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DETAILS: Death Valley Golf

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

GETTING THERE: Las Vegas is the closest major airport to Death Valley, about two hours by car. Fares generally start at about $250 from the Washington area airports, though the best deals are becoming harder to find.

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From Vegas: Take Interstate 15 south, exit on Nevada Highway 160 west, drive 60 miles to Pahrump, Nev., take a left on Bell Vista Road, drive 30 miles to Death Valley Junction, Calif., and take a right on California Highway 127. After about 300 feet, turn left on California Highway 190 and drive 30 miles to Furnace Creek Visitor Center.

GETTING AROUND: Unless you are cycling or backpacking, you will need a car to get around Death Valley. All commercial activity and lodging is centered in four areas, which are separated by significant distances. Note: Gas in Death Valley National Park was $4.79 a gallon when I visited several weeks ago, and there are few gas stations immediately outside the park. Fill up in Pahrump before driving into the park.

GOLF: Greens fees at Furnace Creek Golf Course are $30, including cart, through Sept. 2, after which fees rise to $55, and $12.50 more for a cart. I rented my clubs from the course pro shop, a set of Hippo XXLs, for $15. Pro shop hours are 6 a.m. to noon in summer, although the course is open all day. (Players can check in at the Furnace Creek Ranch office.) For more golf information and reservations, call 760-786-2345.

WHERE TO STAY: You may be tempted to save money by staying outside the park. Do not do this! I stayed in Death Valley Junction, at the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel, which sounded cool but turned out to be a creepy motor lodge with depressing rooms (lamp glued to table, no art, phone or TV) and few amenities.

In the park, the Furnace Creek Inn & Ranch Resort offers two choices: The Ranch (760-786-2345, http://www.furnacecreekresort.com) has doubles from $119; the Inn (same phone and Web site) is closed for summer but will reopen Oct. 1 with rates from $305. Other options: Stovepipe Wells Village (760-786-2387, http://www.stovepipewells.com; from $75) and Panamint Springs Resort (775-482-7680, http://www.deathvalley.com; from $75).

Death Valley has nine campgrounds, with prices ranging from free (!) to $18 a night. Summer camping is not out of the question if you hit one of the higher-elevation areas. Info: http://www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/camping.htm.

WHERE TO EAT: I had a decent lunch at the 49er Cafe in Furnace Creek (lunch and dinner entrees $10.95 to $16.95) and a fine, cozy dinner at the Wrangler Steakhouse and Buffet (entrees $13.95 to $35), two doors down from the 49er. The door in between leads to the Corkscrew Saloon, which is a worthy stop with a decent beer selection, pool table and friendly staff. General stores in the small commercial centers sell ready-made sandwiches, snacks, liquor and sundries.

INFORMATION: Death Valley National Park,760-786-3200, http://www.nps.gov/deva.

-- J.B.

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