Dates: January 13 and February 14, 2016
Place: Furnace Creek, Badwater, and further south along Hwy 190, Death Valley National Park, California
As I was planning my January 2016 California trip with my visiting friend I debated whether I should add Death Valley National Park to our list of destinations, the driving distance is always intimidating. But Death Valley had a great October precipitation and while I was planning the trip photos started popping up on the California Native Plants Association page - beautiful, enticing, alluring photos of
ephemeral desert wildflowers. That was all the push I needed, and Death Valley was cemented into our itinerary.
And so, after our wonderful hike at Surprise Canyon, we were Death Valley-bound.
It was already dark when we entered the park. We drove right away to Texas Springs campground and pitched our tent.
We woke up to a cool morning, steeped our tea, then walked up the hill to watch the sunrise.
Standing deep between two high mountain ranges, we saw the sunlight touching first the peaks of the Panamint Range, slowly making its way down the steep slopes towards Furnace Creek.
The hill we were standing on appeared barren when we climbed it, but at a closer look I saw little plants in the gravel. They too appeared to enjoy the sunrise.
|Caltha-leaved Phacelia (Phacelia calthifolia)|
Our campsite was still in the shade. A sole raven waited for us there, looking hopefully as we pulled our supplies from the car. Desiring to enjoy the sunlight, we moved to the campsite across the road, and the raven flew away, disappointed.
It was now time to go and explore.
My agenda was very specific - I wanted to see the wildflowers! My friend, however, was visiting Death Valley for the first time, and so I was obligated to also take her to the park's 'must see' places. That day we went to explore Badwater, the Artist Drive, and Ubehebe Crater. All of these places I will post separately of.
And we'd also seen wildflowers, and that's what this post is focused on. There is no specific trail described here, but lots of photos taken while wantonly wandering on alluvial fans off the park roads, mainly Badwater Road south of Furnace Creek.
Alluvial fans are those sloped fields of soil and gravel eroded from the mountains and deposited at the canyons' openings. All the alluvial fans showed marks or the recent flash floods, but most were not overturned much to damage the bloom.
My friend and I were there in mid-January, and in the Badwater area the ephemerals were all blooming already.
The most prominent of all - the Desert Sunflower. Yellow fields everywhere, stretching from salt flat to mountains.
Ephemerals are those early bloomers, the first ones out - making it quickly before the scene dries out once more. The desert sunflower was blooming nicely even on that poor March three years ago, when I visited there with my botanist friend.
|Desert Sunflower (Garaea canescens)|
|Clavate-fruited Primrose (Chylismia claviformis)|
|Purplemat (Nama demissa)|
|Verdin on a Jumping Cholla|
The bright yellow, desert sunflower-covered alluvial fans were even more spectacular than in January. The fields of yellow were so intense! We drove south a bit further than I did with my friend on my January trip. Then we selected a nice, yellow-covered sunflower field and went out to explore on foot.
One thing that was new was the intense bloom fragrance. Sweet, honey-like smell that hung in the air and permeated our nostrils. Within few minutes our shoes and pants-bottoms were yellow with pollen. It was an intense experience.
Some of the flowers were the same as I've seen in January. But there was a lot of new bloom.
|Desert Chicory (Rafinesquia neomexicana), and desert Sunflower.|
|Desert Five-spot (Eremalche rotundifolia)|
The aster family was the most dominant around. Besides its most prominent representative, the desert sunflower, there were others,like the more delicate and less conspicuous desert pincushion.
|Desert Pincushion (Chaenactis fremontii)|
I made good use of that time. I found more flowers to see, including the already familiar cleaved-fruited primrose and its yellow subspecies funerea.
|Velvet Turtleback (Psathyrotes ramosissima)|
After we drove through the Artist Palette we went back to the visitor center. Each of us had her/his own reasons to stop there. Mine was to find out where exactly was the sand verbena blooming. You see, after I returned from my January trip to death Valley I saw photos of this magnificent flower posted online and I kicked myself for skipping the Mesquite Dunes on that journey. Finding that verbena was one of my objectives of going to Death Valley again in February, and this time going to the dunes.
As I found out on the day before, the sand verbena was nowhere in Mesquite Dunes. The ranger at the visitor center told me these flowers were found about 20 miles south of Badwater, and I kicked myself once more: we had turned back north just shy of that place. Immediately I started planning how we would go back there first thing on Monday morning, when Papa quail came with a better idea: to send our friends back to the campground while we would make a run for it and try and get there before sunset. Everyone agreed to the plan (even the chikas: they were already deep into the audio book we were listening to in the car).
And so we drove south again, this time just us Quails.
I was at the wheel and I tried to go as fast as I could without running over any of the roadside botanists that filled the park on that weekend. Death Valley NP is vast. Even with no obstructions it takes a while to get in the from one place in the park to another. I kept scanning the roadside, wondering if I'd see the flowers. Papa Quail used the more trustworthy method of counting miles on the odometer.
"We should be there soon," he told me.
I pulled over to the side.
"why are you stopping here?" he called after me as I was exiting the car.
"They're here," I said, and without any discussion I grabbed the camera and was off to the field.
They were there, alright. Beautiful, delicate flowers, inflorescence colors ranging from intense pink to creamy off-white. Tiny two-headed plants to large, outstretching crawler shrubs. I was happy.
|Frostmat (Achyronychia cooperi)|
A final look, a final photo, and we were on our way back north.
|Group Photo (L to R): Clavate-fruited Primrose, Desert Sand Verbena, Desert Sunflower.|
There were as many of them as the sunflowers, an now they were taking the lead, for the brief dusky time.
|Dusk in Death Valley|
|Yellow Pepperweed (Lepidium flavum)|
Many thanks to members of the California Native Plants Society for their help in identifying plants!