Super bloom snapshot

    Photo by Nancy J. Parisi
    All photos by Nancy J. Parisi

    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.

    Photo by Nancy J. Parisi

    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.

    Photo by Nancy J. Parisi

    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 (photo by Nancy J. Parisi)
    Desert Five-Spot

    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.

    Photo by Nancy J. Parisi
    Notch Leaf Scorpion Weed

    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.


    1. Vey cool. I’m sure it’s hard to believe that there’s life in that soil on a very hot summer day.

      Hope Jahren writes in Lab Girl:

      After scientists broke open the coat of a lotus seed (Nelumbo nicifera) and coddled the embryo into growth, they kept the empty husk. When they radiocarbon dated this discarded outer shell, they discovered that their seedling had been waiting for them within a peat bog in China for no less than two thousand years. This tiny seed had stubbornly kept up the hope of its own future while entire human civilizations rose and fell. And then one day this little plant’s yearning finally burst forth within a laboratory.

      Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.

    2. Jealous.
      So, SO jealous.
      I was there in July when it was hotter than Hades’ greenhouse.
      Have been following the news of the Superbloom since it was first predicted, and have been begging hubby to go there. Doesn’t look like it’s going to happen due to multiple obligations stretching from now to infinity, though, so I’ll make do with all the wonderful shots I see others post online.
      Next time, right?

    3. Nancy, thanks for your story and photos. Wonderful. You hit the jackpot! I was in Death Valley two years ago, in early April, after they’d had a little winter rain. I wish I could see the extraordinary desert blooms this year.

    4. Whoa. The desert five-spot is beautiful! It kind of reminds me of a Mariposa Lily, but different. I just drove from Quartzsite Arizona to the coast of California, and I’m sorry I missed the blooming in the desert!

    5. I was kind of surprised there were no photos of the mass bloom panoramas to be seen this year in Death Valley. For those who want more, check out the stunning photos on the Facebook page California Native Plants Society these past few weeks. It’s not just the desert this spring, the wildflowers are incredible this year in California, the rains have been just what they needed.


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