Since 1969, restaurant, hotel, travel & other witty reviews by a handpicked, worldwide team of discerning professionals—and your views, too.

Furnace Creek Resort, Death Valley, CA - Review

A Kasbah for a Sheik: Dramatic Death Valley

The exterior of Furnace Creek Resort in Death Valley, California
Furnace Creek Resort in Death Valley

Death Valley has usurped its name. The early pioneers of 1849, who in quest of a shortcut from Utah to California, became trapped in the desert for five weeks and eventually made it out safely.

These 3.4 million desolated acres, where "white gold" was found in the form of borax, was used in the past as a detergent and promoted in the '50s by Ronald Reagan. Borax-Borax is not Bora-Bora, but if you succumb to something here, it will most likely be your ecstasy before the sublime beauty and grandeur of this national monument, originally protected as a national monument in 1933 and dedicated as the nation's largest national park in 1994.

The lobby at Furnace Creek Resort in Death Valley, California
The lobby at Furnace Creek Resort in Death Valley, California

Through the passes that sneak into the Valley and along the road that winds on its floor below sea level, the mineral enchantment never stops. The changing colors, reach their peak at the Artist's Pallette. The rocks, have been tamed in places by the millenniums, while in others they are still sharp and jagged. The mighty mountains, snow capped even in late spring, the undulating dunes (Dune Point), the abrupt canyons (Titus Canyon, Mosaic Canyon), the devastated craters (Ubehebe Crater) and the sense of emptiness arouses even the most blasé of travelers. And then, a miracle (not a mirage): unexpected water ignites life. Aridity (humidity here is close to zero percent), this hostile element, plays its role in the magnitude of this spectacle, which liberates from the throat spontaneous oohs and aahs and procures a good approach to the perception of eternity.

Although no one has duplicated his vision, it is understandable that in 1925, Albert Johnson, a wealthy and somewhat mysterious Chicagoan decided to build a sumptuous château here in the middle of nowhere (Scotty's Castle), where he would spend the rest of his life. Not much imagination is needed to feel as if you have been propelled onto another planet, which explains why "Star Wars" was shot here.

A guest room at Furnace Creek Resort in Death Valley, California
A guest room at Furnace Creek Resort in Death Valley, California

The conclusion (or the beginning) of the exploration of these natural wonders will naturally take place at The Inn at Furnace Creek. Spending a night in this oasis planted with Deglet-Nour date palm trees from Algeria, is like reading a chapter of the "Arabian Nights" tales. This mission-style structure, which on the flank of the mountain is evocative with its adobe walls of a Moorish kasbah, opened in 1927 and has retained the atmosphere of this era. Renovations in 1997 introduced creature comforts to the 66 rooms but did not alter the inn's charm, secluded in the desert and seemingly fit for a sheikh. Since 2008, further enhancements have been ongoing, including the addition of brand new furniture in the lobby and veranda, new windows and an HVAC upgrade.

Warm spring water flows constantly into the landmark swimming pool. Playing golf on a court at an elevation below sea level is an experience, for the ball has strange reactions at this altitude.

The swimming pool at Furnace Creek Resort in Death Valley, California
The swimming pool at Furnace Creek Resort in Death Valley, California

But sitting quietly to watch the sun cast its last rays in the palms and the sky fill with stars, soothes the nerves for weeks to come. Following this unique experience, it's time for less ethereal satisfactions in the spacious and relaxing dining room. A solid menu is presented in harmony with the location based on prime ingredients. This is the right food — not to be found everywhere — for a desert explorer. Environmentalists will be happy to know they use farm animals.

There's a slight hint of the exotic in the traditional and well-executed entrées. We enjoyed a sweet touch of fig in the pork tenderloin, a melt-in-the-mouth filet of beef with purple mashed potatoes and savory lamb chops accompanied by a tasty rosemary risotto. The unpretentious wine list offers good options at reasonable prices. You are prepared for a peaceful night after a bit more stargazing on your walk to your room.

The golf course at Furnace Creek Resort in Death Valley, California
The golf course at Furnace Creek Resort in Death Valley, California

The Furnace Creek Resort is open mid-October until mid-May. There are plenty of activities to choose from including tennis, golf and horseback or carriage riding. If you choose to be frugal with your energy, there is a lot to sightsee in the vicinity: Zabriskie Point, Golden Canyon, Artist's Drive ... If you visit during warmer months, don't forget to drink a gallon of water a day as you roam the valley. (That is on top of a glass of Chardonnay at the bar when you return in the evening).

More casual accommodation can be found at nearby The Ranch at Furnace Creek, which remains open year-round. Be sure to take a dip in the Ranch's swimming pool, which underwent a major upgrade in 2006. The ranch has a relaxed Western ambience and is situated near the Borax Museum.

An even more bucolic stay can be found at the Stovepipe Wells Ranch, where most of the 83 guest rooms offer views of Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and the neighboring mountain ranges. Guests are further enticed by Western-style accommodations, a heated outdoor pool, on-site general store and the always electric Badwater Saloon.

Furnace Creek Resort
Highway 190, P.O. Box 1
Death Valley, CA 92328
800-236-7916, 760-786-2345
Visit the Furnace Creek Resort official website

Stovepipe Wells Village
Highway 190
Death Valley, CA 92328
Visit the Stovepipe Wells Village official website

Related Content:

Going to California? Check out our guide


Plan a voyage to a tropical paradise aboard one of GAYOT's Best Caribbean Cruises.
Get the 411 on the City of Angels. Find the city's top hotels, restaurants, attractions and more with GAYOT's guide.