By Joeann Fossland
Luxury, amid a stark and extreme desert? The Oasis at Death Valley is just that. A delightful contrast, it is a destination vacation off the beaten track, yet accessible and bucket-list worthy. It will take you a couple of hours from Las Vegas, or 4-hours from Los Angeles to be transported to a spectacular location.
The Oasis contains two resorts, the luxurious Inn at Death Valley, and down the road, the family-oriented Ranch at Death Valley. The luxurious inn offers escape, relaxation, and total unwinding. Bring the whole family and let them enjoy all the activities at the ranch for an unforgettable family reunion or multi-generational vacation.
We visited 10-years ago and were anxious to see and experience the transformation. Back then, the inn, formerly known as the Furnace Valley Inn, operated from mid-October to Mother’s Day because of the oppressive heat in summer months. Energy-efficient renovations now allow year-round enjoyment. The summers attract many European visitors who delight in the insanely hot summer temperatures. They are checking superlative items off their bucket lists, and you can too.
The driest, hottest, lowest, and biggest apply
Located in the middle of the biggest National Park in the Continental US, Death Valley National Park spreads over 3.3 million acres. This is the driest place in North America, with an annual average rainfall of 2.4 inches. It’s the hottest place in North America, having recorded temperatures of 134° The 18-hole Furnace Creek Golf Course is at 214 ft. below sea level the lowest golf course in the world.
Originally the headquarters for the 20-Mule Team, the inn was built in 1927 by the Pacific Borax Company to entice tourists to stop on the train ride west. It quickly became a hideaway for adventurous travelers and the Hollywood elite, such as Marlon Brando, Jimmy Stewart, Bette Davis, Clark Gable, and Carole Lombard. Many Western movies used this as a backdrop.
In their wisdom, the Pacific Coast Borax Company and the National Park Service had Death Valley declared a National Monument in 1933, limiting further development. In 1994, the park was expanded and was designated a National Park. Fortunately, today, we can enjoy the same untrammeled beauty of Death Valley that guests did back then.
The Inn at Death Valley
The parent company, Xanterra Travel Collection, has just poured 100 million dollars into a complete revitalization of both properties. The inn has been completely refurbished, top to bottom, with Saltillo tile floors, a new lobby, a bar, library, and dining room. The efficient energy changes provide pure comfort, regardless of outside temperatures. The date trees and lush landscaping extend the feeling of being transported to a garden oasis.
Set against a hill, with most rooms delivering stunning views of the Panamint Mountains, desert vistas, and pristine sand dunes, the AAA Four-Diamond, Inn at Death Valley, has 66 beautifully appointed rooms. The elegant and spacious sleeping rooms have fireplaces, a seating area, and state of the art entertainment and internet. My room had an outside door that opened to a table and chairs on a stone patio overlooking the valley.
Renovations added 22 brand new casitas below the pool. Beside a hill, the patios of these new casitas look out over a 60,000 square foot grass lawn. The epitome of privacy and luxury, each 600-square foot casita includes a wet bar, separate bedroom, and a golf cart to navigate the grounds.
We walked from our room through the tall palm trees to the pool. Streams bubbled beside the pathway. Surprisingly, water is everywhere. Ancient natural spring water fills the newly resurfaced pool. It’s always 87°. The water flows through, eliminating the need for chemicals or chlorine and then becomes part of the irrigation system.
A Family Focus at The Ranch
The 224-room, Ranch at Death Valley, about a mile further down the road, is a less expensive, more casual resort. Plenty is going on there. You’ll enjoy another spring-fed swimming pool, tennis courts, horseback riding, jeep rides, and the Borax Museum, as well as a General Store. The famous Furnace Creek Golf Course is also located here.
With the second phase of renovations, Xanterra will focus on further upgrading the resort, remodeling all the rooms, and adding 80 cottage units with full kitchens and laundry facilities. Old-time family activities will give the kids plenty to do. A classic soda fountain with burgers, shakes and ice cream with be a signature piece of this phase.
A Variety of Eating Options
At the Inn
Fine dining waits for breakfast, lunch, or dinner at the inn dining room. Regional flavors punctuate the menu, incorporating such tastes as cactus and pomegranates for gourmet eating. The blue cheese stuffed dates were exceptional, and the date bread was moist and flavorful.
Adjacent to the dining room, The Oasis Lounge, is filled with western art, including original paintings and bronze sculptures. In the afternoons and early evening, you can enjoy signature cocktails and a limited small plate menu, while watching the sunset.
For complete relaxation, you can lounge in a cabana and order from the inn’s pool cafe. The menu features sandwiches, wraps, salads, sides, and of course, assorted beverages.
At the Ranch
The Ranch 1849 Buffet is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a wide variety of rotating selections. For breakfast, choose from breakfast entrees, meats, baked goods, and assorted fruits. Lunch features pizza, soup and salad selections and a make-your-own sandwich station. Dinner includes a full salad bar, a carving station, and yummy desserts.
The Last Kind Words Saloon was completely updated. Hang out at the bar and enjoy local draught beers or choose from the large selection of wine and whiskeys. The menu is designed for the hungry. You can choose from 36-ounce Tomahawk ribeye to wild Alaskan salmon, or the featured game selection of the day or something more ordinary.
After your golf game, stop by the 19th Hole at Furnace Creek Golf Course for burgers and brew.
Active or Relaxed?
Do you want to unwind and relax or take advantage of the National Park or both? You have plenty of choices. Activities include –
- Play on the beautiful tennis courts at the inn.
- Work out in the fitness center next to the pool.
- Close by, there are trails for hiking.
- If you like rock climbing, you’ll find incredible natural wonders.
- The surrounding roads are flat, making bicycling easy and fun.
- Horseback rides and Jeep tours are a less strenuous way to see the park.
- And then, of course, there is golf.
- Relax and be pampered beside the pool in a spa treatment rooms or sauna.
- Float in the pool, dissolving all tension.
- Enjoy a cabana with snacks and drinks from the inn’s pool cafe.
Sunsets and Stars
As the sunset behind the Paramint Mountains, we watched from our terrace as the skies turned every shade of pink and purple imaginable. Then after the colors faded, thousands of stars started to appear. Death Valley is a Dark Sky Nation Park, making for exceptional stargazing.
Whether this is a romantic getaway or destination for a fun, family trip, the Inn at Death Valley and the Ranch at Death Valley will provide an unusual getaway filled with fun, history, and adventure.
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