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Death Valley Tourism Tips

Independent Travel Tips for the professional at Leisure

December 2007


If you hunger for the magnificent desolation of the desert, head for the vast emptiness of the Death Valley National Park.  A photographers Mecca, Death Valley is a short 2.5 hour drive from Las Vegas.  Along the route you can visit charming towns like Parump and gawk at the casinos and legal whore houses that dot the highway. 

If you want to stay a few days in Death Valley you have only one real option, an Art Deco oasis with the inviting name of Furnace Creek Inn.

Furnace Creek Inn is nestled in the foothills of the scenic Funeral Mountains in Death Valley, hand built from local stones in 1927.  The Inn is a true oasis, and includes a babbling brook of hot water (geothermal, not heat induced) and a grove of 70 year-old palm trees.  The hotel architecture is fascinating, a massive well-built resort that you cost over $100 millions dollars to build today.   In the fall and winter months, you can warm yourself on the naturally heated pool and enjoy the warmth of massive a pinion wood fireplace near the pool!

The rooms are moderately priced ($300 per night), and the Inn is charming but it�s not a �resort� in the traditional sense, with small beds, sporadic plumbing and a mediocre restaurant.  For food, we recommend a trip down the hill to the Furnace Creek.   The nearly Furnace Creek ranch has a steakhouse and diner.  The diner has wonderful breakfasts with outstanding hash browns, and local sausage and bone-in ham cutlets.


If you go

I used to teach classes at nearby China Lake, and Death Valley was a nice weekend trip, so I�ve visited the area during different seasons and these are my recommendations for a good time in Death Valley.  The Death Valley high season is during the summer months when hoards of foreign tourists invade the area, driving up prices and forcing the local eateries to go to automatic tipping.

  • Seeking Quiet and Solitude? � The best time of year to visit Death Valley is between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The crowds are gone, the temperature is pleasant, and the golf cannot be beat (see more about Furnace Creek Golf course here).

  • Feeling Hot Hot Hot? - If you want the experience of frying an egg on the hood of your car or feeling your sneakers melting into the rocks beneath you, visit Death Valley in July and August.  Kids love it, and it�s safe so long as you pump some salt pills into them and insist that they drink at least a pint of water per hour.  I�m not kidding when I say that your shoes will melt!  Summer temps are regularly over 120 degrees and the ground is about 80 degrees hotter that the air temperature.  This is the peak of the tourist season, so make your reservations several months in advance, and be prepared to share your solitude with hoards of pushy foreign tourists.

  • Feeling Artsy?  - If you like to paint and photograph, and winter months are the best.  Your oil paints will turn the consistency of turpentine on the heat of the day, and forget about a watercolor wash.  In the winter you can catch the sunrise and sunset light at reasonable hours (7:00 AM and 4:30 PM respectively), the temperature is moderate, and the great unwashed are long gone.

  • Sports Anyone? � In you want to play the world�s lowest golf course, play tennis at Furnace Creek Resort or take-in the hiking, the non-summer months are ideal.


Pets are welcome in Death Valley, but you must be careful not to let them roam.  Even on a leash, scorpions and knife-sharp rocks can be dangerous, not to mention the Coyotes that prowl the area.


Death Valley Travel Tips:

Arrive at McCairn airport in Las Vegas and overnight at one of the nice resorts before beginning your sojourn into the vast emptiness of the desert.  If you want to see the Raceway, make sure to rent a Jeep. (You don�t need the 4WD, but you must have a high-clearance vehicle)

There is no cell service and the only Internet hot-spot within 50 miles is at the Death Valley Museum, where the hardcore web surfers set-up on folding tables and chairs.

Death Valley National Park is the largest park in the continental USA, over 3 million acres of spectacular desolation.  Don�t miss Old Dinah, an ancient steam engine outside of Furnace Creek Ranch.  Beware, much of the park�s areas of interest aren�t all that interesting, and I recommend these diversions:

  • Badwater and devil�s golf course - Badwater is the lowest point in the Northern Hemisphere at an elevation of 282 feet below sea level. 


Badwater - The lowest point in America


  • Devils Golf course - It�s a vast expanse of pure table salt, gleaming white, and a small puddle where some endangered snails hang out.  The Devils golf course is a salt flat where unique salt sculptures are created.

The Devils golf course

  • Dante�s point and the Artists Palate - This is the place where the photographers and artists gather at sunset to watch the fading light dance off of the unworldly landscapes.  The artists palate is a cliff area of muted red and green tones (the green from copper ore deposits), and it�s amazing at sunset.

  • The Racetrack - The racetrack is a fascinating place where rocks move mysteriously across the desert floor, but it requires a high clearance vehicle (Hummer of Jeep) for the grueling 28 mile drive on a bad gravel road.  I think it�s the tiny earthquakes that happen almost every day in this region. 


If you take the 20 minute ride south of Furnace creek to Badwater you will note the highly visible fault line that ruins parallel at the base of the Funeral Mountains.

This area surrounding Death Valley sees mini earthquakes which cannot he seen or heard, but you will get a felling of extreme dizziness and nausea as the land shifts silently you!  People who work in the China lake area have those hanging ball toys which sway, indicating a minor tremor.

The Furnace Creek golf course, the world�s lowest golf course is 214 feet below sea level, and it�s ranked as one of the world�s hardest golf courses because of the extreme heat (which can reach 130 degrees) and the unique way that golf balls travel below sea level.





Note: The opinions expressed on these pages are the sole opinion of Donald K. Burleson and do not reflect the opinions of Burleson Enterprises Inc. or any of its subsidiaries.

Suggestions?  We are always seeking new tips for the professional at leisure, and any suggestions would be most welcome.  If you find an error or have a suggestion for improving our content, we would appreciate your feedback. 

Copyright � 1996 -  2010 by Donald K Burleson. All rights reserved.