Desert Dreaming: Death ValleyOctober 18, 2015 No Comments
It’s been awhile since my family and I visited Death Valley, and an equally long time since I’ve written about it here. Viewed in the fall, with still-warm days and star-filled nights, or the spring, when a riot of wildflowers burst out along the valley floor; viewed in winter when snow crusts the Panamints and a wicked wind is liable to spring up at night, or in the summer, when the heat keeps visitors in their cars until dusk or dawn, and the Furnace Creek Ranch resort pool beckons – it’s all good.
5,219 miles of national park serves up views and visits that are ever changing. For the kids, the uniqueness of the geology makes just about everything about a visit interesting.
Why not start at the top? Dante’s View emerges from a narrow paved road about 5000-feet over the valley. The view is expansive, and the kids will enjoy seeing the salt flats of Badwater, the craggy peaks of the Panamint Range, the golden, undulating dune system. Coming back down, it’s time to take the unpaved but perfectly-okay-in-a-passenger car Twenty Mule Team Canyon road. A great look at the canyon up close is a fun contrast with the vast view at the top.
Zabriskie Point is just about finished with the rehabilitation of its trail and parking, and with a spring-time reopening, it’s a must-see. A closer view of the park’s scenery than observable from Dante’s View, the trail is easy enough for even small children to walk, and there are several benches along the way to sit and drink in the scenery.
The next stop for any family must surely be the way-below sea level Badwater. Let the kids loose on the salt flat, take the obligatory photo that indicates this part of the park is a whopping 282 feet below sea level. The salt flats crackle, the mineral-rich, foul-tasting water looks like a mirror, and the kids will be awed. Continue the experience with a drive through Artist’s Drive. The pastel palette is astonishing, and there are a number of easy stops for photos or to take a short stroll with a view.
Staying at Furnace Creek Ranch, Xantera resorts’ family-friendly enclave in the park, has a number of advantages over staying outside the park. The wonderful, spring-fed, warm, and open-late swimming pool for one. With only minimal chlorine, the pool is constantly refreshed and heated to a delightful soaking temperature of around 82 degrees. Antique rail road cars, wagons, and mining equipment for the kids to explore for another. The large green oases that is the resort itself, with date palms, a well-equipped children’s playground, and tennis courts, and basketball court let the kids burn off steam in a comfortable environment. And of course, the resort is right in the park, so getting up for an early morning stroll on the Mesquite Flat sand dunes or heading out to hunt for pup fish at Salt Creek takes a minimal amount of time. An onsite gift shop and store is the perfect spot to claim a souvenir, a cold drink, or a candy bar.
Dining options include the Wrangler, a comfortable steak-house type experience that’s child-friendly and includes options other than steak, from fish to salad bar to risotto. At lunch, the dining room serves buffet-style. The 49er is more casual, and has great sandwiches and breakfast fare. In spring and fall, the ranch offers wagon rides around the property; live music often graces the porch outside the ranch’s mining museum.
There are many options for experiencing the park, and you’ll know what suits your family best. Some will enjoy the guided tours of Scotty’s Castle, the mansion built on tall tales and a city-dwellers improved health in the desert air. Smaller children – and the whole family – will enjoy a trip to the sand dunes, to tumble down some soft sand, look for lizards, and write their names in the soft whiteness. Older kids will enjoy the scramble and vibrant rock colors and patterns along the Mosaic Canyon trail. The unearthly shapes at Devil’s Golf Course will enthrall, the deep pit of Ubehebe and Little Ubehebe Crater create the impression of being on the moon. If your car is equipped for rough roads – a four wheel drive vehicle with good clearance – driving out to see the rocks and flats of the descriptively apt Racetrack is a fun way to spend a morning or afternoon. In the cooler, evergreen Panamints, the beehive shaped Charcoal Kilns, once smelting ore for the Modock Mine, are a unique sight with a great echo.
If you head out to the west, make a stop at the Pannamint Resort for a hearty lunch and a view of the Panamint Valley; from the east, you’ll want to make a stop in Shoshone for a milk shake and grilled cheese at the tiny, quaint, Crowbar. A bit further afield, off Highway 395 heading to Los Angeles, there’s the refurbished ghost town of Randsburg, whose general store offers lunch, drinks, and souvenirs, and the old mining facades includes a one room jail house that kids always enjoy. Heading for I-15, the must-stop is the kitsch and baklava at the Mad Greek.