“Would You Enjoy a Trip to Hell?...You Might Enjoy a Trip to Death Valley, Now! It has all the advantages of hell without the inconveniences.” -- Death Valley Chuck-Walla, April 1, 1907
Considering Death Valley’s reputation as the hottest, driest, and lowest place in America, this April Fool’s Day advertisement in the Death Valley Chuck-Walla—a local mining camp newspaper—was meant as a joke. Yet only twenty years later, a luxury hotel was built that would help transform Death Valley into a tourist mecca.
Pacific Coast Borax Company (of Twenty Mule Team fame) built the Furnace Creek Inn in 1927. Even with amenities such as a warm spring-fed swimming pool, tennis courts and nearby golf course, the Borax Company realized the primary attraction for their resort was its location in Death Valley.
To promote the idea of Death Valley becoming a National Park, Pacific Coast Borax invited the Director of the National Park Service, Stephen Mather, and his assistant, Horace Albright, to visit Death Valley in 1926. Although Mather was impressed by the scenery and agreed it was of national park quality, he declined the request to help. He knew the battle to convince Congress would be difficult and was afraid his involvement would sour the deal due to his personal history. Prior to becoming NPS Director, Mather had worked for Pacific Coast Borax, and so had his father. To avoid scandal and accusations of showing favoritism, Mather suggested using the media to spread the word of Death Valley’s wonders and start grass-roots support for protection of Death Valley. Magazine and newspaper articles and a successful radio program—Death Valley Days—were all tools used by the Borax Company.
After Mather’s death in 1930, Horace Albright became the NPS Director and felt free to openly promote the creation of Death Valley National Park. In February 1933, President Hoover signed a proclamation creating Death Valley National Monument. More than sixty years later, Congress designated Death Valley a National Park in 1994.
Originally named Furnace Creek Inn, the resort and its landscaping were originally designed by prominent Los Angeles architect Albert C. Martin and landscape architect Daniel Hull. The Inn is located on a low hill at the mouth of Furnace Creek Wash with views of Death Valley and the Panamint Mountains. In less skilled hands, the Inn could have been a visual imposition on the otherwise natural landscape, but Martin and Hull created a masterpiece in harmony with history and scenery. Red tile roofs, stucco exteriors, archways, arcades and tower were inspired by the old Spanish Missions on the California Coast. The Inn’s wings wrap around a lovely garden of palms and flowing water, a nod to both mission courtyards and the Hollywood image of a fantasy desert oasis. The lower levels constructed of local stone seem to be a natural extension of the alluvial fan pouring out of Furnace Creek Wash. The colors of golden stucco, russet roof tiles and turquoise window trim all match the badlands at Zabriskie Point and Artists Drive.
The Inn, and the associated Ranch, were purchased by Fred Harvey Company (which also operated El Tovar at Grand Canyon), and are owned by Xanterra.
The Inn underwent a $100 million-dollar renaissance at the end of 2018 and is known today as The Inn at Death Valley, part of The Oasis at Death Valley. The property, privately owned by Xanterra Travel Collection, features 66 elegantly updated rooms, renovated fine dining restaurant and cocktail lounge, Tranquility Spa, verandas with sweeping views, opulent gardens, and a stunning spring-fed pool (naturally at 84.5 degrees) bordered by a pool café and numerous cabanas. Twenty-two private, one-bedroom casitas were added, providing a new level of guest accommodations to the resort while still preserving the property’s historic roots.
Thanks to the foresight of the Pacific Coast Borax Company and the National Park Service, guests can enjoy the same untrammeled beauty of Death Valley that guests did back in 1927.
Last updated: December 30, 2019