Furnace Creek Campground is the perfect home base for exploring Death Valley!
First, about the campground…
We knew more than six months in advance that we’d be staying here as Travis and a friend of ours had signed up for the Death Valley Half Marathon and Marathon respectively. Because of the advanced notice, I was able to book the exact site we wanted as soon as it became available through http://www.recreation.gov. We chose site 76 because it had full hookups and was a pull through. It was also extremely long and level and was the easiest set up we’ve had to date. The Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center was about 100 yards away and a restroom with flush toilets was about 20 yards away. There’s also a sink area near the restroom where you can wash dishes. Each site has a fire ring and picnic table, and the pull throughs are blacktopped.
The Furnace Creek area is also home to The Ranch at Death Valley which has a couple of restaurants, a golf course, a hotel, a general store, the Borax Museum, a swimming pool, restrooms, laundry facilities, sport courts and a gas station. Although there are not showers in the campground itself, The Ranch has shower facilities that you can use for $5, which also gives you access to the swimming pool. The pass is good for 24 hours, so if you time it right, you can get two days’ worth of showers out of one pass.
Exploring Death Valley…
Just like any National Park, you have to drive a little to take in all of the sights. Luckily, many of the most recommended sights Death Valley has to offer are short drives from Furnace Creek. We got to Death Valley on a Friday afternoon. After unhitching the trailer at the campground, we still had plenty of daylight left to explore. Our first stop was Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America.
Next, we did the easy 1-mile-roundtrip hike to Natural Bridge.
After the hike, we went back to the campground for dinner. After all, the guys had a race to run in the morning and here’s something I didn’t think about — when the sun goes down, it gets dark. Really dark, fast — so don’t forget your headlamps. Death Valley is a Gold-Tier International Dark-Sky Association park, meaning that the skies there are affected by only the smallest amounts of light pollution, classifying it at the highest level of IDA designation. We grew up in a small town in Wisconsin where there are many open areas free of heavy light pollution, but never in my life have I seen such a dark sky and such bright stars — so amazing!
Our second day in Death Valley started with the marathon/half marathon. While the guys were running, the ladies took a drive along the nine-mile Artist’s Drive that passes through Artist’s Palette, with mineral-rich rocks displaying an array of colors.
We had a lazy afternoon involving some pool time, showers, and naps, but then decided to catch the sunset at Zabriskie Point before getting dinner at the Date Grove Diner.
On our final full day in Death Valley, we opted to do the moderately-difficult 4-mile Mosaic Canyon hike, just past Stovepipe Wells. The polished marble narrows made this hike a little interesting, but all in all I would say it’s on the low end of moderate for difficulty.
After the hike, we stopped at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes but only looked on from afar.
As we passed back through Stovepipe Wells on our way back towards Furnace Creek, we stopped at the gas station/general store to fill the gas tank and pick up a few supplies and souvenirs. **Important Tip** The gas in Stovepipe Wells is almost a $1.50 cheaper than in Furnace Creek, so fill up there! Our last stop for the day was the Salt Creek Interpretive Trail to see if we could see the rare pupfish (we did).
We bugged out fairly early on Monday morning as we had to drop the trailer off in Pahrump and then take our friends to Las Vegas, and then head back to Pahrump. Death Valley was very cool and we’re looking forward to exploring it again in the future. Dante’s View and Scotty’s Castle were both closed while we were there and we didn’t get the chance to drive over to Racetrack Playa to see the ‘sailing stones’.