Yes, it’s the best time to go. Plus, the golf and stars and flowers, oh my!  

Ranch at Death Valley In winter, this well known hot spot miraculously morphs into a desert paradise. And when you visit the Oasis at Death Valley —with its AAA Four Diamond Inn at Death Valley and family-friendly Ranch at Death Valley — you’ll discover a place transformed. If people know one thing about Death Valley, they know that it’s hot. Fry an-egg-on-the-pavement hot (although don’t try that, because it makes a mess).

Death Valley is officially the toastiest place on the entire planet, thanks to a scorching day back in 1913 when temperatures reached 134 degrees, the highest ever recorded anywhere on the globe. And with 21 days over 120, this past July in Death Valley was the hottest month all-time at a single location. The second hottest month? The previous July in Death Valley.

So Death Valley comes by its sizzling reputation honestly. But that’s only during summer. In winter, Death Valley miraculously morphs into a desert paradise. And when you visit the Oasis at Death Valley — with its AAA Four Diamond Inn at Death Valley and family-friendly Ranch at Death Valley — you’ll discover a place transformed.

During winter, average temperatures range from the mid-60s to the low 70s with overnight lows frequently dropping into the upper 30s. Those cooler conditions combine with clear, sunny days to make winter the perfect season to get explore Death Valley National Park. When the most of the country is shivering, you can be basking in warm, dry days with endless sun.

Here are a few special ways you can enjoy winter and spring in Death Valley.

Mountain in Death Valley

Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park 

Hit the Trail

With even the day’s lowest temperatures hovering around 100 or more, you shouldn’t even think about hiking at lower elevations in Death Valley National Park during summer. But winter weather provides the perfect conditions to follow trails into the park’s canyons and see its incomparable geology.

You’ll find easy-to-reach trailheads near the resort along Badwater Road, including the classic hike into Golden Canyon, just five minutes away. But many visitors miss the much less crowded trek that explores nearby Desolation Canyon. It’s an easy-to-follow cross-country route (just look for the footprints) that leads into a canyon, which gradually narrows and reaches colorful formations similar to the brilliantly hued Artist’s Palette (farther south off Badwater Road along Artist’s Drive).

Stargaze

See stars like you never have before at Death Valley, a Gold Tier International Dark Sky Park

Gaze at the Sky

Except at higher elevations, you won’t see any trees at Death Valley. But what you will see is sky — and lots of it.

If you love photography, winter offers optimal shooting conditions. Storms from the Pacific Coast send billowing clouds out over the desert that create an impressive backdrop for pictures of Death Valley’s expanses. The low-angle winter light also helps reveal details in the landscape that harsher sun conditions wash out, and things get especially dramatic when the clouds leave 11,049-foot-high Telescope Peak, the highest point in the park, covered in snow.

After dark, Death Valley boasts some of the best stargazing anywhere in the world. The dry desert air and distance from sources that spew light pollution helped Death Valley earn prestigious designation as a Gold Tier International Dark Sky Park from the International Dark-Sky Association.

Even if you don’t have high-end optics of your own (although basic binoculars enhance viewing), during events with park rangers and local astronomy associations you can gaze into the universe through high-powered telescopes. For example, the Las Vegas Astronomical Society holds complimentary star parties at the Ranch at Death Valley.

Golf

Golf the lowest elevation golf course in the world at the Furnace Creek Golf Course at Death Valley

Shoot Your Lowest Round Ever (That’s a Guarantee!)

In most of the country, frigid winter weather forces golfers to take a hiatus. After all, a green certainly isn’t green when it’s covered by snow.

But for golfers, winter is prime time in Death Valley.

Many visitors are surprised to discover that Death Valley, the driest spot in North America, actually has a golf course. But thanks to a highly efficient irrigation system, water sourced from nearby natural springs, and tough Bermuda grass that can withstand the area’s weather extremes and salty soil, the Furnace Creek Golf Course at Death Valleyis a duffer’s delight.

