The Furnace Creek Visitor Center is the primary public information facility at Death Valley National Park, and after half a century of use, it was due for some upgrades. A weekend event earlier this month celebrated completion of the project, and visitors to the huge desert park are invited to come see the results.
The most obvious changes are a major facelift of the museum, which previously featured exhibits dating back to the 1960s. New exhibits feature one of the park's prime resoures--the dark night sky--along with mining history and geologic features. Also included are artifacts of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe, whose tribal homeland is within the park boundaries, and a new park film narrated by actor Donald Sutherland.
Although they're less apparent to the casual eye, another major focus of the project was increased energy efficiency—and saving energy and water are big goals in this legendary desert climate. The park website notes, "The world record highest air temperature of 134°F (57°C) was recorded at Furnace Creek on July 10, 1913. Summer temperatures often top 120°F (49°C) in the shade with overnight lows dipping into the 90s°F (mid 30s°C.)."
The recent work included new insulation and double-pane windows, an energy efficient HVAC system, night sky friendly external lighting with timer and motion controls, and native desert plant landscaping. Photovoltaic (PV) systems were installed in the parking lot and behind the visitor center to take advantage of the area's abundant sunshine. As a result of these measures, the park’s $40,000+ annuual energy bill is expected to drop to $14,000 or less.
The celebration on the first weekend in November included “behind the scenes” tours to give visitors an idea of the building before and after the renovation, and demonstrations by the US Borax twenty mule team at the nearby Harmony Borax Works.
Such teams were used in the late 1800s to transport the mineral borax from pre-park mining operations to markets in southern California. Employees of the company in the early part of the century include NPS founders Stephen Mather and Horace Albright, the latter eventually becoming the first superintendent of Death Valley National Park.
The Furnace Creek Visitor Center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific Time, and is located on California Highway 190. You'll find driving directions and other information to help plan a visit on the park website.
The visitor center upgrades were funded by visitor fees collected under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act