Dunes and Blooms

The Big Bloom
  |  Gorp.com
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Finding wildflowers in Death Valley involves some timing and a little bit of luck (in a year that's too wet or too dry, there's little to be see

My first successful spotting came a few years ago, after the season's first good rain. As I drove into the park, the roadside was dotted with bright yellow bursts of blazing star and desert gold. Tiny purple clusters of desert sand verbena covered long stretches of the desert. More than 1,000 species of plants grow in this massive desert, and I guessed I was looking at about half of them through my car window. At its best, Death Valley's wildflower display can out-dazzle any High Sierra meadow.

Some tips on timing :

The yearly bloom generally runs from mid-February through mid-June, beginning on the desert floor and climbing to the higher altitudes later in the season. The size and scope depend on the weather: If it's too cold, too windy, or too wet, most of the flowers won't come out.

Your best bet early in the season is to look for cactus blooms off the road between Furnace Creek and Shoshone (via Jubilee Pass). On the fuzzy white clumps of cholla you'll find thick green petals opening up to show their yellow middles. Orange and yellow buds poke out of the roadside shrubs.

In April and May, the color palette broadens to include red Indian paintbrush and lavender lupine in the lower Panamint Mountains. The road from Emigrant Canyon to the Wildrose Campground and up to Charcoal Kilns is a good choice.

When temperatures start to surge on the valley floor and in the alluvial fans, the flowers make their appearance in the higher elevations. This is the time of year to take the hike to Telescope Peak. From the Mahogany Flat Campground, it's a 14-mile round-trip haul to the valley's highest point: 11,049 feet. Even if the flowers aren't putting forth their best showing, you'll be treated to unbelievable views that stretch from the Panamint Valley all the way to Mount Whitney.

The most impressive wildflower seasons occur when the annual rainfall spreads itself throughout the winter and spring. Heavy downpours can drown the flowers; dry years parch them. But when all the elements come together, you'd be hard pressed to find a more colorful springtime destination anywhere in California.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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