Trip to Death Valley delights with spring flowers

I took a daytrip from Las Vegas to Death Valley in mid February after seeing newspaper reports that spring 2016 may bring a wildflower "super bloom" to the national park – one of the hottest and driest places on earth.

While a few wildflowers sprinkle Death Valley each spring, heavy rainfalls that accompany El Nino winters often bring exceptionally widespread blooms between February and June. 

The most recent "super bloom" occurred in 2005. So this is a natural phenomenon you don't see very often.

El Nino lived up to its reputation during the fall and early winter of 2015-16. One day in October brought three inches of rain to a place where the annual average is less than two inches, a ranger told us. 

It washed out roads in several places, making current access to the park from the north and west a little tricky. But it also delivered enough moisture to send the wildflowers into a frenzy – at least for the time being. 

We found the valley floor is already blanketed in many places with desert gold, a yellow daisy-like flower, two species of deep purple phacelia and very pink desert five-spot. There were also delicate, low-growing white blossoms that I could not identify.

The ranger provided a map and directions to areas where wildflowers were most abundant. Those proved to be south of Badwater – the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level.

As weather warms, blooms should progress up the slopes of the bordering Panamint and Armagosa mountain ranges where snow was still quite visible on the peaks. 

By early April, color should reach the 2,000 to 4,000-foot levels. By June, it should blanket the slopes and canyons that lie above 4,000 feet. 

Only stiff winds that send wildflower petals flying could interfere with the promised "super bloom." Unfortunately, the valley has already had several windy days this year.

I always love to visit Death Valley. Its bleak, moon-like landscapes are fascinating and unlike any other place in the country. Colorful wildflowers framed against these backgrounds made my most recent excursion extra special.

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