It seems that each fall the early weeks of October bring at least one unseasonable heat wave to Southern California. This year three digit temperatures were predicted for October 8-10, 1999, the weekend of the 1999 FCA Death Valley drive. Nevertheless, the early hours of October 8 found a number of Ferrari owners from Southern California, Central California and Nevada slipping into their driving shoes and filling up their water bottles in preparation for a three-day excursion into the desert heat.
Most of us began the tour with a 150-mile freeway drive from Ontario to Baker, home of the world's largest thermometer. Most, but not all: right at the start, the computer gremlins were cruel to Stan Walch when his pretty yellow 355 Spider had to be flatbedded back to Beverly Hills Ferrari for the security system to be reprogrammed. Ken Float and Ron Singer waited for the flatbed with Stan and tried to help diagnose the problem. Seeing that everything possible was being done, the rest of us motored on to Baker. Ken and Ron followed in due course, but Stan was sidelined for the weekend.
The best part of the drive to Death Valley is the segment between Baker and the Furnace Creek Inn. This year's trip was trouble free and exhilarating. It provided ample opportunity for everyone to experience the true meaning of Grand Touring. The slanting rays of the afternoon sun illuminated the multicolored hills and canyons that guided our approach to Death Valley and the historic Furnace Creek Inn. Upon our arrival we were directed to reserved parking in what may be the lowest Ferrari parking lot in the known world. After the engines fell silent, we moved into some of the warmest luxury hotel rooms to be found anywhere. Earlier that day electric power to the Inn had been accidentally cut while repairing a water line. This allowed hotel guests to experience what desert life was like in the days before air conditioning. The bar area had emergency power (good thinking), so cold beer could be had for a price.
As dusk approached, our freshly showered crowd of city dudes boarded a horse drawn hay wagon that carried us down tamarisk-lined lanes to our outdoor barbecue in the date grove. There was still a bit of daylight when we arrived to the sounds of Charlie Broten and Fiddlin' Pete sawin' away on their fiddles. Yahoo! Everyone had a chance to cure his or her thirst at the bar, and then we enjoyed a tasty barbecued meal cooked over an open fire. Charlie and Pete continued to weave their magic by singing and playing with considerable skill on guitar, mandolin and fiddle. As a special treat, they performed for the very first time their original composition entitled Ferrari. This song was written two days previously using phrases picked up on the web. The words were read off their palm pilot as they sang. After acknowledging our cheers and whoops, Pete and Charlie returned to their traditional cowboy repertoire as the evening wound down. A few choruses of "Goodnight Irene" brought this memorable evening to a pleasant conclusion.
Nighttime at the Inn is one of the most magical times. The air is still warm, and as you move away from the lights you can view a display of stars not available to those of us living in the city. The only sounds that break the absolute quiet are those of the natural creek burbling through the hotel grounds and the palm fronds rustling in the breeze. Once in your room you can drift off to restful sleep with Charlie and Pete's rendition of Ferrari repeating softly in your mind.