Family Fun! Death Valley Inspires Awe and Wonder
With plenty of outdoor activities and enriching experiences, The Oasis at Death Valley is perfect for a family getaway.
With nearby ghost towns, plenty of strange critters, and endless opportunities for good old-fashioned outdoor adventure, Death Valley is a place that inspires wonder. Instead of seeing the world through their smartphones or laptops, Death Valley encourages children to unplug and experience their surroundings directly. Forget about virtual reality — this is real reality. Here’s a look at three days of family fun (and learning!) in America’s iconic desert national park.
Discover Desert Denizens
Rise and shine for a dawn walk in the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, about a 30-minute drive from The Oasis at Death Valley. Early morning, before the wind picks up, is the best time of day to look for tracks etched in the sand by an assortment of Death Valley creatures: kangaroo rats, sidewinder snakes, coyotes, and desert kit foxes. Plus kids can’t get enough of running up and down the soft, forgiving dune slopes.On the way back, take a detour for the easy walk along the Salt Creek Interpretive Trail’s boardwalk to look for rare desert pupfish. Especially during the spring mating season, these energetic little fish put on quite a show as they scuffle for territory and look for partners.
Breakfast at the Inn Dining Room
Show a kid a date and they may initially balk at what appears to be an ugly, wrinkled fruit of indeterminate origin. But one bite of date bread fresh from the inn’s bake shop or a Belgian waffle topped with deglet noor date butter may convert even the most finicky of eaters to the sweet uses of these delicious desert fruits grown on the premises.
Visit a Ghost Town
Take a drive up Daylight Pass Road and cross the Nevada state line to explore Rhyolite, the Death Valley region’s largest ghost town. Once a city of 10,000 people, Rhyolite boomed after a nearby discovery of gold. Come here today and you can still see the shell of a three-story bank building and a house made out of bottles.If you’re up for an adventure (and have a high clearance vehicle), the slow-going 27-mile drive through rugged Titus Canyon takes you back to Death Valley through a dramatic chasm of towering cliffs. Along the way, you’ll also pass the ghost town of Leadfield and may spot desert bighorn sheep at Klare Spring.
Gaze at the Night Sky
With its clear, dry air and distance from urban light sources, Death Valley became the third U.S. national park to earn honors as a dark sky park from the International Dark Sky Association. After dinner, drive just a short distance from the ranch to find a big expanse of sky to introduce your family to the wonders of stargazing. Binoculars and a star chart will help you pick out individual features but the smear of the Milky Way across the blackness will be unmistakable.In winter and spring, park rangers and local astronomy groups also lead stargazing sessions at Harmony Borax Works that explore the night sky with high-powered telescopes.
Walk Along a Volcano
Introduce the kids to Death Valley’s amazing geology at Ubehebe Crater, a volcano that erupted about 2,100 years ago and created an 800-foot deep divot in the Earth’s surface. If some of Death Valley’s geological processes are a little hard to understand, it’s easy to get a sense of the power of the blast that created Ubehebe as you follow the 1 ½-mile trail along the crater’s rim.
A Burger Bonanza
Not only does the Furnace Creek Golf Course at Death Valley own the distinction as the lowest elevation golf course in the world, but the 19th Hole Bar & Grill, this challenging course’s snack bar, boasts a unique drive-thru designed for golf carts. Watch the duffers pull up to the window as you and the family bite into such 19th Hole specialties as the Mulligan Burger — a giant half-pounder topped with cheddar, sautéed onions, green chili, and smoked bacon.
Explore Badwater Road
Drive south from the Ranch at Death Valley to visit several of the national park’s most distinctive landmarks. The one-mile round-trip walk to see Natural Bridge, the eroded rock span that links two sides of a canyon, is a perfect hike for kids.They’re also intrigued by the whimsically named Devil’s Golf Course, an expanse of jagged salt crystal formations on the valley floor that’s definitely the stuff of golfers’ nightmares. Tell the kids to keep quiet for a few minutes, then have everyone listen for the popping sounds that the salt crystals make as they expand and contract.Stop at Badwater for a stroll out on the boardwalk so that your kids can boast to friends back home that they walked on the very bottom of North America. That’s because at 282 feet below sea level, Badwater is the continent’s lowest spot. For some perspective, point out the sign high on the cliffs above the parking lot that marks sea level. And look west toward the Panamint Range to see Telescope Peak, the park’s highest point, looming more than two miles above you at 11,049 feet.On the way back to the ranch, follow the nine-mile detour along Artist’s Drive as it travels through the badlands of the Black Mountains. The drive leads to Artist’s Palette, the park’s most colorful formation. No doubt both you and your kids will be amazed by the remarkable hues, as if someone had painted the rocky hills with reds, greens, and purples. Catch Artist’s Palette in late afternoon, when the setting sun best illuminates the colors.
