Death Valley: Wildflowers of the Panamint Range

After enjoying the 2016 superbloom at Death Valley, we crossed the Panamint Range to go to the Antelope Valley State Poppy Reserve near Los Angeles. On the way, we hoped to find the cotton-top cactus, like the ones my wife spotted above Mosaic Canyon. According to Mojave Desert Wildflowers, the cotton-top cactus “occupies rocky slopes and ridges from 2,000 feet to 5,000 feet”, and we would drive through this zone.

On the west side of the Panamint Range, we saw some pink clumps. We pulled off the road and walked up the hillside. We were rewarded with new wildflowers that we hadn’t seen at Badwater Road and Beatty Cutoff Road.

Above, a car speeds past notch-leaf phacelias (phacelia crenulata). At a shutter speed of 1/40 second, the speeding car is a blur behind the phacelia. Click on any photo to view a larger image. All plants are California natives. Plant descriptions are from Mojave Desert Wildflowers.

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Death Valley: Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Planning our Mojave Desert road trip, I imagined sand dunes with deep ripples in undisturbed sand, looking like we have a vast desert to ourselves. All this in an a national park?

We saw no sand dunes on our first day at Death Valley, when we drove more than an hour south to the end of the road. On our second morning, we drove a half hour north to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.

With 2″ of rain a year, Death Valley National Park is certainly a desert. We think of deserts with sand dunes, but the National Park Service says that “less than one percent of the desert is covered with dunes”.

For dunes to exist there must be a source of sand, prevailing winds to move the sand, and a place for the sand to collect. The eroded canyons and washes provide plenty of sand, the wind seems to always blow (especially in the springtime), but there are only a few areas in the park where the sand is “trapped” by geographic features such as mountains.

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Death Valley: Superbloom of 2016

We wanted to see and photograph wildflowers at Death Valley National Park, but the wind blew very hard our first sunset and sunrise at the park. For a sharp photo, the flower has to be motionless, not a blur as it whips back and forth in the wind.

The wind died down in the morning while we hiked Golden Canyon, so after lunch we drove more than an hour south to the end of Badwater Road, where the best wildflowers were reported to be. Death Valley usually gets only 2″ of rain a year. Record rains last October washed out the road to Badwater from the east, and that storm triggered the best wildflower bloom since 2005, according to the New York Times.

Shown above, a plain of desert gold flowers is the face of the Death Valley superbloom — fields of desert gold or desert sunflower (geraea canescens), with the Amargosa Range in the background.

Continue reading Death Valley: Superbloom of 2016