Death Valley: Salt Creek and Wildflowers

After walking the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and hiking Mosaic Canyon in the morning, we drove to Salt Creek after lunch. Salt Creek is a short creek of salty water flowing on the floor of Death Valley. The water originates in the mountains and flows underground until forced above ground by an impermeable, underground layer.

Shown above is a pickleweed (salicornia) in Salt Creek. White salts are deposited on the bank and pickleweed. Most of the foliage looks dead, but there are bits of light-green and reddish growth at the tips, perhaps new foliage. The pickleweed is able to ingest the salt water, but salt then goes up to the foliage. When the salt becomes too concentrated for the foliage, that foliage dies, and the pickleweed grows more foliage.

We walked the boardwalk at Salt Creek, but there’s not much variety. My wife spotted a tiny fish that darted under a pickleweed bush when we stopped to look. That would be the Salt Creek Pupfish, found only in this creek.

After Salt Creek, we drove up the Beatty Cutoff Road to look for wildflowers. The sun was setting so we stopped at a patch of desert golds by the road.

desert golds with Death Valley on the right
desert golds with Death Valley on the right

At a higher elevation than the flowers we saw at Badwater Road, these flowers aren’t as mature and dense. This compact desert gold with one flower makes a simple picture that shows the leaves, stem, and blossom well.

short desert gold
compact desert gold

We found a new (for us) wildflower, a desert star (monoptilon bellioides). From Mojave Desert Wildflowers,

This 2″-6″ tall, cushionlike, stubble-haired annual has entire, liner, 1/4″-1/2″-long leaves, which occur in tufts below the flower heads. Each head has 1 row of equal, linear, firm phyllaries, numerous yellow disk flowers, and 12-20 white, 1/4″-1/2″-long ray flowers.

The desert star on the right has a purplish flower in the center. Red stems radiate from the center, with a white or purplish flower on each stem. Perhaps this star pattern is the reason for star in the plant name. “The desert star is a true ‘belly plant’, since it’s you have to get on your belly to see it.” The pebbles appear to be large because the desert star is so small. The desert star is a California native plant.

We saw our first beavertail cactus (optunia basilaris), shown below with the Amargosa Range in the background.

beavertail cactus
beavertail cactus

On our last day in Death Valley, I got a photo with red hills and the Amargosa Range at sunset.

red hills at dusk
red hills at dusk

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I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

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