Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

From Honolulu we flew to Hawaii’s Big Island (also called Hawaii) to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Hawaiian Islands were formed by lava flowing from a hot spot under the Pacific Ocean, and the Park preserves and guides you to volcanic eruptions and lava flows.

Shown above, a plume of volcanic gases rises from Halemaumau Crater within the much larger Kilauea crater. Halemaumau Crater is about a half-mile (800 m) wide with a lava lake inside.

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Our 2016 Mojave Desert Road Trip

In February 2016 we took a road trip through the Mojave Desert: hiking and looking at wildflowers and pretty rocks. This post summarizes the road trip and has links to our posts for the road trip.

Here’s the google map we made as we planned our trip. From the San Francisco Bay Area, we drove Las Vegas, Death Valley National Park in time to see the superbloom, and the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve near Lancaster.

Our Mojave Desert road trip
Our Mojave Desert road trip

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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: 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.

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Death Valley: Mosaic Canyon

After the Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes, we hiked through Mosaic Canyon, the most interesting hike of our Mojave Desert road trip, with polished marble, a bit of wildlife, and the first cactus of our trip. Click on any photo to view an enlarged image.

Shown above, layers of marble have been formed, upended by tectonic forces, and polished by flash floods carrying stones down the canyon. The marble started as sedimentary rock high in calcium that was deposited horizontally. The rock was subsequently covered by more rock and heated, thereby changing to marble. A kind of metamorphic rock, marble is prized by masons and sculptors because it can be polished.

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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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