Right now, sprinkled throughout sections of vast Death Valley National Park, are swaths of color standing out from the usual palette of faded greens, and soft grays and browns. A rare super bloom, the result of three unusual October rainstorms, (three inches of rain instead of an annual one inch), have resulted in long-dormant seeds bursting open, revealing an array of floral species.
This is my third visit to Death Valley with friend Heather; last year we saw only an occasional wildflower. This time, the displays are spectacular, with huge areas of yellow, purple, white, and light pink flowers along the desert floor and washes.
Ranger Rick, at the visitor center in Lone Pine on Route 136, 100 miles outside of Death Valley, suggests heading to a triangle of roads with some of the best bloom bursts. His handwritten star alongside Beatty Cutoff is indeed loaded with floral treasure. Beatty Cutoff, Mud Canyon, and Scotty’s Castle Road are ten miles north of well-known Furnace Creek. This area is also approximately fifty miles northeast of another popular Death Valley stop, Panamint Springs.
Most prominent among the plants are Desert Gold/Desert Sunflower (Geraea canescens, tall plants with bright yellow flowers), vividly-purple Notch Leaf Scorpion Weed (Phacelia crenulata), and Turtleback (Psathyrotes ramosissima, with its sage green leaves and yellow flowers), all growing alongside roadways and deep into the desert.
Desert Five-Spot (Eremalche rotundifolium), a favorite, is a lavender/pink, five-petal cup of a bloom with a deep red spot at the base of each petal. The plant, also known as Chinese Lantern, is an herb in the mallow family: the blooms open and close daily.
Thousands of visitors are heading to Death Valley to photograph and experience the super bloom and the National Park Service reports that their wildflower guides have been sold out for some time. Recommended is the Death Valley Wildflowers app, but know that this will be a way to identify flowers that have already been photographed: there is no cell service in Death Valley.
Cars line roadways with visitors scattered throughout the desert, photographing and hiking through the flowering areas. Because of the vastness of Death Valley—even within the special areas of the super bloom—it doesn’t feel crowded, and it’s heartening to see so many people of all ages loving this floral moment.
By May, much of the super bloom will have passed its prime as temperatures rise. At the time of my visit Death Valley was reaching 70 degrees. I’m glad I had the chance to see this rare, unforgettable sight.
Nancy J. Parisi
on March 14, 2016 at 8:00 am, in the category Gardening on the Planet, Guest Rants.