Wildflower watchers are beginning to descend on Furnace Creek Resort in Death Valley National Park, where daytime temperatures are now in the low- to mid-70s. Rainfall has amounted to 3.11 inches this year, as compared to less than half that last year, and the first few flowers of the season are starting to open in the southern part of the park.
Early- and mid-April should be the peak bloom for brown-eyed evening primrose, sand verbena and gold poppy, with the showiest plants in the Furnace Creek area and south along Badwater Road. (more here about wildflowers in Death Valley)
Temperatures in the valley are in the 80s in April, in the 90s in May and they hover around 100 degrees in June. Even as temperatures rise into the 120s, and often higher, in July and August, European visitors flock to Furnace Creek. According to long-time employees, foreign visitors love it in the summertime, because they love the experience of wide open spaces and the extremes of temperature, which are exotic to them--to Europeans, this is the Wild West! In the Furnace Creek Ranch general store, you can buy a t-shirt emblazoned with "It's a dry heat . . "
Death Valley is anything but dead, year round. A verdant oasis in the shimmering salt brine desert, the Inn at Furnace Creek has been welcoming guests since the 1930s. Open from mid-October through mid-May, the Spanish-tile roofed, mission-style inn is a 4-diamond-rated property with 66 rooms and two suites; desired rooms have garden/desert views, with balconies or small terraces.
Cooling the senses are a dense grove of date and fan pans, lily ponds and green lawns, all watered by a rushing stream out of the mountains. The pristine, warm mineral-infused spring water flows constantly through the huge swimming pool, which requires no chlorine. The pool terrace is a popular place to lounge and enjoy the sun, icy drinks from the pool bar, a poolside massage, and the two fireplaces that blaze with log fires in the cool desert evenings.
The inn lies on a rise high above the valley, giving panoramic views of the Panamint Mountains, Telescope Peak at 11,049 feet (currently snowcapped) and miles of glimmering salt pans and dramatic geological formations. On the stone terrace, guests gather at the end of a day of sightseeing, to enjoy libations and to watch clouds billow over the jagged mountain panorama.
As night drops down and a startling canopy of stars emerges, everyone heads for seats around the stone fireplaces inside, and for "Chef Mic's" blue crab cakes, savory duck with habanero and mandarin glaze, grilled steaks, and her famous grilled artichoke with manchego cheese and Gorgonzola aioli.
Staff members in the dining room and throughout the hotel are incomparably friendly and upbeat. Most employees return here, year after year, and work at Crater Lake Lodge and other National Parks during the summer--they seem to be having a love affair with Death Valley.
Stay tuned here for news of The Ranch at Furnace Creek, which is the other top notch choice of Death Valley lodging.
More here about Furnace Creek.
Karen Misuraca is the author of several guidebooks to California, including Backroads of the California Wine Country; the new book, Backroads of the California Coast and the newly released 7th edition of Quick Escapes from San Francisco.