Three idyllic days of couples’ bliss in Death Valley National Park
Wake up before dawn to watch the rugged mountains turn pink with the sunrise, then, after dark, gaze up at star-filled skies as the desert wind rustles the palms.Considering its intimidating name, Death Valley National Park may not sound like an ideal destination for a romantic getaway. But The Oasis at Death Valley (the historic AAA Four Diamond Inn at Death Valley and The Ranch at Death Valley), with an oasis-like setting and fine dining, offers surprising luxury in one of the world’s most dramatic desert landscapes — a place of shifting sand dunes, multi-hued rock formations, and hidden canyons for hiking. Wake up before dawn to watch the rugged mountains turn pink with the sunrise, then, after dark, gaze up at star-filled skies as the desert wind rustles the palms. It’s a great way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, an engagement, or an anniversary.
The desert is all about the changing light and Zabriskie Point, a 10-minute drive south from Furnace Creek on State Highway 190, puts on an especially impressive dawn display. Marvel as the rising sun illuminates the Panamint Range across the valley, while the badlands below the overlook, including jagged Manly Beacon, glow gold with the morning’s first rays.BreakfastInn at Death Valley Dining RoomEnjoy an elegant breakfast in the Inn at Death Valley Dining Room, where select tables overlook the valley. For a taste of the desert, try the date pancakes or house-baked date bread. The Inn Benedict, with either honey-smoked salmon or Canadian bacon, is another favorite. On weekends, toast each other with mimosas during the dining room’s lavish Sunday brunch buffet. Breakfast served 7 a.m.-10:30 a.m., Sunday brunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Information: 760-786-3385; oasisatdeathvalley.com/dining
A Drive Down Badwater RoadExplore along Badwater Road on your way to the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. Easy hikes lead into Golden Canyon, a serpentine chasm carved by flash floods, and to Natural Bridge, an enormous rock formation that spans a wash. Catch sunset along nine-mile-long Artist’s Drive, where the brilliant pinks, yellows, and greens of Artist’s Palette intensify with the last light of day. Note: Artist’s Drive will be closed for construction Jan. 9-March 16, 2017.
The Corkscrew Saloon, The Ranch at Death ValleyEnjoy a laid back evening with great drinks, classic food and fun entertainment. In addition to a full bar of premium and “top shelf” liquors, domestic and imported draft and bottled beers and varietal wines-by-the glass, the Corkscrew also offers local Badwater Ale which is exclusively brewed for them by the Indian Wells Brewing Company. Dining attire is casual and there is no need for reservations. Food served 12pm-9pm.
Hike Sand Dunes and Visit a Desert WaterfallWake up early, then drive to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes for walks along graceful slopes patterned with wind-etched ripples. Continue west over 4,956-foot Towne Pass on State Highway 190 to surprising Darwin Falls, where a two-mile round-trip hike follows a creek shaded by willows and cottonwoods before reaching the small cascade. (Note: Due to the dry climate, be sure to carry adequate water and dress appropriately for the weather.) Information: 760-786-3200; nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/hiking
After a morning of adventure, take a dip in the spring-fed pool — perfect any time of the year at a steady 84 degrees. Warm up by the poolside wood-burning fireplaces, then watch the sunset light up the valley from the terrace overlooking the pool. Information: 760-786-2345 (ext. 120); oasisatdeathvalley.com/activities/massage
Inn at Death Valley Dining RoomDecorated with paintings of historic scenes, the Inn at Death Valley Dining Room is the valley’s most romantic restaurant. Toast each other from a wine list that includes such leading California wineries as Santa Barbara County’s Au Bon Climat and Napa Valley’s Trefethen Family Vineyards. Savor a perfectly prepared filet mignon or an unexpected delicacy in the desert: rainbow trout prepared with jasmine rice, garlic, ginger, and cilantro. And for dessert, you won’t want to miss the four-layer chocolate chalet cake — perfect to celebrate a special occasion. Dinner served 5:30 p.m.-9 p.m. Information: 760-786-3385; oasisatdeathvalley.com/dining
Driving and Hiking Adventures in Titus CanyonTake an adventure together as the two of you explore Titus Canyon, a 27-mile-long gorge through the Grapevine Mountains. Drive the length of the canyon, stopping to see a ghost town and Native American rock art, before reaching the narrows, where rock walls hundreds of feet tall are only 20 feet apart. High-clearance vehicles are strongly recommended and depending on conditions, you may need a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Rentals are available from Farabee Death Valley Jeep Rentals across from The Inn at Death Valley: 877-970-5337; farabeejeeprentals.com. Or skip the drive and hike to the narrows on a four-mile round-trip trek that begins from the parking lot at the canyon mouth, a few miles off Scotty’s Castle Road.
Horseback and Carriage Rides with Furnace Creek StablesSaddle up with Furnace Creek Stables for one-hour wrangler-led rides that explore the valley floor or two-hour adventures that lead into the foothills of the Funeral Mountains. Private outings can be arranged and for the ultimate in romance, take a guided moonlight ride (offered one week during the month). If you’re looking for a bit more comfort, hire a private horse-drawn carriage for rides across the world’s lowest golf course and into a grove of towering date palms. Information: 760-614-1018; furnacecreekstables.net
StargazingAfter dinner, find a spot away from the lights and look up at the Milky Way and a brilliant sky twinkling with countless stars — there’s nothing more romantic. In 2013, Death Valley National Park earned recognition as a Gold Tier Dark Sky National Park by the International Dark Sky Association. During winter and spring, rangers lead stargazing events using high-powered telescopes. Information: 760-786-2345; http://www.oasisatdeathvalley.com/activities/stargazing+ For information and reservations at The Oasis at Death Valley, visit oasisatdeathvalley.com or call 800-236-7916.For travel experiences available from Xanterra Parks & Resorts and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.