Wildflower ‘super bloom' transforms barren Death Valley
Suddenly, there are wildflowers everywhere. And they're popping up in the most unusual of places: Death Valley.
Rangers with the National Park Service say this typically barren desert is experiencing the most unusual of phenomena: a so-called “Super Bloom” — when millions of flowers blanket the park. It happens about once a decade.
The last time was 2005.
There are about 20 wildflower species currently blooming, said Abby Wines, a park spokeswoman. While there are many more wildflower species than that in the park, only the ones in the lower elevations are in bloom.
Here's what you need to know:
THE BLOOMS MAY ONLY BE AROUND UNTIL APRIL
If you're interested in seeing the flowers, it's best to go sooner rather than later. The bloom is the best it's been since 2005, and while it might get better, it might also die off soon, Wines said.
The flowers will start to wilt and die when the temperatures reach over 100 degrees or when strong winds hit the valley and dry out the flowers. According to Wines, while it's hard to predict how long the blooms will last, the ones on higher elevations can last as late as May, but blooms on the main valley floor may be wilted by early April.
Temperatures in Death Valley recently have reached as high as 90 degrees on Feb. 15, though some rain has cooled the area down a little.
THE BLOOM WILL MOVE NORTH TO HIGHER ELEVATIONS
As the temperatures rises, so will the location of the bloom. Flowers in the southern part of the park will wilt first since they're lower in elevation, but the general pattern indicates that the bloom will continue to grow north and upward where the temperatures are cooler.
Currently the blooms are best in the southeastern part of the park, according to a post on the park's website. Badwater Road is the recommended place to go though Artist's Drive. If you have the right vehicle to tackle back country roads, Warm Springs Canyon or Ibex Dunes are excellent places. Hikers should explore the canyons in the southern Black Mountains or the Owlsheads.
TIME OF DAY MATTERS
If you're heading out to see the blooms, plan your sightseeing around the time of day. Wines recommends early morning or afternoon light — this is when the blooms will show their most vibrant colors. Harsh noon day light will flatten the colors and not be as spectacular.
WHAT YOU'LL SEE
The most noticeable flower is the Desert Gold, a yellow daisy-like flower that has covered large areas of the park.
While the fields of flowers are sure to be spectacular from afar, Wines said the best thing to do is to get out of your car and take a closer look. There are some flowers that are nicknamed "belly flowers," ones you have to get down low to see their spectacular details.
"One of my favorite flowers is the Gravel Ghost," Wines said. "It's not a very showy flower. It's just plain white, but what makes it amazing the leaves are flat and blend into the ground and the stalk is very thin so it looks like it's floating 2 feet off the ground. "
Another favorite among the park rangers is the Desert Five-Spot, a pink or purple cup flower which can have up to three-dozen buds on just one plant.
The main factors that contribute to a super bloom are temperature, wind and rain.
"It could be a once in a lifetime opportunity," Park Ranger Alan Van Valkenburn says in a YouTube video explaining the bloom.
"These areas that are normally just rock, just soil, just barren, not even shrubs, they're filled with life," Valkenburn said. "So Death Valley really does go from being a valley of death to being a valley of life."
A series of three storms in October has really spurred this period of growth, Wines said.
"Death Valley is the driest place in the country. We only get 2 inches of rain a year, so it doesn't take much more for it to spark a bonanza like this," Wines said.