Furnace Creek Resort: The House – and Golf Course and Swimming Pool and Solar Photovoltaic System – That Borax Built
For Immediate Release
DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, March 4, 2014 – A mineral used for cleaning is not your typical springboard to an elegant hotel located in a lush desert oasis, but that is exactly where the historic AAA Four Diamond Inn at Furnace Creek in Death Valley National Park traces its roots.
Borax, or sodium borate, is best-known as a safe, non-toxic laundry booster that can also clean and deodorize virtually anything in the house. Housewives throughout the 20th century lauded it as a miracle product. Though not considered rare, it is found mostly in two places on Earth – the California desert and Turkey. One of the richest sodium borate deposits on the planet was discovered in the late 1800s in California’s Death Valley by a gold prospector named Aaron Winters and his wife Rosie. They sold the land they acquired to a San Francisco businessman named William T. Coleman for the sum of $20,000.
Coleman founded the Harmony Borax Works and mined the “white gold” for the next five years. Coleman repeatedly demonstrated entrepreneurial problem-solving skills when faced with the challenges of bringing the crystals out of the rugged desert. He devised an ingenious transportation system using the now-famous 20-mule teams and two highly skilled workers. The teams hauled the 36.5-ton loads 165 miles to Mojave where the crystals could be dispersed across the country by railroad.
Coleman ran into financial trouble in 1888 and sold his assets to a successful borax prospector named Francis Marion “Borax” Smith. Smith eventually consolidated his various borax properties into the Pacific Coast Borax Company. Borax continued to be mined from the Death Valley area until the 1920s, when a more easily accessible borax deposit in the Mojave Desert threatened to ruin the difficult-to-reach Death Valley mine. Instead of closing its operations, however, the Pacific Borax Company decided to pursue an alternative use for its desert land: tourism.
In 1926, the Pacific Coast Borax Company created a subsidiary called the Death Valley Hotel Company and began construction of a $30,000 luxury inn on 160 acres of desert land. The mission-style structure was set into the low ridge overlooking the Furnace Creek Wash, and meandering gardens and date palm trees were planted to give the resort a feel of lush elegance in contrast to its stark desert surroundings.
The Inn at Furnace Creek opened on February 1, 1927 with 12 guest rooms, a dining room and lobby area. Rooms were $10 per night and included meals. Over the following eight years, additions were constructed and improvements made. In 1928, construction crews added 10 guest rooms, and in 1929 the Travertine Springs were tapped for electricity and water for a new swimming pool. The spring water is still used for irrigating the Inn’s gardens and flow-through pool. More rooms were constructed until the Inn reached 66 rooms in 1935.
Owners of the Furnace Creek Resort received a monumental business boost when the government designated the region a National Monument in 1933. The designation was gold because it resulted in paved roads to and throughout the monument, thus heralding automobile and tourist access to the site.
In 1956, the Fred Harvey Company, which pioneered hospitality on the railroads carrying Americans to the West, took over the management of the Furnace Creek Resort. Xanterra Parks & Resorts – then called Amfac Parks & Resorts – purchased the Fred Harvey Company from the family in 1968 including the Furnace Creek Resort.
The Inn at Furnace Creek has received the prestigious AAA Four-Diamond Award for the 32 straight years. The award recognizes the quality of the facilities and the level of service that Inn guests have come to appreciate over the years.
Meanwhile, the Pacific Coast Borax Company began another unrelated venture in the 1930s – production of a radio program called “Death Valley Days.” 20 Mule Team Borax sponsored the program, which featured Western stories based in Death Valley. After 22 years as a successful radio program, “Death Valley Days” was developed into a television program. The show achieved stunning success and aired for another 20 years. Its popularity was due partly to its format calling for an ever-rotating roster of celebrity hosts. Its most famous host was Ronald Reagan. Death Valley Days was the longest running radio program – and one of the longest TV programs – in history.
One mile down the road from the Inn is the Ranch at Furnace Creek. This complex was originally built as a closer-to-nature, family-friendly contrast to the upscale Inn. Xanterra’s year-round operations include the 224-room family-friendly property; a natural spring-fed swimming pool, 18-hole Furnace Creek Golf Course, the world’s lowest course at 214 feet (65 meters) below sea level; an RV park and Fiddlers Campground; two restaurants; a saloon; general store; and a service station. In addition, there is a 3,000-foot (914 meters) airstrip adjacent to the property.
The Ranch features three styles of accommodations. Cabin units are located in single story duplex buildings. Standard rooms are located in four, two-story buildings. All rooms have French doors leading to small patios or balconies. Deluxe rooms are located in two, single-story buildings. Rooms have French doors leading to small patios adjacent to the park/pool area. Most rooms offer two queen beds, and a limited number have one king bed.
The area surrounding the spring-fed swimming pool has been expanded and renovated to create a cozy and shaded area conducive to relaxation and family gatherings. In addition to tennis courts, a multi-use sport court has been installed, and a putting green, bocce court and shuffleboard court round out the complex.
In 2008 Xanterra installed a one megawatt (MW) solar photovoltaic system that has met the company’s goal of reducing purchased electricity by 30 percent. The system covers four acres adjacent to the golf course and helps power the Inn, Ranch and employee offices and housing. Since the system went online, it has prevented the production of 665,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions which is the equivalent of the amount of emissions created by driving 690,000 miles. In order to counteract that amount of emissions, close to 8,000 trees would need to be planted each year.
The Borax Museum is located at the Ranch and provides the history of the Furnace Creek Resort and key figures involved in the development of Death Valley. The museum offers a pictorial history and showcases artifacts from the past, such as antique stagecoaches, mining tools and a railroad steam locomotive in the museum courtyard. The museum is open to the public seven days a week, and admission is free.
The Furnace Creek Visitor Center is a short walk from the Ranch. Operated by the National Park Service, the recently refurbished center is open year-round. A 20-minute film is shown throughout the day and provides a great overview of the history, geology and more of Death Valley National Park. NPS rangers present a wide variety of interpretive programs as well.
For more than 60 years, the 49ers Encampment has been held in Death Valley to celebrate the spirit of the original settlers who braved the elements as they were searching for a way to California to find their fortunes during the Gold Rush. Today’s “49ers” will gather in early November at Furnace Creek for a five-day event featuring a full wagon train, music, art, crafts, costume contest and fun competitions.
In the summer, the Ranch at Furnace Creek is very popular with international tourists who seek the wide open spaces of the American West.
The Furnace Creek Resort has been welcoming guests since the 1930s. The historic AAA Four Diamond Inn at Furnace Creek is open from mid-October through mid-May. It features 66 rooms, including two suites with a full array of amenities, fine dining, massage therapy, tennis courts and a spring-fed pool. Open year-round, the Ranch at Furnace Creek is situated adjacent to the golf course and features 224 rooms in a casual setting, general store, spring-fed swimming pool, tennis courts, horseback riding and the Borax Museum.
Reservations may be made online or by calling toll free at 1-800-236-7916 or 1-303-297-2757.