Add to your bragging rights at the world’s lowest elevation golf course, a par-70, 18-hole circuit that’s 214 feet below sea level. As unique as the experience may be, Furnace Creek Golf Course is no mere novelty. A beautifully designed and challenging layout, Furnace Creek earned honors as one of America’s toughest courses from Golf Digest. And don’t expect your drives to carry as far: The heavier, low elevation air means that you’ll surrender distance on your shots.

Inn Pool Sunset

The pools at The Inn and The Ranch are both naturally spring-fed, and consistently 87 degrees year-round

Swim in a Real Oasis

If temperatures in the 30s or 40s hardly sound appealing for a swim, the cool winter nights create ideal conditions for one of the most sublime experiences awaiting guests at both the Inn at Death Valley and the Ranch at Death Valley. Both of these lodging choices have pools filled by natural springs that deliver water that stays in the 80s, even on the chilliest nights. The contrast between the balmy pool and the cold air is positively heavenly. The inn’s historic pool has been beautifully restored, and if you need a little warm-up after a dip, get toasty in front of one of two wood-burning fireplaces along the deck.

A rare “super bloom” event covering large expanse of the desert valley floor with wild flowers, dominated by the golden yellow of desert gold flowers (also known as desert sunflowers or Geraea canescens) in Death Valley National Park in California. The Amargosa mountains rise over the valley in the background.

Ooh and Ahh at Wildflowers

From mid-February to mid-April, when the conditions are right, Death Valley is painted with an explosion of color from a carpet of wildflowers. Golden evening primrose, notch-leaf phacelia, sand verbena, purple mat, gravel ghost, and brown-eyed evening primrose brush the arid landscape in Easter egg colors — especially the expansive fields of desert gold for which Death Valley is famous. To appreciate the diversity of blooms, get out of your car and walk. You’ll be rewarded with a spread of color blanketing the desert floor — perfect for Instagram moments.

How to Explore

The Oasis at Death Valley in Furnace Creek is situated in a lush oasis surrounded by the vast and arid desert of Death Valley National Park — just 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas and 275 miles northeast of Los Angeles. The resort encompasses two hotels — the historic AAA Four Diamond, 66-room Inn at Death Valley and the family-oriented, 224-room Ranch at Death Valley. The entire resort is undergoing a complete renaissance with an extensive renovation to be completed in the fall of 2018. The resort includes natural spring-fed pools, an 18-hole golf course, horse and carriage rides, world-renowned stargazing, and is surrounded by Death Valley National Park’s main attractions. For information and reservations, visit The Oasis at Death Valley or call 800-236-7916. Oh and kids eat free, yep, they do!

Oh and kids eat free, yep, they do!To discover a world of unfogettable experiences available from Xanterra Travel Collection and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.

Published in Destinations

A longtime backpacker, climber, and skier, author Michael Lanza, along with his nine-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter, embarked on a year-long trip through our National Parks.

It was an ambitious adventure, designed to immerse them in the natural world and to learn more about the effects climate change was having on these important landscapes.

He chronicled the journey in his book Before They’re Gone—A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks.

Here, he shares five ways to encourage the next generation of outdoor adventurers.  

The Big Outside

1. Encourage outside play.

A slew of experts agree that regular, unstructured outside play is critical for a child’s healthy development.

To that end, “Kick them out of the house,” advises Lanza. “Kids today often want to play indoors where the electronics are. Insist they play outside—but also, give them the freedom to roam within boundaries appropriate for their ages. That way, they can explore and not get bored.”

It also helps to plan regular activity as a family: cross-country or downhill skiing, hiking on local trails, biking, even walking around your neighborhood or local community, Lanza advises.

The Big Outside

2. Start slow.

When the time is right for adventure, take baby steps. “Begin with short hikes and gradually work up to longer outings,” advises Lanza, who gathered personal experience as a field editor with Backpacker magazine. “Evaluate your child’s readiness for something new based not just on its physical difficulty, but how well your child handled previous experiences that presented comparable stress.”

Lanza’s year–long trip included sea kayaking and wilderness camping in Glacier Bay, Alaska. He determined they were ready for such an outing because they had previously backpacked, rock climbed, floated and camped on a wilderness river, and cross-country skied through snowstorms.

