The old historic Furnace Creek Inn was recently rebranded after after an extensive restoration and remodeling project. This old time luxury resort is now called The Inn At Death Valley. The Furnace Creek designation was dropped in part because of the extremely hot reputation of this place. Furnace Creek is where the world record high temperature on earth was set on a day when it was 134ºF in the shade, so this destination is definitely sizzling hot! Changing the name does not make this place any cooler, but at least the old problem riddled facility was greatly improved, which will increase customer satisfaction levels.
A few years ago before the remodeling project began, I was given the job of operating the Furnace Creek Inn kitchen during the very first summer season that this historic resort was open. Previously, the summer was just too hot to reliably operate this antique luxury resort, but the National Park was setting new attendance records that summer. Air conditioners were recently installed in the old building, which previously had none, so opening the doors for the summer was a green light. The wait to be seated in a restaurant at the old ranch at the bottom of the hill was over two hours long, so the old historic inn dining service helped to relieve the overflow during that busy summer season.
The ranch restaurants were short handed at that time too, so I basically operated the Furnace Creek Inn kitchen by myself from June through August. Cooking professionally in the lowest North American elevation and at the hottest place on earth for about 150 guests per night did present more than a few challenges, but the menu compensated for those problems. We served classic Southwestern barbecue items in a luxurious setting all summer long and this venue was well received by the guests, who were 95% foreign visitors from overseas that have never tried American BBQ before. Needless to say, I had plenty of room to roam while doing the solo chef act in the Furnace Creek Inn kitchen and taking pictures of the place while on break helped pass the time. I ended up with a big collection of photos and many of the images show features that the guests are rarely able to access.
The Furnace Creek Inn dates all the way back to the end of the Death Valley borax mining days. Borax was discovered near Furnace Creek in 1881 and at that time, borax was in high demand for pharmaceuticals and as a cleaning agent. Borax is a powerful detergent additive that removes stains and it is still used by institutional laundries. Borax actually is my secret for keeping my chef uniforms their whitest white!
The high summer temperatures caused both the Harmony Borax Works and the Pacific Coast Borax Mining Company to quit processing borax ore in Death Valley. The extreme summertime heat of Death Valley literally would not allow the borax slurry to solidify, so it could be turned into a pure powder form before being transported. Production of pure borax ceased early, however shipping raw borax ore was still profitable, so operations continued for a few more years.
The famous 20 Mule Team Wagon originated at Furnace Creek. Back when borax mining was full tilt, these massive wagons moved the borax ore from the Death Valley mines on a 165 mile long trail to a railroad depot in the Mojave Desert. Marauding looters, hijackers and natives defending their homeland became a major problem for the 20 Mule Team Wagons trying to get the ore to the remote railroad depot locations, so an alternative solution was needed. The Pacific Coast Borax Company then built their own railroad depot about 30 miles away in the Amargosa Valley near the Nevada border. This depot was originally named Amargosa, but it is now called Death Valley Junction.
The route from Furnace Creek to the Amargosa Railroad Depot from Death Valley was a rough, winding, steep uphill climb. A railroad line to Furnace Creek was proposed, but the terrain posed engineering problems that the railroad engineers could not easily overcome. Because running a railroad from Death Valley to Amargosa was next to impossible, an alternative solution was found. A narrow guage railroad was built from the Amargosa RR Depot to Ryan, California, where the steep uphill climb from Death Valley tapered off. The 20 Mule Team Wagons hauled borax ore to Ryan, then unloaded the ore into railroad cars. This cut the wagon hauling distance down to less than 20 miles.
A short time after the Amargosa depot was built and after the short line railroad to Ryan was put into service, a decision was made to turn the borax mines at Furnace Creek into a borax reserve because the ore processing cost was too high. All mining operations came to an end and the short line railroad sat idle. During this same period in history, railway tourism was just starting to become a major industry in the old west. In order to keep up with the times, the Pacific Coast Borax Company constructed a luxury hotel resort at Furnace Creek near the old original borax miner’s work camp ranch. The borax mining short line railway was then used to cart tourists from Amargosa to Ryan, where stage coaches and wagons hauled the tourists downhill to the Furnace Creek Inn.
The Furnace Creek Inn was built in 1927 and this historic landmark was originally designed as a luxury resort for the rich and famous. The Furnace Creek Inn has been well preserved through the years and not much of the original facility changed up till the recent remodel. Because much of this building was made out of traditional old west style adobe and borax ore, rainwater saturation certainly took its toll and a complete restoration was the only way to save this historic building.
One thing that has changed for the better is air conditioning was added to the historic Furnace Creek Inn facility. In the old days, huge pots of water were set in guest areas and the water evaporation helped to cool the place down. During the heat of summer, cooling the Furnace Creek Inn was nearly impossible, so this resort closed for the summer season each year, till I was lucky enough to work there.
Death Valley is not called Death Valley for no reason at all! The history of Death Valley is filled with tragic hardship and many have died while trying to cross this desolate scorching hot region. Slavery was rampant in Death Valley and several borax mineworkers died near the Furnace Creek site. Many Chinese slaves were buried here even after slavery was abolished. Old west outlaws hiding out in Death Valley shed plenty of blood too. Many unwitting tourists have perished in Death Valley because of the extreme heat over the years, so it is easy to see why so many people say that Death Valley is cursed as being a place that is literally hell on earth.
Furnace Creek and all of Death Valley has a real air of dread and doom at times. With so many lives lost, the stories of ghostly hauntings do run thick in this place. Every name of every place in the Death Valley region reeks of doom and the devil, which definitely adds to the dark reputation. Names like Funeral Mountain, Devil’s Cornfield, Devil’s Golf Course, Badwater Basin and Furnace Creek sure do have a way of making people think of the dark side when visiting this region.
Paranormal activity in the Furnace Creek Inn is a vast topic in itself and those who have experienced the old Furnace Creek Inn before the recent remodel will vouch for the paranormal authenticity. Two chefs died in the old kitchen and one of the chef ghosts actually used to noisily move the kitchen equipment around at night. Babies crying in the night is another spooky thing that is heard and stories of a murdered child in one of the old rooms do fly around. There have been employees that have seen the ghost in this place and two such victims actually ran out of the building and took off in their cars to never be heard from again.
Personally, I encountered many dark moments in that haunted kitchen, that involved everything from disappearing objects to glimpses of shadow people. One day the feeling of of a powerful evil presence was so great in the old Furnace Creek inn kitchen, that I actually had to step out of the building to get my thoughts back together. Most who have been there will agree that there is a something very evil about this place. Whether the recent remodeling job included an exorcism is unknown, but hopefully the extreme tone of the hauntings are a thing of the past.
Death Valley has a long history of tragic desperation, yet it is one of the most scenic places on earth. Death Valley can test a person’s limits when visiting during the heat of summer, but on the other hand this destination can be sheer paradise when the cool temperatures of winter roll around. The old historic Furnace Creek Inn is a must to experience and the recent rebranding may very well shake off the ghosts of the past!
Leave no trace!
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