Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley Insiders List Top Park Activities

January 20, 2010, 6:35 am

The Furnace Resort is more than just a home base for a vacation in Death Valley National Park. It offers activities and advice for places to visit in the 3.3-million-acre park, the largest in the continental United States.

Although there is plenty to do, the staff has shared their favorite activities with us. Here they are, listed in order from easiest to toughest.

1. Sip a cold drink by a warm pool. Both the Inn at Furnace Creek and the Ranch at Furnace Creek feature flow-through pools that are naturally fed by warm springs, keeping pool temperatures at a comfortable 82 degrees. Chemicals are kept to a minimum in the pools.

2. Look through a telescope. As the darkest of the national parks, Death Valley features some of the finest stargazing opportunities this side of Mars. Pollution is low, and even the bright lights of Las Vegas some two hours away have little effect on stargazing. Bring your own telescope or join a ranger-led tour. October through May, the National Park Service conducts interpretive programs at the Visitor Center located next door to the Ranch at Furnace Creek.

3. 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. Just steps from the Ranch’s restaurants and registration area is the Borax Museum, showcasing the history of the Furnace Creek Resort and key figures involved in the development of Death Valley. 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.

4. Search for a legendary gold mine. One of the most popular and lavish sites in Death Valley is Scotty's Castle, located 55 miles north of the Furnace Creek Resort. Folklore has it that Walter "Scotty" Scott, an alleged prospector, convinced Chicago millionaire Albert Johnson to stake his secret gold mine. Johnson built a spectacular Moorish-style castle consisting of more than eight buildings that house beautiful furnishings and spectacular tile work created by artisans, architects and crafts people from Spain, Italy and throughout the United States. Rangers outfitted in period clothing provide tours of the structure and offer little-known facts about the castle, the Johnsons and Scotty.

5. 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. Stop at the 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. Continuing south is the region of Badwater, originally a salt-crusted pool of water that contains four to five times the salt content of the ocean. Badwater is the lowest spot in the Western Hemisphere at 282 feet below sea level.

6. 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. The course dates back to 1927 when one of the date-palm caretakers set up an informal three-hole golf course in what was then called the Greenland Ranch. Ranch operators expanded the three holes into a nine-hole course in 1931, and another nine holes opened in 1968. For more information about the Furnace Creek Golf Course, call the golf shop at (760) 786-3373.

7. Go for an easy hike. Easy hikes include those to the Harmony Borax Works and Golden Canyon trails, ranging from one to three miles with minimal elevation gain. The hike through Golden Canyon from the overlook at Zabriskie Point winds its way through stunning layers of colorful strata. The trail ends where the canyon empties out in Death Valley itself.

8. Ride a horse. See Death Valley from the same vantage point as the early pioneers. One-hour rides cross the salt pans on the valley floor with the Panamint Mountains looming to the West. Silence surrounds you and your horse as you travel through the arroweed, salt grass and mesquite of this sun-baked valley. Two-hour rides explore the foothills of the Funeral Mountains and a different kind of gem--the waters of the Texas Spring. The return ride provides outstanding views of the valley floor.

9. Climb a Telescope. Telescope Peak that is. For the more seasoned hiker, a climb up to Telescope Peak--at 11,049 feet, it the highest spot in Death Valley--can be a challenge. Steep inclines make for a strenuous, all-day hike to the top. Snow and inclement weather can make this hike inadvisable or impossible during the winter months.

10. Don’t try this at home. In fact, unless you are an elite athlete who has been intensely training in extreme heat for many months or years, don’t try this anywhere. The Badwater Ultramarathon is held in mid-July every year and is a grueling 135-mile foot race that begins 282 feet below sea level and ends at the Mt. Whitney Portal at 8,360 feet above sea level. Along the way, the race course covers three mountain ranges for a total vertical ascent of 13,000 feet. The winners take nearly 24 hours to complete the race.