Last year there was a wildflower “super bloom” in Death Valley because of ideal rain and temperature. We couldn’t go. This year, because we now live in California and because of the enormous rains, we thought we would visit. We were a bit disappointed because the flowers were sparse. Still, we had a good time. As we had in the past, we entered the park from the town of Lone Pine that sits beneath Mt. Whitney. The Sierras were still covered in snow, and the view was spectacular.
The road took us along the edge of Owens Lake. Sand blew across the road as if we were in the middle of the Sahara. The once-huge lake was nothing but a salt flat, reminding us of the movie, “Chinatown”, and the politics that brought water from the region to boost the growth of Los Angeles. From there, the road plunges down 4,000 feet to the valley floor. Along the way, there are hairpin turns and several view points. In particular, the view from Father Crowley Point lets you peer into the deep and colorful canyons below. It is easy to understand the many metaphors including Hell and Death that have been used to describe the place.
As we descended, we saw a few wildflowers, but there were few places to stop on our journey. There were no flowers when we reached the first bit of civilization at Panamint Springs, and so we drove on without stopping. Stove Pipe Wells was filled with people in campers looking for a place to spend the night and hikers returning from a visit to the impressive sand dunes. We checked in with the ranger just as he was closing the office and then headed another few miles to Furnace Creek. The Ranch is a large development of restaurants, gift shops, motels, and camp grounds. The Inn is another mile or so further and rises up out of the desert like a mirage.
The Inn is a sprawling complex set against a steep hillside and surrounded with green lawns and palms of many varieties, including dates. There are bougainvillea, oleander, and flowers throughout the grounds. Although the place is a natural oasis fed by springs and a constant stream, it has the surreal appearance of something from the Arabian Nights.
Furnace Creek Inn was built in 1927, the same year as the beautiful Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite. It was envisioned as a magnet for wealthy tourists traveling by train and later by automobile. Over the years, it has attracted many movie stars and politicians. Unfortunately, these days it is a little down at the heels, and the service is a little uneven. There are reported plans to refurbish the inn, and that will be great, Still the main reason one stays at the inn is to enjoy the beautiful scenery and the sunrises and sunsets.
Food is better than you might expect out in the middle of the desert. The bar drinks were delicious even though they didn’t have many call brands. The breakfasts were huge and flavorful even though the waffle iron was broken and they were out of maple syrup anyway.
Highlights included smoked salmon crostini. The citrus duck was tender with crispy skin, the fat completely rendered, and the meat cooked to a barely pink. The salmon was well cooked and came with a radish coulis and a potato puree in the form of a pear and deep fried.
After our stay we traveled to the south end of the park. That turned out to be where the flowers were. Then we drove to the Mojave Reserve, a place we had never been before. Right in the middle of the reserve is a preserved train station that played a major role in the war effort in WWII. More wildflowers, and enormous pink-colored sand dunes. Then back to fighting the traffic on the interstates until we made it home safely.