Furnace Creek is Hot in Death Valley
Nobody visits Death Valley in August. As the lowest point in Northern Hemisphere, Death Valley is one of the hottest places on planet Earth. Some rental agencies won’t let you drive their cars into the valley during the summer (like ours… but we won’t tell if you don’t.) One can quickly speculate the reason. Temperatures in August soar to over 120 degrees (50 celsius). At what temperature does the human head pop? Whatever. I live for adventure.
However, I have to admit, being lost in the middle of the desert at midnight wasn’t high up on my list of things to do. And there was something spooky about the full moon, the haze, the blazing heat, the quarter tank of remaining gas, and the knowledge that humans just can’t survive in the desert without water.
Nonetheless, we ventured forward, and just after we began our descent into the cauldron of Death Valley our temperature gauge stared rising… and rising. The rabbits, gophers and small wildlife that we had seen earlier had all but disappeared. Apparently, the all-consuming heat of Death Valley is too much for even them. In fact, it seemed to be too hot for much of anything, as not only could we not see any wildlife, but there seemed to be no vegetation at all.
Within two repeated playings of “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones, our temperature gauge rose 20 degrees to 106 Fahrenheit (41 Celsius) in the middle of the night. Only in Death Valley!
Finally, we reached our destination. Amidst the desolate valley, we found our oasis: the 75 year old Furnace Creek Inn. A seeming mirage, with its lush gardens and tropical pink and yellow-orange stucco walls beautiful even at night. Unfortunately, the five star Furnace Creek Inn was under renovations while we were there, so we’ll have to wait until our next visit to tell you more about the Inn. Fortunately, the Furnace Creek Ranch is right around the corner.
The Furnace Creek Ranch is rugged yet friendly. The Ranch is the more rustic sister to the Inn. Both are owned and operated by Xanterra, but the Furnace Creek Ranch is for those wanting to rough it a little bit, whereas the Furnace Creek Inn is noticeably more upscale.
As a side note, Xanterra is an environmentally focused company that has won numerous awards for its environmental initiatives. The company operates several other hotels in national parks, and I would highly recommend them because their environmental initiatives are very cool.
We decided to check in, and made our way to our room in the Furnace Creek Ranch, where we would spend our first night. As we stepped out of our car and into the dry desert heat, we decided that it might be best to go to sleep right away, as the temperatures rise quickly in the morning to highs of 125 degrees.
We parked our SUV under a tree and brought in anything that might melt in the heat, including cosmetics, food and laptops.
The room was very basic and not by any means for those wanting luxury–but that wasn’t what we were here for. The layout of the Ranch is similar to a typical motel, with the rooms in several one-story groupings all with an entrance to the parking lot and driveway, and a back patio with a pool view.
In the morning we woke early and stepped out onto our patio and into the dessert heat. Before long, we decided that now was an opportune time for a dip in the spring-fed swimming pool, with water so warm and comfortable that you’ll wish you could stay in all day. From there, we stumbled upon the Ranch’s Borax Museum, which resembled a ghost town and was rich with artifacts from the mining days of Furnace Creek.
Furnace Creek’s marketing manager, Phil Dickinson, was kind enough to treat us to lunch and then take us on a tour, while providing us with much of the history of the resort. Typical of the good people that you meet in a small town, he was very friendly and enthusiastic about his home. He also took us on a golf car ride through Furnace Creek’s own golf course which is the world’s lowest at 214 feet below sea level–not to be confused with the “Devil’s Golf Course”, an expansive salt field caused by evaporated bodies of water.
For those wanting to explore, there is plenty to do at The Furnace Creek Resort and within Death Valley National Park. The Ranch offers daytime or moonlight horseback rides, champagne carriage rides and hay wagon rides. The surrounding areas offer many attractions including the ghost towns of Rhyolite and Death Valley Junction, the Amargosa Opera, Charcoal Kilns (that look like 25-foot beehives), Mosaic Canyon, Stovepipe Wells Village, “Scotty’s Castle” museum, the “Badwater” region (the lowest spot in the Western Hemisphere at 282 feet below sea level).
Mid-afternoon we took a little road trip, making sure to stay on the actual road (unfortunately, off-roading is highly illegal in the national park), and visited Dante’s View. At 5,400 feet, Dante’s View is the best place to get a good look at the wonders of Death Valley, including Mushroom Rock, Badwater, Zabriskie Point, and the ruins of the Harmony Borax Works.
If you ever get a chance to visit Death Valley, make sure to spend the night in its heart, at the Furnace Creek Inn or Ranch. There’s so much to see in Death Valley that you could easily spend several days here and leave, as we did, with a yearning to return and explore all the mysteries that you missed the first time.