An old Hollywood oasis is experiencing a modern renaissance in Death Valley National Park
On my first visit to Death Valley National Park, its historic inn, a green oasis of waving palm trees and red-tiled roofs, captured my imagination from afar.
Five years later, I returned to the Emerald Isle in the middle of Earth’s hottest desert, this time as a guest.
Death Valley Oasis is built atop an honest-to-god oasis from which 80,000 gallons of groundwater bubble to the surface every day. When a hotel opened here in the 1920s, the stunning juxtaposition of a thriving life amidst a murderous desert attracted Hollywood celebrities like Clark Gable, Bette Davis and a young Ronald Regan.
The Inn at Death Valley casitas.(Scott Temme/Xanterra)
Ongoing renovations since 2018 have ushered the Oasis Inn into a new era in which nearly two dozen updated one-bedroom casitas are rising from the fertile ground. There is a restaurant, a cocktail bar and a spa. A mile away, a second property, The Ranch, has undergone extensive renovations, including 224 updated rooms, soon-to-open cottages and an ice cream parlor, all set around a quaint town square .
Dusty and dirty from a seven-hour hike in Panamint City, a ghost town on the southeast edge of the park, by the time I drop into the hostel well after dark, it feels like a mirage. Before long, a staff member takes me in a golf cart to my casita. Along the way, he explains to me that once there, I will have a golf cart of my own to go around the resort whenever I want; it comes free with my stay.
Inside, the casita is dressed in unpretentious and well-appointed comfort. Just beyond the back patio where I’ll drink hot tea with the rising sun, a stream runs through the casita village. And beyond, a pretty garden of slender palms, streams and ponds invites you to stroll.
The Last Kind Words Saloon at the Ranch.(Scott Temme/Xanterra)
The next morning, after breakfast on the veranda of the inn, from where the view stretches like taffy over the valley, it is time again to venture into this unforgiving desert. At Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level, it’s 85 degrees. It’s downright cold for the park, which last summer hit the third-hottest temperature on record on the planet, 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
From there, on to the Artist’s Palette, a volcanic uplift of naturally colored blue, purple and pink rocks, then Rhyolite, another ghost town, this one accessible by car, just outside the entrance to the park in Nevada. With the heat, dust, and dry dry air, I only have one thing on my mind as I park in the hostel parking lot: the spring-fed pool. With its stone fireplace, open-air cabanas and plush lounges, it almost looks like the historic photo that hangs on the wall of my casita and was, I imagine, just as restorative as it is today.
The terrace on the roof of the hostel under a starry sky.(Mike Knetemann/Xanterra)
I head to the Ranch for dinner that evening and find myself belly-up in the bar of The Last Kind Words Saloon, the resort’s steakhouse and watering hole, under a dense gallery of Western images, stuffed animals and equipment. cowboy. A famous rendering of the teams of 20 mules who moved borax, a mineral powder used to clean and wash clothes, through Death Valley in the 1880s, dominates one wall. Outside, guests are seated around a stone fireplace that crackles with life.
I eat hearty, invigorating meals – dishes like rib eye, ribs and salmon – and by the time my belly is full, stars have started to emerge in the night sky; Back at the hostel, I have the most comfortable spot in the park to see them shine. I sit on a lounge chair on the fourth-floor observation deck and bask in their pale glow. Almost full tonight, the moon holds the Milky Way at bay, but in this certified international dark sky park, thousands of dots of light dance nonetheless.
The next morning, I sleep so soundly in my comfortable casita that I miss the iconic sunrise from nearby Zabriskie Point, but whatever. I’ll be back,” I tell myself as I drive my golf cart through the scorching morning heat.
// Oasis in Death Valley (Death Valley), oasisatdeathvalley.com
Zabriskie Point at sunrise.(Temme/Xanterra)