Dinner at the Inn Dining Room
The dining room’s relaxed elegance makes it a comfortable spot for families. The curving banquettes are ideal if you have a larger clan, though it’s hard to beat a table out on the veranda. After dinner, be sure to show your kids the dining room’s classic art for a glimpse of how the West was once.
Enjoy a Commanding View
Death Valley is the largest national park outside of Alaska and, now that you’ve done some exploring, the best place to put the park’s vastness into perspective is from 5,475-foot Dante’s View. This commanding viewpoint in the Black Mountains looks north up the length of the valley, with Badwater and the salt flats far below. Follow the trails along the ridgeline to get different views and to find the best angle for selfies of the family.
Hang Out by the Pool
Nothing beats chilling out by the ranch’s pool — although considering it’s fed by nearby springs that keep the waters steadily around 87 degrees, the pool is anything but chilly. Splash around, catch some sun, and when you’re hungry, check out the menu at the new Coffee & Cream for quick-service items.
Experience Death Valley pioneer-style as you head out on a horseback ride with Furnace Creek Stables. Suitable for riders of all levels, the outings explore the valley floor, while some also range into the foothills of the Funeral Mountains.
Take a Carriage or Hay Wagon Ride
In the evening, take the family out on a carriage or hay wagon ride that visits the golf course and date palm groves. Or try a sunset or moonlight horseback ride that lets you bear witness to the remarkable display as the changing light colors the desert landscape.
For more family activities:
Sip a Sarsaparilla
A close relative of root beer, sarsaparilla was a popular soft drink in the Old West. You’ll find sarsaparilla over at The Last Kind Words Saloon, the new restaurant in The Ranch at Death Valley. With its historic photos, wagon-wheel chandeliers, and Navajo rugs, the saloon brings alive the world of the Wild West. And while the kids can enjoy their sarsaparilla straight up, the grownups can savor it in such craft cocktails as The Last Kind Word (High West Prairie Bourbon, sweet vermouth, lemon juice, sarsaparilla, and bitters).
A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Just Down the Road…
People have often described Death Valley’s terrain as otherworldly. If you need any proof, just consider that filmmakers used locations around the valley to shoot scenes in three different Star Wars movies, including the original. The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes was among the sites used for that iconic 1977 film.
Watch Rocks Race
Granted, it’s not exactly a sprint. Nor are you likely to see any rocks actually move. But at Racetrack Playa in the northern part of the park, a unique phenomenon takes place as boulders, some weighing several hundred pounds, slide across the dry lakebed, leaving long trails in their wakes. For these boulders to kick into gear, it takes exactly the right conditions — when there’s water in the playa, the rocks are encrusted with ice, and the wind blows hard. Because Racetrack Playa is remote and only accessible via rugged roads, your best option for visiting the area is on a tour with Farabee Jeep Rentals & Tours.
Something’s Fishy About Death Valley
You don’t travel to the driest spot in North America and expect to see fish. But follow the kid-friendly Salt Creek Interpretive Trail and especially between February and April, you can watch Salt Creek pupfish spawning in the shallow waters. About an inch long, the pupfish may be tiny, but the males will aggressively defend their territories and chase off rivals. Why are they here? The pupfish are survivors from a time when a body of water covered the valley to depths of 600 feet.
The Oasis at Death Valley in Furnace Creek is situated in a lush oasis surrounded by the vast and arid desert of Death Valley National Park — just 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas and 275 miles northeast of Los Angeles. The resort encompasses two hotels — the historic AAA Four Diamond, 66-room Inn at Death Valley and the family-oriented, 224-room Ranch at Death Valley. The entire resort recently completed a renaissance with an extension $100 million renovation. The resort includes natural spring-fed pools, an 18-hole golf course, horse and carriage rides, world-renowned stargazing, and is surrounded by Death Valley National Park’s main attractions. For information and reservations, visit https://www.oasisatdeathvalley.com or call 800-236-7916.
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