There Is Lots To Do In And Around Death Valley (Backgrounder)
A misnomer in every sense of the word, Death Valley was designated a National Park in 1994 and is home to the Furnace Creek Inn & Ranch Resort. It is a region rich in natural history, unique landscaping and exotic wildlife, and encompasses historical landmarks, a legendary castle and many other points of interest.
Located at the Furnace Creek Ranch, the recently renovated Borax Museum provides the history of the property and key figures involved in the development of Death Valley and the Furnace Creek Inn & Ranch Resort. The museum offers a pictorial history and showcases artifacts from the past, such as antique stagecoaches, mining tools and a railroad steam locomotive in the museum courtyard. The museum is open to the public seven days a week and admission is free.
Just south of the Furnace Creek Inn & Ranch Resort, reachable from Highway 178, is Artist’s Drive, a one-way road that meanders eight miles through magnificent washes and mud hills with breathtaking colors and natural rock formations. Continuing south is the region of Badwater. Originally a salt crusted pool of water, the area contains four to five times the salt content of the ocean. Badwater is home to the lowest spot in the Western Hemisphere at 282 feet below sea level. Only by gazing up to the sign high on the side of the mountain that reads “sea level” can one gauge the depth of Badwater.
One of the most popular and most lavish sites in Death Valley is Scotty’s Castle, located 55 miles from Furnace Creek Inn and Ranch Resort. Folklore has it that Walter “Scotty” Scott, an alleged prospector, convinced Chicago millionaire Albert Johnson to build a spectacular Moorish castle. To this day, speculation continues as to whether Scotty discovered a secret gold mine that financed the castle’s construction or if Johnson’s fortune funded the project. The castle consists of more than eight buildings that house beautiful furnishings and spectacular tilework created by artisans, architects and crafts people from Spain, Italy and throughout the United States. Rangers outfitted in period clothing provide historical information about the structure and offer little known facts about the castle, the Johnsons and Scotty. The Castle is open year round and offers tours every hour between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.
Visitors can also explore the natural wonders of Devil’s Golf Course, an expansive salt field caused by evaporated bodies of water. Almost as pure as the table variety, the salt forms one grain at a time. Close inspection into one of the salt domes reveals the actual crystallization process at work. Other points of interest include Dante’s View at 5,400 feet and overlooking Badwater at -282 feet, Mushroom Rock, the overlook at Zabriskie Point and the ruins of the Harmony Borax Works.
For those seeking a cultural experience, the Amargosa Opera offers visitors a musical event in a setting befit for a region with such great history – the ghost town of Death Valley Junction. Featuring performances by the renowned ballet star, Marta Becket, the Opera House presents performances on Saturday and Monday, during the winter season. (Seating is limited and reservations are necessary).