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The Princess and the Frog Travel to Death Valley: 
Two Distinctive Viewpoints on Travel
Jon Gerloff and Esrin Gozukizil

Into the valley of death we rode, the Princess and the Frog, steep hills to our right and a desert wasteland to our left.  To one, the Princess, dirt and sand are as anathema as shopping at Pic-N-Save.  While to the practical frog, a weekend road trip filled with hiking and interesting sights sounded like fun.

Death Valley is a good six hours away from Los Angeles and the most asked question was, ‘Why the heck are you going there?’  Well, for one thing, Death Valley is the nation’s largest national park, covering some three million square miles of land.  It has the lowest point, Badwater, 280 feet below sea level, of anywhere in the United States.  Besides hot temperatures, it has salt flats, box canyons, good hiking, sand dunes, four-wheel driving treks and a castle. 

We arrived late on Friday fighting three-day getaway traffic at every turn.  Not to worry though, they keep the light on for you.  There are basically two places to stay; both are run by AMFAC, a private operator.  The Furnace Creek Inn is an expensive resort that’ll run you $275 at peak season. 

The Furnace Creek Ranch is a better value at $133 plus tax.  Our room was quiet, despite the plethora of kids running around, had two double beds, a patio large enough for two chairs and a table, and a color TV with enough cable premium channels so the Frog wouldn’t get bored when the Princess was busy taking a shower. 

Princess says:  Princess found the accommodations to be sparse, like a Motel 6, but adequate for the circumstances and especially for the price.  The rooms were simple and clean.  They didn’t have the amenities that most hotels/motels would have (i.e.: hair dryers, shower caps, etc.) but it was good enough.

Frog says:  For the money, the room was just fine.  You’re outside all day long so to me anything else would’ve been a waste.  There’s a small refrigerator in each room, the bed was firm and the shower hot.

The Ranch’s grounds also have a pool fed by a natural spring that keeps it at a steady 84 degrees, tennis courts, a basketball court, a volleyball net, a nice green field to run around and play on, horse stables and a golf course.  There are two restaurants and a bar.

When you awaken, the first thing you’ll notice is that it’s bright.  The second thing you’ll notice is that its not that hot.  In the winter season (November through March), the temperatures are comfortable.  It was in the 70’s during the day and only down to the high 40’s at night for us.  Come in the summer (March through October) and you better bring your sunscreen because it’s hot (and they don’t call it Death Valley for nothing). 

Breakfast can be had at the Forty-Niner Cafe.  If the wait is long, check out the seating at the counter.  If the counter is full and you’re in a rush, try the Wrangler buffet next door.  Breakfast is served until 11:00. 

Your first stop after breakfast should be the Ranger Station, just a short quarter mile to your left.  Check in, pay your park fee ($10 for a seven day pass) and talk to the nice, friendly and very informative Rangers there.  They’ve got maps of the area, real good tips on hikes, info on which sights to see in the afternoon versus which to see in the morning, road and weather conditions, and will talk sense into you should you be thinking about taking a passenger vehicle on a road fit only for four-wheel drive.  Listen to them; they know.   

Anything else you might need, from bottled water (bring some along) to cold beer, snack foods to shoe laces, T-shirts and souvenirs, can all be purchased at the General Store, which is open year round.

There are numerous hikes of various degrees of difficulty.  The Ranger map tells you the difficulty and length.  We took two that were rated as moderate.  The first was Mosaic Canyon.  Starting out from the parking lot just past Stove Pipe Springs (everything is well marked) you go uphill through solid marble slabs washed smooth by wind and water, and over ground that is thick with pebbles making your work twice as hard.  The end of the line is two miles up.  Our next hike was the Natural Bridge Canyon, near Badwater.  It’s another uphill climb up a dry riverbed of rocks and pebbles leading to a natural bridge.  Another hike, considered easier, was the Golden Canyon Interpretive.  It was a mile-and-a-half one-way with a beautiful view of the badlands and Red Cathedral.  There are numbered posts along the way marking interesting sites.  You can buy the guide at the trailhead for a quarter.

When driving through the park there are some must-sees: Dante’s Peak is over five thousand feet high with a commanding view of the entire valley.  Take a jacket because it’s cold and windy up there.  Zabriskie Point has a beautiful view of the badlands and salt flats, especially at sunset.  Badwater is at 280 feet below sea level.  Leave your jacket in the backseat because the temperature variance was over thirty degrees.  You can walk all the way out to the salt flats but guess what, what you saw from the distance is about all there is.  If you’re low on energy, just walk halfway; you’ll get the general idea.  The Devil’s Golf Course is a strange area where the saltpan surface has risen into jagged rocky spires.  The Artists Drive is a nice scenic drive to take through the colorful badlands.  There are also sand dunes near Stove Pipe Wells to play on and to watch the sunset.  We bypassed Scotty’s Castle altogether so we can’t say anything about it other than the decision making process we went through.  Scotty’s Castle is a four-hour commitment of precious time, mostly indoors, and if you’re like us and like the outdoors, then it’s a no-brainer.

We had one dinner at the Inn and one at the Wrangler Steakhouse at the Ranch.  Neither one was great but for the money, the Steakhouse was better.  If you want to splurge, it’s best to make reservations at the Inn and note that they don’t allow jeans before 9PM.  The food was not gourmet to LA standards but considering the location, it suited our needs, though we did find it to be overpriced.  More straightforward fare can be found at the Wrangler Steakhouse, though that too was a little overpriced.  The Forty-Niner Café, which served breakfast, also serves dinner. 


At the end of one night we repaired to the Saloon.  AMFAC’s employees are an interesting bunch and we found it fun to talk to them.  With limited entertainment, nights end early in Death Valley, though you could spend hours gazing at the unbelievably clear sky filled with stars that seemingly only come out in the desert night. 

All in all, Death Valley is a great road trip destination for a long weekend for people who enjoy the outdoors and a western, rustic atmosphere.  There’s hiking to be done and plenty of sights to see.  Princess even went horseback riding.  

Princess says:  Overall, Death Valley had beautiful natural beauty, which is basically all you would come here for.  The hiking and horseback riding were great.  If you want pampering or gourmet food, go to Santa Barbara!

Frog says:  Is there anything better than a road trip?  Load up your car with as much stuff as you like without worrying about airport security, metal detectors, or long lines.  Prices were, for the most part, reasonable and the sights are definitely unique.  A three-day weekend is all you need to see just about everything the park has to offer.  My only regret: there are places we couldn’t get to—a place called the Racetrack, some higher sand dunes—without the aid of a high clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle.  That would’ve been fun!     

Helpful Phone Numbers and Websites:

Furnace Creek Reservations (Inn or Ranch) – 303-29-PARKS (303-297-2757)

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Jon Gerloff and Esrin Gozukizil are a husband and wife team specializing in world travel and fine dining. Jon is a writer currently working on his second novel. Esrin works in television development for a major production company.

You can reach the authors at: (Jon Gerloff and Esrin Gozukizil)


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