Death Valley Food

Plus, fee-free days and Picture-Perfect Places

It’s almost here! The National Park Service’s first fee-free day of 2016 is this Monday, January 18, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Admission will be gratis to all national parks, national monuments, national recreation areas, national seashores, etc. For a complete list of all such dates in 2016, see the NPS article “Free Entrance Days in the National Parks.”

Speaking of national parks (when am I not?), today I published the first in a new series of articles on called “Picture-Perfect Places.” Each entry will feature a location in the national parks that’s great for photography.

These articles may be submitted by any photographer of any level—the only requirement is a love of the national parks and a desire to share some of that passion. (Have one you’d like to share? Submit it today!)

To get that ball rolling, the first Picture-Perfect Place is by me, and it’s about Mahogany Hammock in Everglades National Parka great spot to find and photograph barred owls..


This Week’s Question

Q.  You mentioned you were going to Death Valley National Park, which I’m planning to visit in the spring. (Hoping for wildflowers!!!) I’ve heard the food available in the park is terrible. Seeing as you were just there, just curious: What’s your experience with food? Or do you not even bother with park restaurants? — S. Sullivan, Texas

A. I’ve heard that, too, from multiple sources. I can tell you that the night I arrived at the park, I had an unforgettable dinner. Unfortunately, it was unforgettable for the wrong reasons.

I definitely understand the criticisms I’ve heard of the food there, but I think the bad thoughts have more to do with prices, not necessarily the quality. It’s just not of the quality that most people would associate with that cost. For example, if my first night’s dry fried chicken had cost $8 and not $18, I would have shrugged it off more easily.

However, there is at least one notable exception: The restaurant at the Inn at Furnace Creek serves an excellent breakfast. Yes, it’s a tad pricey (about $20 per person for meal and coffee—which, actually, isn’t all that expensive at a good hotel), but the quality certainly supported the price. I particularly liked the eggs Benedict with chili-lime Hollandaise, and the apple-bacon omelet. If I remember correctly, those were listed at $17 and $14, sans coffee.

I can’t speak for lunch and dinner at the Inn, as I’m generally out shooting at those times. Breakfast—or, really, brunch—tends to be the only time I sit down and pay someone to feed me. The break gives me a chance to review notes and to make plans for the rest of the day. I also can’t speak for some of the other restaurants in the park, because I tried only those two.

(Incidentally, my favorite spot for breakfast/brunch in the park system is the restaurant at Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Great quality combined with more-than-reasonable prices. I spoke with the owner a couple of years ago, and that combination of quality and price is exactly their goal.)

By the way, that’s a great idea to visit Death Valley this spring for wildflowers. The floods the park experienced last fall were precisely the kind of weather event that usually precedes a spring bloom in the desert.

One more thing I’ll mention: The reason I was in Death Valley last month was to plan and scout a night-photography workshop that I’ll be leading with Lance Keimig from November 15-19. Lance is one of the best in the genre, so this should be a fun one! More information can be found at


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