visitors attempt a Death Valley day trip, the best way to experience the park and the remarkable contrast it offers to Vegas is to spend a night or two. Comprised of the 66-room Inn at Furnace Creek, open mid-October through mid-May, and the 224-room Ranch at Furnace Creek, open year-round, the resort offers accommodations for every kind of traveler. Couples will find a charmingly secluded, lush oasis in the Inn, while families will fill their days with experiences such as horseback riding, cycling and swimming in the natural spring-fed pool at the sprawling Ranch at Furnace Creek.
At night, the desert comes alive. Watching the sunset from the front patio of the Inn or the courtyard at the Ranch is a nightly and much-loved activity. And with the exterior lights of the resort dim by design, the big sky of the desert shines with starscapes that can be experienced in few places in the U.S. As National Park Service director Jonathan B. Jarvis so eloquently explained when the park was designated a “Gold Tier” International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association earlier this year, “Death Valley is a place to gaze in awe at the expanse of the Milky Way, follow a lunar eclipse, track a meteor shower, or simply reflect on your place in the universe.”
Seeing is believing:
Death Valley features 3.3 million acres – almost 3,000 square miles – of rugged desert landscape, and only a tiny percentage of the park has been developed with roads or buildings. The sightseeing possibilities – both man-made and natural – are many, though, and visitors can minimize driving by seeing the park in geographic chunks to the north and the south of Furnace Creek Resort.
“This park has many mysteries, like dunes made of desert sand and a remote castle with a storybook history,” said Jones. “Staff at the Inn and Ranch will help visitors plan their days to experience as many of special places as possible during the time they have.”
Jones suggested including these Death Valley experiences:
- Scotty’s Castle. Located 55 miles north of Furnace Creek Resort, this Moorish-style castle was built as a vacation home in the 1930s by Chicago millionaire Albert Johnson. Johnson befriended an amiable swindler named Walter Scott, who convinced him to invest in a non-existent gold mine. Although he eventually discovered the truth, Johnson became fond of Scott, and the two formed a lifelong friendship. National Park Service rangers in period dress take visitors on a tour of the elaborate castle and tell the story of Scotty, one of the park’s most colorful characters. Take along a box lunch purchased at the resort and picnic under the massive shade trees on the grounds.
- Ubehebe Crater. More than 3,000 years ago the desert silence was shattered by a massive volcanic explosion caused by the violent release of underground steam pressure. When the cinders and dust settled, this 600-foot deep crater remained.
- Sand Dunes. Rising nearly 100 feet from Mesquite Flat, the dunes are formed by the accumulation of loose sediment from the erosion of rock by water, wind and gravity. The ripples and patterns of the dunes are always shifting.
- Devil’s Golf Course. This immense area of rock salt has eroded by the force of wind and rain into jagged spires so incredibly serrated that a visitor once noted “only the devil could play golf on such rough links.”
- Badwater. The lowest point in the Western Hemisphere at 282 feet below sea level, the Badwater Basin is an otherworldly landscape of vast salt flats. Look up on the mountainside and find the sign marking sea level.
- Artist’s Drive. Scramble up colorful formations. Drive south from the Furnace Creek Resort and take Artist’s Drive, a one-way road that meanders eight miles through magnificent washes and mud hills with breathtaking colors and natural rock formations.
- Soak. Both the Inn at Furnace Creek and the Ranch at Furnace Creek feature flow-through pools naturally fed by warm springs that keep the pools’ temperature at a comfortable 82 degrees.
- Explore the resort grounds. It’s an easy walk from anywhere at the Ranch to the tourism industry’s largest solar photovoltaic (PV) system which harnesses the sun’s energy and converts it into enough power to provide 30 percent of the resort’s needs. Take a stroll through the gardens of date palms surrounding the Inn.
- Borax Museum. Learn about this miracle mineral that was responsible for bringing tourism to the Valley and keeping laundry and homes clean for generations.
- Swing a club or racket. Both properties feature tennis courts, and at 214 feet below sea level, the Furnace Creek Golf Course is the world’s lowest golf course.
- Ride a horse. See Death Valley from the same vantage point as the early pioneers on one- and two-hour rides across the salt pans on the valley floor with the Panamint Mountains looming to the West.
Furnace Creek Resort has been welcoming guests since the 1930s. The AAA Four-Diamond-rated Inn at Furnace Creek is open from mid-October through mid-May. It features 66 rooms, including two suites with a full array of amenities, fine dining, tennis courts and a spring-fed pool. Open year-round, the Ranch at Furnace Creek is situated adjacent to the golf course and features 224 rooms in a casual setting, general store, spring-fed swimming pool, tennis courts, horseback riding and the Borax Museum.
For more information about facilities in Death Valley National Park or to make room reservations at in-park lodges, call toll free at 1-888-236-7916 or 1-303-297-2757 or go to www.www.oasisatdeathvalley.com/.