Hotel Online
News for the Hospitality Executive


Borax, the All Natural Cleaning Agent, Has Strong
Ties to Furnace Creek Inn in the California Desert

DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, May 20, 2008 – Our grandmothers used it to clean laundry. A small-time miner discovered it and made a fortune. A forward-thinking company mined it and built the luxurious Furnace Creek Inn in the California desert. The longest running radio program in U.S. history was inspired by it. And with the renewed interest in all things natural -- including natural cleaning products – borax could be making a comeback. 
Borax, or sodium borate, was best-known as a safe, non-toxic laundry booster that could also clean and deodorize virtually anything in the house. Housewives throughout the 20th century lauded it as a miracle product. Though not considered rare, it is found mostly in two places on Earth – the California desert and Turkey.
One of the richest sodium borate deposits on the planet was discovered in the late 1800s in Death Valley, Calif., by a gold prospector named Aaron Winters and his wife Rosie. After hearing a description of borax crystals from a passing prospector who also spoke of the commercial value of the substance, Winters recalled seeing a similar-looking substance on the floor of Death Valley. The prospector told Winters that the best way to tell if it was truly borax was to pour alcohol and sulfuric acid over it and ignite it. As soon as they could Aaron and Rosie found the substance, ran the test and discovered it was truly borax. “She burns green, Rosie,” declared Aaron. “We’re rich, by God.” And by the standards of the day, they were. They sold the land they acquired to a San Francisco businessman named William T. Coleman for the sum of $20,000.
Coleman founded the Harmony Borax Works and mined the “white gold” for the next five years. Coleman repeatedly demonstrated entrepreneurial problem-solving skills when faced with the challenges of bringing the crystals out of the rugged desert. No train to ship the minerals? No problem. He devised an ingenious transportation system using the now-famous 20 mule teams and two highly skilled workers. The teams hauled the 36.5-ton loads 165 miles to Mojave where the crystals could be dispersed across the country by railroad. The grueling journey took 10 days. Located near the Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley, the ruins of the Harmony Borax Works can still be viewed today.
Coleman ran into financial trouble in 1888 and sold his assets to a successful borax prospector named Francis Marion “Borax” Smith. Smith eventually consolidated his various borax properties into the Pacific Coast Borax Company.
Borax continued to be mined from the Death Valley area until the 1920s, when a more easily accessible borax deposit in the Mojave Desert threatened to ruin the difficult-to-reach Death Valley mine. Instead of closing its operations, however, the Pacific Borax Company decided to pursue an alternative use for its desert land: tourism.
In 1926, the Pacific Coast Borax Company created a subsidiary called the Death Valley Hotel Company and began construction of a $30,000 luxury inn on 160 acres of desert land. The mission-style structure was set into the low ridge overlooking the Furnace Creek Wash, and meandering gardens and date palm trees were planted to give the resort a feel of lush elegance in contrast to its stark desert surroundings. The hotel opened in February 1927 with 12 guest rooms, a dining room and lobby area. Additional rooms and a mineral spring-fed pool were eventually added.  The Union Pacific Railroad teamed up with the Tonopah & Tidewater line to promote travel to remote Death Valley. The train would be met at Ryan – nearly 20 miles from the inn – by touring cars which would transport guests the rest of the way. The inn quickly became a getaway-of-choice for Hollywood celebrities and adventurous travelers who were charmed by the romance of train travel and rugged beauty of Death Valley.
Perhaps buoyed by its success in the hotel industry and its increasing popularity with Hollywood types, the Pacific Coast Borax Company began another unrelated venture in the 1930s – production of a radio program called “Death Valley Days.” 20 Mule Team Borax sponsored the program, which featured Western stories based in Death Valley. After 22 years as a successful radio program, “Death Valley Days” was developed into a television program. The show achieved stunning success and aired for another 20 years. Its popularity was due partly to its format calling for an ever-rotating roster of celebrity hosts.  Its most famous host was Ronald Reagan. Death Valley Days was the longest running radio program – and one of the longest TV programs – in history.
Borax is still available today and is typically displayed near the laundry detergents in most large grocery stores. The substance is one of a handful of natural ingredients being touted in recipes for homemade cleaning supplies. For example, it can be used as a laundry booster when ½ cup of the substance is added to wash loads. When mixed with three parts water, it becomes a paste for cleaning carpet stains. Mixed with ¼ part lemon juice, it cleans stainless steel and porcelain.
The AAA Four-Diamond-rated Furnace Creek Inn is open from mid-October through mid-May. It features 66 rooms and two suites with a full array of amenities, fine dining, tennis courts and a spring-fed pool. Open year-round is the Furnace Creek Ranch. Situated adjacent to the golf course, the Ranch features 224 rooms in a casual setting, general store, spring-fed swimming pool, tennis courts and the Borax Museum. 
Historical Chronology - Furnace Creek Inn

1849: The "Jayhawkers" set out from Utah to join the Gold Rush. Attempting to shorten their journey, the emigrants traverse the desolate basin of Death Valley. After five weeks of thirst and near starvation, the Jayhawkers leave the place where they came so close to death, and a woman is heard saying, "Goodbye Death Valley."

1881: The discovery of borax in Death Valley by Aaron and Rosle Winters leads to the valley's most profitable mining period.