“They had managed stressful situations well and understood the need to follow instructions and that trips have uncomfortable moments,” explained Lanza. “Despite how wet and raw it was, they loved Glacier Bay.”

Contact: www.NPS.gov/glba

The Big Outside

3. Communicate.

Lanza believes in one important rule: no whining. “Tell your children they can talk about any situation they’re not happy with, but draw the line at complaining just to complain. Everyone will be happier.”

At the same time, he advises including them in the decision-making process, so they have a sense of control over their own fate, which, he says, goes a long way toward relieving stress, no matter what our age.

“Welcome their questions and address their concerns,” Lanza says. “Make sure they know that you won’t ask them to do anything they are not comfortable with, and that you will provide whatever help they need.”

According to Lanza, Grand Teton National Park, Yosemite, Zion, Glacier, and Rocky Mountain National Park all offer hiking and backpacking options that are ideal for beginners and families, with easy to moderately difficult days and simple logistics.

Contact: www.NPS.gov; www.VisitUtah.com; www.Colorado.com; www.ExploreWhitefish.com.

The Big Outside

4. Be flexible.

Whether rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone or canoeing in the Everglades with his kids, Lanza made a point to be flexible.

Taking children on an outdoor adventure, especially younger ones, does not always go according to plan. Young kids want to throw rocks in a creek and play in the mud.

Lanza’s advice: “Let them. But, explain that there will be time for playing, but also a time for hiking.”

Meanwhile, parents should “focus on the journey rather than the destination,” advises Lanza. “And have Plan B at the ready.”

Contact: www.NPS.gov ; www.VisitCalifornia.com; www.VisitMT.com; www.VisitFlorida.com

The Big Outside

5. On the trail with teens.

No matter what kind of trip is planned, allowing a teenage son or daughter to invite a friend along is often a good strategy. It can be a little trickier when planning an outdoor adventure. “You want to make sure he or she is up to the challenges the trip may present,” explained Lanza. “It’s a good idea to talk with the parents ahead of time and perhaps plan a practice outing.”

Whether it’s a mountain climb or rafting a river, finding a shared goal that will challenge and excite your teen is a great way to open new doors within your relationship and to the natural world, offers Lanza.

Michael Lanza also offers outdoor adventure tips and strategies on his website The Big Outside.

Published in Top Stories

Hiking with kids provides families with an opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors and to get some exercise, fresh air and fun together. The pros at REI suggest the following items as essential for embarking on a day hike. 


The Ten Essentials


For safety, survival and basic comfort:

1. Navigation

• Map (with protective case)
• Compass


2. Sun protection

• Sunscreen
• SPF-rated lip balm
• Sunglasses

3. Insulation

• See Clothing options, below

4. Illumination

• Headlamp or flashlight
• Extra batteries

5. First-aid supplies

• First-aid kit 

6. Fire

Fire-starting gear:
• A lighter or matches in a waterproof container
• Firestarting material

7. Repair tools and kit

• Knife or multi-tool
• Repair supplies

8. Nutrition

• Food for the day, plus extra food

9. Hydration

• Water bottles or hydration reservoir
• Water filter or other treatment system

10. Emergency shelter

• Tent, tarp, bivy or reflective blanket

Have fun!

Published in Gear

 One hundred years ago, during February, Arizona gave up its Territory status. Known for abundant sunshine, towering saguaros and the Grand Canyon, our 48th state also offers a diverse landscape and a wealth of natural and cultural opportunities for curious families.

Here are five ideas:

1. Experience the Arizona Trail.

Sample a section of this recently completed 800-mile scenic pathway that winds through deserts, canyons (including the Grand Canyon) mountains and mesas, stretching from the Arizona-Mexico border in the south, to Utah in the north. Explore the trail via foot, horseback, mountain bike, mule or snowshoe and tap into historic sites, geologic wonders and an extraordinary menu of wildlife and vegetation. Designated as a National Scenic Trail, small communities, abandoned mining sites, cliff dwellings and remote wilderness areas also lure adventure seekers. Contact: www.AZTrail.org.

