Author: Jill Weinlein
Date of Trip: December 2015
The rustic Furnace Creek Ranch opened in 1933 as a family friendly destination that was more affordable than the more elegant Furnace Creek Inn. This is an ideal spot for families to go for a horseback ride in the morning to sunset, swim in an 85 degree pool fed by thermal springs, dine at one of the four eateries and learn about the geology of Death Valley.
Here are 10 activities we enjoyed while staying at the ranch –
1. Borax Museum is the oldest structure in Death Valley. It was built in 1883 by F.N. “Borax” Smith. It’s located across the street from the Saloon and Wrangler Dinner House. Learn about the minerals called borates that originate in hot springs. The borax boom was in the 1870s. It was used as an antiseptic, killing mold, fungus and bacteria. It’s popularity grew and transportation of 20 tons of borax on wagons was from 20-mule teams. Museum staff member Christine told us, “There were 18 mules and two horses. Mules were excellent because they didn’t drink as much as horses, they didn’t eat as much, and they were sterile.” Ceramic industries used Borax for glazes, china and porcelain enamel. It was popular with glass, fiberglass and Pyrex. Also detergents and agriculture.
2. An Outdoor Exhibit guide is available inside the museum. There are 66 items to see on the guide sheet from a train locomotive transporting Borax on the Death Valley Narrow-Gauge Railroad to a processing plant from 1915 to 1927. Visit the Mule barn that once housed the 20-mule team.
3. Pool Time is ideal in the afternoon after a day of exploring the valley. The Ranch offers a large heated pool with the temperature of 85 degrees. There are chaise lounges to sit and watch little ones swim before sunset. It stays open until 11 p.m. for a moonlight dip. Float on your back and search for shooting stars.
4. Ranger Programs are offered daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. When we were in the valley there were talks and guided walks throughout the day. One day there was a guided walk with car caravan program discussing “An alien environment meets Mars in a Star-Wars like atmosphere.” A treat for all is a visit with volunteer Joe Moore. He offers a Flintknapping Stone Tool discussion and demonstration near the Borax Museum Fridays through Mondays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. This Santa lookalike is an expert on archaeology.
5. Be a sport on the Sports Courts with tennis and basketball. There is also a shuffle board and bocce ball court. Kid’s love the children’s playground with equipment for climbing, swinging, and sliding.
6. Horseback Ride – Go for an one hour horseback ride for $60 per person. A two-hour ride is $75 per person and the same for a sunset wagon ride or horseback ride. The stables are located at the back of The Furnace Creek Ranch near Building 900.
7. Shop at the General Store for Date Nut Bread, Dates, and Death Valley souvenirs. They even sell small branding irons for your backyard barbecue. Brand the initial of your last name on a steak or piece of chicken.
8. Dining Options at The Furnace Creek Ranch- The Wrangler offers all-you-can-eat breakfast, lunch and dinner with hot and cold items. In the evening it also becomes a steak house. The Corkscrew Saloon offers a juke box and sporting events on televisions in a pub-like atmosphere. The Forty-Niner Cafe is family comfort food with a selection of wines. Open for breakfast with omelets, hash browns, pancakes and French toast. Also open for lunch and dinner in a more casual environment.
9. Sit by the fire pits at night to roast marshmallows, sip a glass of wine or chat with family and friends. It’s a great spot to keep warm on a chilly night while waiting for an available table in one of the dining spots at The Ranch.
10. Look up at night and see some amazing stars. It is one of the darkest sky parks in the United States National Park System. Without a full moon, the Milky Way is magnificent. Park rangers offer monthly night sky programs at the Furnace Creek Resort. When we visited there was a full moon that lit up the beautiful valley.