Sunday, February 28, 2016

Death Valley's 2016 SuperBloom

 Last weekend, while jogging with my husband, an idea came to me: Why not go to Death Valley today? I had been seeing multiple posts about the fantastic wildflowers, products of October flooding. One friend who works in Death Valley said it's the best she's seen since she's been there, which is about fifteen years. I didn't have anything too pressing at work, it was only about six hours away, and I had the energy and desire. So I asked my husband if he would mind if I went. He said fine, and thanks to friends Nomi and Jenny, the kids were taken care of after school.

I had packed quickly and meant to leave early afternoon Sunday, but was having so much fun with friends on a bike ride that I didn't leave until 4:30 p.m. That worked out fine, I saw a beautiful moonrise near Ely, listed to a great audiobook, Duplicity, and before I knew it was in Beatty, Nevada. I decided to go a little further so I could get to the flowers even faster the next morning.

That turned out to be a great decision. The upper elevations didn't have many flowers, but were beautiful (see photo above). But as I descended along the Beatty cut-off road, there was a cacophony of flowers.

Because I had a very loose itinerary, I just stopped where ever I wanted, climbed various hills, and snapped lots of photos. I bent low and smelled the flowers--delicious! Although the yellow Desert Gold (Gereae canescens) flowers dominated, there were many others, at least 12 species along this road.

I wasn't the only one stopping. It seemed when one vehicle pulled over, others would stop too. It reminded me of the "bear jams" we used to see in Yellowstone. I was now experiencing "flower jams." Fortunately, the shoulders of Death Valley roads are graded so it's very easy to pull all the way off the road. The mountains in the background are hazy because it was extremely windy, blowing the sand from the dunes near Stovepipe Wells down the valley.

I stopped at Furnace Creek for a while, including a $16.95 hamburger at the cafe that was totally worth it, one of the best I've ever eaten. Then I headed further south, where the report was that the flowers were excellent. When I got to Badwater, the lowest spot in Northern America at -292 feet elevation, I didn't expect to see any flowers. But on the edge of the road, overlooking the salt flat, flowers bloomed, creating an amazing juxtaposition.

I took some time to look at some of them in more detail, like this Gravel Ghost (Atrichoseris platyphylla), which seems to float in air above the gravel due to the camouflaged nature of its stem.

And these purple flowers made beautiful patterns.

The Desert Gold made fields of gold.

Some of these fields extended over entire alluvial fans. Which, when you think about it, is so remarkable. There is practically no soil on these alluvial fans. These flowers are growing out of the gravel. And in just a few weeks (or less, depending on weather conditions), the alluvial fans will be back to their normal grey and brown colors.

I tried to find a different way to get a photo. After all, how many fields of flowers did I need to take? (I did take over a thousand photos on this two-day trip!) The afternoon light was just stunning.


I kept heading south, in a race against the setting sun. The dark colored mountains contrasted with the yellow flowers. I started thinking of them as "hairy hillsides."

The road kept going and going. By now, most people had turned around, as the flash floods had closed the highway ahead. But I decided to go ahead and take the load less traveled. (Relatively speaking. There are some really less traveled roads in the Death Valley area!)

I arrived at Ashford Mill Site, where I tried to get some shots of the rising moon (not so successful) and of the moonlit ruins and flowers under Orion and Canis Major (a little better).


This looked like a great place to be in the morning, and when two SUVs full of photographers joined me the next morning, I knew I was right. A few clouds provided a very nice sunrise.


The full moon was setting as the first light hit the tops of Telescope Peak and the other mountains. It was dreamy.

And then there was a little reality check. A Stealth bomber flew overhead with an accompanying jet. They made a few laps up and down the valley.

Fortunately I found I could easily be distracted by the flowers. Here are a few (sorry, I don't know the names of them all! I wish I did):

pretty white flower in the Sunflower family

 Desert Five Spot (Erimalche rotundifolia)

Cute little composite

Cryptantha (Borage Family)

The afternoon and morning light are definitely the best for photography. After my second morning photographing flowers, I went for a bike ride, hike in a canyon, and a swim at Furnace Creek ($5 to get a pool pass for the day!). Then it was time to head home. The trip was quick, but totally refreshed me. Seeing the beautiful flowers growing in such a desolate place revealed more of the beauties of our planet and made me feel so alive.
If you'd like to know more, the DesertUSA has a Death Valley Wildflower Report has more info on what's blooming now.

4 comments:

jhami said...

Gorgeous!!!!!!

Carolyn James said...

I love Death Valley. Only been there twice but both times it was so memorable. I may have camped at the Ashford Mill site because your photo looks so much like the view of the mountains I woke up to ...

Amanda B said...

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! We can't wait to take wild flower hikes in our neck of the woods. Interesting pic on military bird too. Glad you got to go to Death Valley to take it all in.

Daniel Dull said...

While the Stealth bomber may remove the feeling of isolation, the reason it is there is isolation! Radar isolation! Death Valley is the only place in the US where, once you dip below the mountains, you are free of radar and radio inference. Having worked in DEVA for 6 years, it became normal to see the Stealth and accompanying chase/radar plane every Wednesday morning. They come to the valley to test new(er) stealth technology without having any radar interference. The chase plane is a one of a kind that has a few radar domes on it and it will fly ahead/behind/below the stealth depending on what they are testing tat day.

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