1882: Francis Marion Smith or "Borax Smith" expands his operations by developing the Winters' claim at Furnace Creek, naming the sight Harmony Borax. Large wagons measuring 16 feet long and pulled by 20 mule teams are used to transport the borax.

1904: Walter "Scotty" Scott, probably the most famous prospector to come out of Death Valley, meets his future partner Albert Johnson.

1922: Johnson begins construction on what would eventually become Scotty's Castle.

1926: The Pacific Coast Borax Company decides to enter the tourism business by beginning construction on a magnificent Inn for guests to enjoy the beauty of the valley.

1927: The Furnace Creek Inn opens February 1, 1927 with 12 guestrooms.

1928: Ten rooms are added to the Furnace Creek Inn, completing the U Shaped Terrace level.

1929: A lounge and recreation room is constructed at the Inn between the Terrace rooms and the pool.

1930: Twenty one rooms, each with private balconies and fireplaces, are added with the construction of the North Wing. This year also sees the start of the popular Death Valley Days radio show.

1930: The Furnace Creek Golf Course opens. It is the world's lowest grass golf course and the first grass course built in the California desert region.

1933: President Hoover signs Proclamation Number 2028, creating the Death Valley National Monument. Furnace Creek Camp (now Ranch) opens.

1935: The Furnace Creek Inn is completed incorporating an impressive use of mission style architecture.

1938: Flash flood takes out seven miles of telephone line, roadway, irrigation ditches, pipelines and the stone arch framing the driveway to the Inn.

1942-45: Due to World War II, operations at the Furnace Creek Inn & Ranch Resort are suspended.

1945: Furnace Creek Inn & Ranch Resort reopens.

1948: Albert Johnson dies at the age of 76.

1954: Borax office (the oldest building in Death Valley - built in 1883 by Borax Smith) is moved to the Furnace Creek Ranch Borax Museum.

1954: "Death Valley Scotty" dies on January 5 at age 82.

1956: U.S. Borax Company enters agreement for the Fred Harvey Company of Chicago to lease and operate the Death Valley hotel properties.

1966: The Fred Harvey Company purchases the Death Valley hotels from U.S. Borax.

1968: Furnace Creek Golf Course re-opens as 18-hole course.

1968: AMFAC (now Xanterra) Parks & Resorts buys the Fred Harvey Company; including the Furnace Creek Inn & Ranch Resort.

1970: Scotty's Castle and Johnson's other Death Valley holdings are sold to the National Park Service by the Gospel Foundation.

1985-86: Inn guestrooms renovated and Inn pool retiled.

1994: Death Valley is established as a National Park making it the largest park in the continental United States.

1995: AMFAC (now Xanterra) Parks & Resorts buys TW Recreational Services.

1997: The lobby and Oasis Level of the Furnace Creek Inn are remodeled.

1997: World-renown architect Perry Dye redesigns the Furnace Creek Golf Course.

1997: Furnace Creek Inn becomes member of Historic Hotels of America.

1998: All guestrooms of the Furnace Creek Inn are refurbished.

1999: Furnace Creek Inn begins adobe restoration and preservation work.

2002: Furnace Creek Inn celebrates its 75th Anniversary by burying a time capsule in the Anniversary Gardens.

2002: AMFAC changes its name to Xanterra Parks & Resorts®, Inc.

2002: Inn pool retiled with palm frond motif.

For more information about facilities in Death Valley National Park or to make reservations at in-park lodges, call toll free at 1-800-236-7916 or 1-303-297-2757 or go to
Xanterra Parks & Resorts® (consisting of Xanterra Parks & Resorts, Inc. and Xanterra South Rim, L.L.C.) operates lodges, restaurants and other concessions at national parks and state parks and resorts. Xanterra Parks & Resorts is the country’s largest park concessioner. Xanterra operates concessions in the following locations: Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Crater Lake, Death Valley, Rocky Mountain and Petrified Forest National Parks, and Mount Rushmore National Memorial; and at the Silverado Resort in Napa, Calif.; and eight Ohio State Parks. Its affiliate Xanterra South Rim, L.L.C. operates concessions at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Xanterra also operates the Grand Canyon Railway in Williams, Ariz.
Long committed to the preservation and protection of the environment, Ecologix, Xanterra Parks & Resorts’ environmental program, includes a variety of proactive environmental stewardship programs in each location. Xanterra has been repeatedly recognized for its environmental leadership in the hospitality industry and is the recipient of many honors, including major awards from the U.S. Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, Travel Industry Association, Colorado Department of Public Health, State of Arizona, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and Utah Department of Environmental Quality.


 Mona Mesereau
(1) 720-842-5271

Also See: Built by the Pacific Coast Borax Company, Death Valley's Furnace Creek Inn Turns 80 / January 2007
The Environmental Protection Agency's Performance Track Program Adds The Furnace Creek Inn & Ranch Resort in Death Valley National Park / May 2007


To search Hotel Online data base of News and Trends Go to Hotel.OnlineSearch
Home | Welcome| Hospitality News | Classifieds| One-on-One |
Viewpoint Forum | Industry Resources | Press Releases
Please contact Hotel.Onlinewith your comments and suggestions.