Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Ranch at Furnace Creek and other lodgings

Before you head from Las Vegas to your lodgings or campground, be advised! There are only three gas stations in the park, all of which charge almost double the going rate. So top off your tank at Pahrump, Beatty, or Area 51! You'll find NO gas in Death Valley Junction.

Death Valley National Park covers 5,000 square miles, an area the size of the state of Connecticut. Within the park, there are three lodgings and a number of campgrounds.  The Resort at Furnace Creek is comprised of the Inn, the Ranch and the Campground. The very upscale Inn was built in 1927 and rooms can go for $400 a night in season. With its terraced grounds, date palms, trickling streams and fragrant flowers, the place evokes the feeling of a garden in 1001 Nights except with little kids and people from Hollywood running around.

Grounds of the Inn at Furnace Creek with yoga class to left of gazebo, c. Maria O'Meara
Yoga instructor Liz Kruger had just come back from India, so her class was a highlight. Liz drives 60 miles from Pahrump every Saturday to teach yoga and Pilates. Yoga regulars includethe National Park superintendent, an interpretive guide, and resort employees.

Pool at the Inn at Furnace Creek, c. Maria O'Meara
The food at the Inn's restaurant was, for the most part, excellent. Expensive, but so is all the food in Death Valley. (See the shopping list at the end of this post.) While the Inn's meals are pricier, they're not that much more than the food at the Ranch, especially if you want a good salad, vegetables or a quiet place to dine.

In the valley below the Inn, you come to the Ranch,originally established in the late 1800's to house borax miners.

Ranch at Furnace Creek in the distance, c. Maria O'Meara
Natural mineral springs feed a green oasis. On the left is the reservation of the Timbisha Shoshone who've lived in Death Valley for over 1,000 years. On the right is the Ranch at Furnace Creek.

Patio, Ranch at Furnace Creek, c. Maria O'Meara
Day-trippers, campers and Ranch guests make the scene at the entrance to the Ranch from dawn til late at night. It's hard to get a seat at the fire pits on a chilly night. The restaurants, saloon, gift shop and bike rental shop open onto the patio. The food is basically the same at all the Ranch eating establishments - not much variety and not great. Stick with the burgers, eggs and pancakes; the brisket is too tough to chew. The Borax Mine Museum and gift shop are well worth a visit. especially if you like huge rusty old machines and specialized equipment. 

Soccer field, c. Maria O'Meara
Comfortable rooms with decks surround a large field where kids play soccer and ride bikes....
Poolside, c. Maria O'Meara
...while parents have a beer.

Cabin at Furnace Creek Ranch, c. Maria O'Meara
You can stay in cabins shaded by tamarisks, an introduced species and relative of the invasive salt-cedars. Cabins a have porches but no kitchens. Cabins and guest rooms range from $150-$200 a night in season and sleep 4 in two beds. You can squeeze in a cot.

Room in a cabin at the Ranch, c. Maria O'Meara
Cabin interiors are similar to the motel rooms, though smaller. The beds are very comfortable.

Pool at the Ranch at Furnace Creek, c. Maria O'Meara
The pool at the Ranch is fed by natural mineral springs. Pool water is repurposed to water the grounds and the world's lowest golf course...

Putting green at the world's lowest golf course, c. Maria O'Meara
which, at 214 feet below sea level, means you'll golf your lowest round ever. Service at the 19th hole is disorganized but the location is pleasant.

Bocce court, Ranch at Furnace Creek, c. Maria O'Meara
You can play bocce, volleyball, or basketball.

Say's Phoebe on a wheel, c. Maria O'Meara
Date palms planted in the early 1900's are watered with recycled water. Don't eat the drops. 

Coyote, Ranch at Furnace Creek, c. Maria O'Meara
If you stay on the first floor, keep the doors closed or coyotes will come in. There are road runners, too. Seriously. To the left of the coyote is the two story wing of the Ranch. Rooms on the second floor overlooking the pool have the best views and coyote-free balconies. 

Solar system generates 2.2 million kilowatt hours a year, c. Maria O'Meara
In 2008, Xanterra, the company that owns and operates Furnace Creek installed one of the largest non-utility solar systems in the country at Furnace Creek. The system generates more than 2.2 million kilowatt hours per year, enough to fully power 700 homes. Looking at the vast expanse of photovoltaic panels in one of the sunniest places on earth, this is not hard to believe. 

A quick summary of the other lodgings: 
The Panamint Springs Resort, a family-owned motel offers clean rooms, and allows pets for a fee, but does not have a pool. The lowest priced of the three, it gets mixed reviews but you never know what people might be expecting when they drive into the middle of a desert. At a higher price with a small pool there's the  Stovepipe Wells Village. The saloon is fun, and the food is better than the Ranch at Furnace Creek. A peek into the open motel rooms takes you back to the 1950's -- cowboy lamps and horse blankets -- charming but possibly uncomfortable hence the mixed reviews. Still, the staff were very friendly. Stovepipe Wells is across from an airstrip, should you be arriving in a private plane. The Amargosa Opera House and Hotel featured in a previous post are not within the National Park.

On your way, before you stay...
Food is incredibly expensive. A Nature's Valley granola bar is $1.00 - a six pack of Sam Adams is $15.00. Plan to have breakfast in the room, and make lunch too, saving both time and money as there is usually a wait at the restaurants. 
The rooms at Furnace Creek Ranch have fridges and small coffee pots but no microwaves. 

Suggested shopping list:
  • Gallons of water for coffee and drinking, I did not like the tap water, others in the party didn't mind it
  • Bottled of water (save bottles to re-use) 
  • Small coffee filters for Mr. Coffee 
  • Coffee or tea
  • Paper bowls, plastic spoons and paper towels
  • Yogurt
  • Milk
  • Cereal
  • Nuts
  • Granola bars, trail mix
  • Chips and salsa
  • Fruit
  • Beer, wine, seltzer, drinks
  • Cheese and crackers, string cheese
  • Cookies, candy, etc. 
  • Sandwich fixin's and plastic wrap
If you bring food on a hike, freeze your water bottles and pack them with the food. 

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