Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Almost Super Bloom in Death Valley

Reports are still coming in strong on the excellent wildflower bloom underway this month in Death Valley National Park. These photos are from my scouting trip through the park February 7-11.  
Desert Gold and Sand Verbena in Death Valley
Desert gold and sand verbena


As of February 9, some flowers were past prime, others were vigorous, others were just emerging.  Some rain fell a week later, which should extend the season for this year's already healthy crop.

Ashford Mill to Jubilee Pass
Looking from the Ashford Mill area toward Jubilee Pass
In spite of the hype in the media and on social media, the park is NOT calling it a "super bloom" yet, but in the recent YouTube video titled "Death Valley Exposed: Wildflowers - February 2016", park ranger Alan Van Valkenburg does imply that it has the potential, perhaps with additional rains: “If you get the chance to see a bloom in Death Valley, especially a super bloom, you should take the opportunity to see it because it could be a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

There was a less dense area of desert gold north of Furnace Creek, up to and through the Beatty Cutoff area. Most other areas were looking basically lifeless, even though they may have received a lot of rain. The timing of the rain may not have been early enough for the plants to be far along yet, and once they get going they do need additional rain to keep the growth going. Rain last week in mid-February might have helped extend the life of these areas, and the growth of others.

Overall the spring wildflowers in Death Valley are usually very sparse, and peak in March, so outside of the areas I just described, the season seemed normal: nothing much should be expected in early February. The initial bloom may or may not be followed by decent blooming elsewhere. We saw healthy growth in November in areas such as the narrow last portion of the Dantes Peak road, so we were expecting the adjacent Greenwater Valley to be going nuts when we returned in February. Instead, it looked even weaker than last year... not much going and much less promising than expected.

So in much of the park, as the initial strong bloom of desert gold fades, the situation may resemble a more normal year, where you can find wildflowers, but it requires some hunting and probably high clearance, if not 4WD.

Here are a few more photographs from my visit to supplement the ones I included in my recent trip report. I drove the park from Dumont Dunes all the way out the top at the town of Big Pine.



Desert gold extensive but thin looking north from the Salt Creek turnoff north of Furnace Creek


Not far from Ashford Mill, south of Badwater


The southern end of Harry Wade Road wasn't as productive as the north end and and the Ashford Mill area.  Many of the flowers were wilted from heat, and didn't look like they were going to last much longer, especially the brown-eyed primrose.


Fiats don't float!  Not in water, not in sand.
Unpaved roads in Death Valley are marked for high clearance or 4WD vehicles for a reason.


It's not all about the desert gold.  Look closely and you'll find dozens of species available.


Bear in mind, the park didn't just suddenly become only about wildflowers!


Miner's cabin