2. Baseball Spring Training.

Each year, baseball fans unite in the Valley of the Sun to watch their favorite teams warm up their skills under the Southwestern sun. For example, Scottsdale is home to the San Francisco Giants, Colorado Rockies, and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Games get underway during the month of March in downtown Scottsdale and at the Salt River Fields at Talking Stick,  along Scottsdale's border with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. The crack of the bat, hot dogs and popcorn can also be found in the neighboring communities of Mesa, Surprise and Tempe. Packages available.

Contact: www.ExperienceScottsdale.com  www.CactusLeague.com 

3.Visit Native American Lands.

Arizona has the largest percentage of Native American Tribal land in the United States. In Northern Arizona, travel through the much larger Navajo Reservation and visit the historic Hopi village of Oraibi. Built in 1100 and discovered by a lieutenant of Coronado in 1540, this small enclave is considered to be the oldest Native American settlement in the country. Shop for local crafts and visit with the native people. Consider a tour that includes visits with potters, basket makers and kachina carvers and to learn about the geology and cultural significance of the region.

Contact: www.ArizonaRocksTours.com; www.Hopi-nsn.gov.

4.A Bird Lovers Paradise.

Southern Arizona is recognized as a world-renowned migratory corridor for birds and was declared the first Globally Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society. Families visiting Sierra Vista, the “hummingbird capital of the US”, have the opportunity to spot more than 14 varieties of the small, winged creatures. Nearby Ash Canyon is home to a rarely-sighted hummingbird, the plain-capped starthroat. Pack your sun screen, hiking boots and binoculars. More than 150 bird species, ranging from sand hill cranes to colorful flycatchers, await.

Contact: www.SierraVista.com.

5. Travel The Salsa Trail.

Dip your chips in the spicy sauce that gives this trail its name. You’ll expand your culinary horizons while enjoying a Southeastern Arizona road trip. Visit with local farmers, ranchers and miners as you wind your way along the scenic Old West Highway that connects eight communities known for great Mexican food, derived from old family recipes and small-town, friendly service. Visit the local tortilla factory and sample fresh roasted chiles at a nearby farm. In the Fall, the annual SalsaFest features salsa-making and eating contests as well as music and family activities.

Contact:  www.SalsaTrail.com; Resource:  www.ArizonaGuide.com

 

 

Published in Destinations

It’s a must see: stunning vistas, more than 200 lakes, 175 named mountains and 40 glaciers, tucked within one million acres of natural beauty. That’s Glacier National Park.

Established in 1910, by an act of Congress, this extraordinary recreational playground is also home to more than 350 structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

With so much to see, if you go, it is important to plan in advance. Here are a few suggestions to help plan your visit:

Explore on foot.

With more than 800 miles of maintained hiking trails, there are plenty of opportunities for families to learn about the flora and fauna. A favorite among families, we enjoyed the beauty of the Avalanche Lake trail. Within four miles round trip, and a gain of just 500 feet in elevation, trekkers will enjoy a rich forest environment, tumbling waterfalls and a majestic lake with more waterfalls at the turnaround point. Take a picnic and enjoy. Easily accessible, the trailhead is five miles beyond the Lake McDonald Lodge.

Ride the Red Bus.

The historic red buses are a symbol of another age, providing a commanding overview of the park’s magnificent history and scenery. The vintage vehicle carries 17 passengers. Tours range from three hours to a full day. Children under 12 are half price. Contact: Glacier Park, Inc. ; www.GlacierParkInc.com; 406.892.2525.

Scenic Boat Tours.

Step aboard historic boats and glide across the pristine alpine lakes nestled amid majestic peaks. Enjoy the colorful commentary provided by the skilled crew. Available from four locations. Fares under $20. Children under four are free. Children 4-12 are half price. Contact: www.GlacierParkBoats.com; (406) 257-2426.

Float the River.

Venture down the wild and scenic middle and north forks of the Flathead River with professional guides who will share their knowledge of the river. Half and full day scenic floats or whitewater adventures. Paddle a raft or an inflatable kayak. Contact: www.GlacierRaftCo.com; 1 (800) 235-6781. 

Base Camp.

