Delightful Death Valley; winter is best time of the year to play in this California Park
DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, January 4, 2013 – In Death Valley, Calif., winter is the time to break out the golf clubs, tennis rackets, sunscreen and bathing suits. Although many adventure-seekers flock to California’s rugged and remote Death Valley National Park during its extreme summer months, winter is the season most favored by visitors who seek more moderate temperatures for exploring the park’s many fascinating features and taking in its breathtaking views.
“Visitors can bike, hike, golf, go horseback-riding and Jeep touring all day long during the winter months,” said Phil Dickinson, director of sales and marketing for Furnace Creek Resort. “Although some people in the country dread the arrival of winter, we welcome it. It seems like a return to normality after months of extreme summertime heat. We even sometimes have early wildflowers to add color to an already beautiful destination.”
Death Valley’s Winter Sports
A properly equipped winter sports enthusiast in Death Valley is outfitted with good hiking boots, sunscreen, hat, binoculars, camera, golf clubs, bathing suit, tennis racket, water, full tank of gas and light jacket.
Between now and May, the Furnace Creek Golf Course will host a steady stream of golfers. At 214 feet below sea level, the course is the lowest in the world. Because the golf ball does not fly as far as it does at sea level and higher elevation courses, players must adjust their club selections as well as their mental approaches. The course also features small greens, strategically placed Palm and Tamarisk trees and water coming into play on nine holes.
Even if their game is off, golfers can still feel good about playing the course. The golf course was designated a “Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.” To achieve certification, a course must demonstrate it is maintaining a high degree of environmental quality in several different areas, including water conservation and wildlife and habitat management.
At the historic and elegant Inn at Furnace Creek, guests can swim and relax by the quiet pool. The pool is kept at a comfortable 82 degrees by a warm spring. Surrounded by an oasis garden, the pool offers the feeling of extreme seclusion and relaxation. Soft music is played from the poolside lounge, and two poolside fireplaces offer a place for guests to ward off the relative chill of the early evening.
Hiking opportunities in Death Valley are practically unlimited for both casual and seasoned walkers. Although there are no formal trails, paths carved out by past travelers are easy to follow. The National Park Service conducts interpretive programs daily including guided walks and naturalist talks. The programs begin at the National Park Service Visitor Center next to the Ranch at Furnace Creek or at a predetermined location in the park.
Many park visitors make the 55-mile drive from Furnace Creek to Scotty’s Castle to take a tour of the park’s Moorish-style castle and to learn the convoluted, entertaining tale of how the castle came to be built. The story involves a secret gold mine; a millionaire and his religious, musical wife; and an utterly charming con artist.
Even on the warmest winter days, visitors to Furnace Creek Resort remain cool, thanks to the power of the sun. Just a few years ago, resort operator Xanterra Parks & Resorts completed construction of the largest solar photovoltaic (PV) system in the tourism industry. The system generates more than 2.3 million kWh of electricity, or one-third of the total electricity needs of the resort.
Land of Extremes
Death Valley is a land of extreme dryness and heat as well as extreme beauty. A century ago, the temperature at the Ranch at Furnace Creek reached 134 degrees Fahrenheit, the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth. The summer of 2012 saw a high daytime temperature of 128 and an overnight low temperature of 107 degrees that tied a world record for the highest overnight low temperature.
The park is located on the California/Nevada border, approximately 120 miles from Las Vegas and 300 miles from Los Angeles. It is the hottest, driest and lowest place in North America. Annual rainfall is about 2.5 inches.
The reason for Death Valley’s extreme climate is found in its geography. There are four major mountain ranges between the Pacific Ocean and Death Valley. When winter storms move east from the Pacific Ocean, they must pass over these mountain ranges to continue east. When the rising clouds cool they produce rain or snow on the western side of these mountains. When those clouds reach the eastern side of the mountains, however, they no longer have much moisture.
The park’s depth, shape and minimal plant cover all contribute to the its extreme temperatures. Death Valley’s elevation changes are dramatic. From the top of Telescope Peak to the west to Badwater at the bottom of the valley, there is an elevation change of more than 11,000 feet – roughly twice the depth of the Grand Canyon.
When Death Valley experiences rain during the winter months, the chances are improved for a spectacular spring wildflower season. The desert’s famous wildflower show can begin as early as late February, when much of the country is still frosty.