After some glorious skiing in Lake Tahoe, the carful of kids have to drive back to Texas. It’s a long haul so we need some cool spots along the way to keep it interesting.
The boys have been begging me to take them to Death Valley National Park, just for the name; it’s a boy thing. With temperatures above 100 F for months on end, I couldn’t make myself stop during the summer. I leave Texas to escape the heat, I’m not heading to places that are hotter!
To my surprise, Death Valley is a glorious winter destination with mild temperatures and plenty of sunshine. Even better, there’s a resort in the middle of the desert, complete with palm trees and swimming pools.
Death Valley National Park
Death Valley is the largest national park outside of Alaska, with over 3 million acres. Within it’s boundaries is the lowest point in North America. That’s not the only record. The hottest temperature ever recorded happened at the Furnace Creek Resort in 1913 (134 F/56.7 C). Not Africa, like I assumed but Southern California.
Death Valley is an International Dark Sky Park and you can see the Milky Way here. Park rangers host star-gazing programs from the fall to the spring and there’s even a special Junior Ranger patch.
TheHistory of Death Valley
The Tisbisha Shoshonehave calledDeath Valley homefor thousands of years. Though it was a group of lost pioneers stranded during the winter of 1849-1850 that named it. First came the gold miners in the 1850s and then borax mining in the 1880s. After the mining moved on, a resort was built to help support the infrastructure.
Surrounded by theAmargosa and Panamint mountain ranges, Death Valley is 140 miles long. The peaks surrounding Death Valley can reach 11,000 feet. This makes for some epic desert landscape photos.
Death Valley was first protected as a national monument in 1933. In 1994, it became a national park. It’s part of the UNESCO’s Mojave and Colorado Deserts Biosphere Reserve.
Death Valley’s Harsh Conditions
It’s hot in the summer. Sure people will tell you it’s a dry heat but so is my oven. During the summer, the park rangers almost shutter the park and suspend programming just to keep visitors safe.
Why is it so hot? The surrounding mountains are tall and the two mountain ranges are close together. They essentially trap the heat. The valley floor doesn’t helpwith its lack ofvegetation; it just reflects the heat.
Where to Stay in Death Valley
For the carful of kids’ adventure in Death Valley, I found a room at the family-friendly The Ranch at Furnace Creek. It’s centrally located andBadwater Road is minutes away where you will find several must-dos.
The Pacific Coast Borax Company built this area in 1933 to support the railroad after the mining stopped. It has expanded over the years and now includes 224 rooms in several buildings. Everything is within walking distance from your room including two restaurants, a general store and the horse corral.
The Ranch at Furnace Creek has a kid-pleasing western theme with plenty to keep the kids occupied. Among the buildings I find an outdoor, spring-fed pool, a tennis court, a playground and a sports court. The pool is older but it’s well-maintained and boasts a constant temperature of 82 F.
For the adults, there’s a golf course within walking distance. The Borax Museum is open daily (Free, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.) if you want to learn more about Death Valley’s mining history. For kids into science, Furnace Creek Resort has a solar facility with a viewing platform.
The Ranch at Furnace Creek also has cabins for rent, a RV park and campground.
For those wanting a little more glamour, I found it atInn at Furnace Creek. It’s a four-diamond, 66-room resort built in 1927 and a hideout for Hollywood stars and Parisian socialites.
Family Fun in Death Valley
The carful of kids do a Junior Ranger badge at every national park we visit. It takes a couple of hours and requires the kids to attend a ranger program and recycle trash. A drive down Badwater Road is a kid-pleaser and Artists Drive is another one not to miss.
The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are a family favorite. The overlooks at Zabriskie Point and Dantes View are great stops for families too.There are several ghost towns around Death Valley, like Rhyolite outside Beatty, Nevada.
Where’s Death Valley National Park
Death Valley is in adesolate part of California and Las Vegas is the closest city, 125 miles east.Interstate 15 at Baker, California, is 84 miles south of Death Valley Junction.
California Highway 190 transects Death Valley fromDeath Valley Junction on the east side toPanamint Springs on the west side. Themajorityof the services in the park are located inthe Stovepipe Wells Village or the Furnace Creek Resort area.
There’s an airstrip in the Furnace Creek area in Death Valley. Public transportation is not available into the national park.
Getting around Death Valley
Death Valley National Parkis open 365-days a year, 24-hours a day. The admission is $20 per vehicle for a7-day pass or you can purchase an annual America the Beautiful Pass for $80 to gain entry into the majority of national parks and monuments.
There are close to 1,000 miles of roads in Death Valley National Park though the majority of them are unpaved, four-wheel drive roads unsuitable for most vehicles. Please read the map carefully.
Scotty’s Castle is closed until 2020 according to the NPS. A flash flood destroyed the road and infrastructure servicing Scotty’s Castle. The building was unharmed.
Know before you go:
- Make reservations for lodging and tours as soon as possible. Lodging reservations can be made 13 months in advance.
- Don’t enter mines shafts or tunnels.
- Carry extra water year-round. Water is only available in the developed areasof the park.
- Don’t rely on technology for directions. Get a map at the visitors center.
- The summer season is May through September. The park suspends popular programs like ranger programs and horse trips.
- Don’t hike at the lower elevations duringthe summer.
- Don’t leave kids or pets in vehicles in the summer.Temperatures can reach 160 F in the car.