Glacier Outdoor Center’s log cabins provide a comfortable and well-located retreat just outside the gates at West Glacier. A great option for family reunions, one and two bedroom cabins sleep from six to fourteen people. Enjoy full kitchens, covered decks, a gas grill and full guide services on site. Contact: www.GlacierRaftCo.com; 1(800) 235-6781. For reservations inside the park contact: www.GlacierParkInc.com; (406) 892-2525.

For additional information about Glacier National Park contact: www.nps.gov/Glac; 1 (406) 888-7800.

Published in Hike

An Essay: Gardener in the Wild

The San Jacinto Mountains, above Palm Springs, California, shoot up 10,804 feet from the desert without, as one writer has it, the geologic fanfare of foothills. I'd come in January to one of its mountain towns, Idyllwild, to try to recover some shred of a self, fractured from a September move. I left a beloved New England landscape, townhouse, and garden for a particularly congested section of Los Angeles, called Miracle Mile. The miracle, as far as I can tell, has to do with cramming 5,280 linear feet with a million people, an equal number of cars, and billions of dollars.

Every day in L.A. was raw, and seemed dangerous. Drivers were poised to kill. I saw a homeless man brush his teeth over a trash bin. On a clear night in October we heard long minutes of gunfire. I couldn't sleep. A California native, Salvia leucophylla, bloomed blue-lavender in the neighborhood, but my heart was closed. One afternoon I hit a car in a parking lot. In early January I had two bouts of traffic-induced panic.

All this was confusing and upsetting. When I did sleep, I often woke up crying. I wanted to steady myself, thinking of the far greater displacement and losses suffered by survivors of Katrina, and tried to buck up. But all life is individual life.

The first week or so in mile-high Idyllwild I ran at urban speed. Cell phone work? Wi-fi card installed? Bills paid? On a six-hour hike on the familiar South Ridge Trail, I scrambled off-trail up a ledge, and then couldn't remember the way I had come. Body not attached to head.

On the coastal side of the mountain, eleven overlapping life zones seem to call in the plant diaspora of California. It's a dizzying and unpredictable botanical stew, where Chaparral-zone shrubs chat up lodge pole pines. Particularly striking are the twisting architectural shrubby trees, manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp.). The mahogany-cinnamon color of its smooth and slick-looking bark enlivens the forest and rocks and boulders and honeycombed canyons of greens and greys and coffees. Even the silvery skeletons shine.

One warm mid-January morning something happened between me and a manzanita that brought me back to ground and to my senses. I was walking along the Ernie Maxwell Trail. I had strolled by thousands of these shrubs and small trees already when, for some reason I spied, I suppose in some Buddhist sense, one. It was holding onto a small slope just up from the trail, trapped by debris from a fallen tree. I jumped into the manzanita. I grabbed dead branches from its crown. I pulled out pieces of wood from its branches. I threw it all into a pile across the trail. I cracked, shoved, dragged, kicked. It was as if I had run out after a storm to find the venerable mountain laurel in my Massachusetts garden similarly stricken. I worked so fast and hard my arms scraped and bled, but not so mindlessly that I lost balance or footing.

I finally stopped. The tree was permanently pinned and torn in three places by the splintered giant. Short of a chainsaw, I could work no further. I grieved for this little tree.

Then, I took a broader view. The mountain was witness to thousands of crushed manzanita, most still living. I've since returned to Idyllwild (it's the anti-L.A.) to see new growth on the tips of "my" manzanita, in spite of its wounds. A couple of times though, preoccupied on the trail, I've whizzed by it. So much for oneness.

Yet I carry a few of the manzanita's small leathery leaves in a pocket, and hide three or four in my pillowcase. I can't explain why.

Two days after my adventure on the trail, a generous Czech woman in Idyllwild leant me a book about "plant spirit" medicine. She did not know about the manzanita.

Eliot Cowan writes in this book: "[T]he magic is not in the matter. It's in the spirit." So I don't worry about losing the leaves. I don't know what to make of it all, really.

Sometimes I think it was just the natural behavior of a gardener in the wild. 

Paula Panich, Los Angeles, CA 

Paula Panich is author of Cultivating Words: The Guide to Writing about the Plants and Gardens You Love (Tryphon Press, 2005).

Published in Travel Essays