Cool Side of Death Valley

Cool Side of Death Valley

With some 3.3 million acres and elevations ranging from -282 to +11,049, Death Valley National Park has plenty of “cool” things to do. Maybe not “Arthur Fonzarelli Cool,” but then again, that leather jacket takes up a lot of space in the suitcase. Using Furnace Creek Resort as a home base, here are just some of the park’s cool activities:

Stargaze. Recently recognized by the International Dark Sky Association and the darkest of the national parks, Death Valley features some of the finest stargazing opportunities this side of Mars. Pollution is low, and even the bright lights of Las Vegas some two hours away have little effect on stargazing.

Search for a legendary gold mine. One of the most popular and lavish sites in Death Valley is Scotty's Castle, located 55 miles north of the Furnace Creek Resort. Folklore has it that Walter "Scotty" Scott, an alleged prospector, convinced Chicago millionaire Albert Johnson to stake his secret gold mine. Johnson built a spectacular Moorish-style castle consisting of more than eight buildings that house beautiful furnishings and spectacular tile work created by artisans, architects and crafts people from Spain, Italy and throughout the United States. Rangers outfitted in period clothing provide tours of the structure and offer little-known facts about the castle, the Johnsons and Scotty.

Take a swim. Both the Inn at Furnace Creek and the Ranch at Furnace Creek feature flow-through pools naturally fed by warm springs that keep the pools' temperature at acomfortable 82 degrees (27.7C). Chemicals are kept to a minimum in the pools.

Climb a Telescope. Telescope Peak that is. For the more seasoned hiker, a climb up to Telescope Peak – at 11,049 feet the highest spot in Death Valley – can be a challenge. Steep inclines make for a strenuous, all-day hike to the top.

Go for an easy hike. Easy hikes include those to the Harmony Borax Works and Golden Canyon ranging from one to three miles with minimal elevation gain. The hike through Golden Canyon from the overlook at Zabriskie Point winds its way through stunning layers of colorful strata. The trail ends where the canyon empties out in Death Valley itself.

Swing a club. At 214 feet below sea level, the Furnace Creek Golf Course is the world's lowest golf course. The course dates back to 1927 when one of the date-palm caretakers set up an informal three-hole golf course in what was then called the Greenland Ranch. Ranch operators expanded the three holes into a nine-hole course in 1931, and another nine holes opened in 1968. For more information about the Furnace Creek Golf Course, call the golf shop at 1-760-786-3373.

Explore the resort grounds. It’s an easy walk from anywhere at the Ranch to the tourism industry’s largest solar photovoltaic (PV) system which harnesses the sun’s energy and converts it into enough power to provide 30 percent of the resort’s needs. Just steps from the Ranch’s restaurants and registration area is the Borax Museum showcasing the history of the Furnace Creek Resort and key figures involved in the development of Death Valley. The museum offers a pictorial history and showcases artifacts from the past, such as antique stagecoaches, mining tools and a railroad steam locomotive in the museum courtyard.

Walk in the footsteps of C3PO or the tracks of R2D2. That scene where the two droids in Star Wars are walking across the sand dunes was filmed inside the park at the Mesquite Sand Dunes. So were several other scenes requiring an otherworldly appearance.

Travel Idea and images provided by Xanterra.