A Death Valley Autumn

Those dramatic shadows are growing longer; where will you explore?

SEASONS OF THE DESERT: Much is made of two particular times of year in Death Valley National Park. Winter, of course, because that is the region's so-called "high season" -- when other parks go dormant, Death Valley is a top January or February destination. Summer in the vast, mostly emptiness is also a topic people love to ponder, what with the temperatures topping out at 120 -- or higher -- and events like the Heatstroke Golf Tournament and the Badwater Ultramarathon taking place. Even spring gets its day in the intense sun, given the fact that every so often a spread of colorful wildflowers will appear on the rocky desert floor. So where does that leave autumn in one of the world's most famous desert? Maybe a little unsung, but that's only in certain quarters: Death Valley fans know that this is a rather glorious time of year, with dropping temperatures, cool nights, and the Inn at Furnace Creek reopening.

OH, AND THAT DATE IS... Friday, Oct. 11. Yep, this historic 1927 hotel closes for the summer each and every year. Isn't that rather wonderfully old-school? A hotel with seasons? That doesn't happen too much nowadays. And its sister property, the Ranch at Furnace Creek, does remain open through the hotter months, so it isn't too much of an inconvenience to summertime visitors.

AROUND THE VALLEY: Canyon hikes, horseback riding, cycling, and visits to Scotty's Castle are fine fall go-outs, as is the '49ers Annual Encampment, which is set for Nov. 6-10. The Inn at Furnace Creek has a package for that, and a few others, too.

IN PLACE OF FOLIAGE: Nope, there are no maples dotting the valley, but something we love are the shadows of fall. They do seem longer and deeper this time of year, and even if it is a trick of the eye, we still think of shadows as the desert's leaves, always changing and always dramatic.

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