Leaving Zabriskie Point we rounded a sharp turn and ran right into Furnace Creek Inn. Rising from rounded mountains, overlooking Death Valley’s famous basin, Furnace Creek Inn is an “elegant hideaway” and has been housing guests for over 86 years. It is a AAA-rated four diamond resort in the middle of Death Valley. The Pacific Coast Borax Company built the Inn in 1927. Designed by prominent LA architect Albert C. Martin and landscape architect Daniel Hull the Inn flows nicely into the surrounding landscape. Martin’s work includes Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Hull designed Grand Canyon Village, Old Faithful Lodge and the iconic Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park.
Furnace Creek is a true oasis located in the heart of Death Valley. Timbisha Native Americans have lived at this oasis, their ancestral homeland, for centuries. Furnace Creek was formerly the center of Death Valley mining operations for the Pacific Coast Borax Company and the historic twenty mule teams hauling wagon trains of borax across the Mojave Desert. We decided to top off the tank here as gas stations in Death Valley are few and far between. It took us three hours to get here…and we were just getting started on the tour.
Our next stop was the Visitor Center, Borax Museum, and the Death Valley Natural History Association Bookstore. A bookstore! Exhibits were enjoyable but I found myself fascinated by the walls and walls of rocks, minerals and fossils discovered in Death Valley. As well, the history of the twenty mule teams was vastly interesting, as was the outdoor exhibits of various wagons, trains and other items. Frankly, the more I learned the more I felt sorry for those poor mules.
Twenty Mule Team bells
MASSIVE wheels on this old wagon. Each wheel was a slice of wood from a tree.
Wagon on display
Train on display
We lunched at the Forty Niner Cafe, which was a fun experience albeit a tad pricey. Our waiter reminded me of Bilbo Baggins, but taller and thinner. He had a accent I couldn’t place and his name was Ivan. I really enjoyed his presence. The clientele was very international. We heard German, French, Japanese as well as what we guessed was a local dialect. …but we don’t know.
Out front is Old Dinah – a steam tractor with ore wagons that was introduced in 1894 to replace the twenty mule teams.
Furnace Creek is where we filled our car with gas, our tummies with food and our brains with facts. And I bought a cool book and a rock. We were itching to get back on the road to see more of this incredible place. Next stop: Artist’s Drive.
The Route: I-215 south and out of Las Vegas to Highway 160 west. (Blue Diamond Road); West on Tacoma Road which changes to Old Spanish Trail Highway as it crosses into California; Through Tecopa; North on Highway 127 through Shoshone to Death Valley Junction; West on Highway 190 into the Death Valley National Park to Zabriskie Point and Furnace Creek; South on Badwater Road/Highway 178 to Artist’s Palette and Badwater Bason; out the 178 to Pahrump and back to Las Vegas.