Vegas Unexpected: DEATH VALLEY LIVES!

I was going to call this story “Easter in the Valley of Death,” because I liked the irony of heading to the foothills of the Funeral Mountains on the holiday that celebrates rebirth. Then I typed it out, and it looked too much like the title of a sermon. Well, I’m no preacher. I’m just an announcer:

Death Valley is in bloom! Don’t miss this fabulous opportunity to wade through fields of desert gold! Discover deep purple phacelia, dunes covered with lavender verbena, and even rare desert five-spots! Take stunning photos, even with a crappy point-and-shoot camera! But remember – this is a limited-time offer, good only while supplies last.

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I’d say you’ve got a good two weeks, which means there’s still time for multiple trips. I’ve been out there twice so far, and I’m hoping to squeeze in at least one more foray before the show’s over. On both trips, Mark Sedenquist, Mike Dickman and I headed out to Pahrump and took the southern route through Shoshone and over Jubilee pass into Death Valley. Noting that strong winds were predicted for both days, we left Las Vegas around 6:00 a.m. While earlier could have been even better, we beat the wind by a few hours. Wind is not your friend when you’re trying to photograph flutter-prone flowers.

On our first trip, we didn’t notice any color until we were inside national park boundaries, but on our second, broad fields of Purple Mat bordered the road just outside of Pahrump. Flowers come and go quickly – whatever I mention here may be gone even as I write this. The good news is that other flowers may have popped up. We saw yuccas and Joshua trees covered with buds, for example, and flowers bloom at different times at different altitudes.

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The best display of wildflowers is the southern end of the valley, which is why we took the road through Shoshone both times. Shoshone itself is interesting, too. We paused at the “historical districts” on both trips to check out the caves carved by miners into the sandy buttes on both sides of the town.

On our first trip, we drove all the way up to Furnace Creek and returned to Las Vegas via Death Valley Junction. Flower displays dropped off considerably as we moved north. On our second trip, we returned through Tecopa and took a short detour to China Ranch to enjoy a date shake and buy some desert wildflower honey.

While this year’s wildflower display is not quite as stunning as 2005’s “bloom of the century,” it’s still wonderful. If you decide to go and enjoy the splendor, be sure to check weather reports and heed anything they say about wind. On our first trip, once the winds began we were blasted with sand and grit every time we stepped outside the car. Strong gusts nearly pushed me off the trail at Zabriskie Point. A couple of times, the wind whipped our car’s doors open so fast and hard, I was afraid they might snap off.

Fortunately, we had stopped for a picnic breakfast before the breezes picked up. I was glad we’d left home early enough to sit on a slope covered with wildflowers and watch the sun climb over the valley while the desert was completely still. Beautiful.


8 responses on “Vegas Unexpected: DEATH VALLEY LIVES!

  1. Wonderful photos … I love the big picture ‘carpets’ shots … also particularly No.6 showing flowers blossoming through cracked earth, and the Prickly Pear (No.39). And the Dodder (No.34) is a great spot too.

    I find No.9 fascinating for completely different reasons. In any other National Park, discarded bottles, cans and a rusting mattress would be considered litter and soon removed. Here in DV, the signs of previous inhabitants add a different kind of colour to the park’s charm.

  2. Peter,

    The photo of the rusting bed mattress was shot near Shoshone — outside of the national park as were the bottle trees (captured at China Ranch). However, there are a dozen or so ghost town or mining camp sites within the park area and you can find rusting cans at all of them! And some of the buildings are still intact as well.

    I just updated the map with a particularly rich display of desert wildflowers — for any of those interested, there is a bit more detail on the map…


  3. Thanks, Peter!

    It’s funny that if trash gets old enough, it’s “artifacts.” Same goes for graffiti on rocks. At some point, it stops being vandalism and turns into archaeology.

    Plants get funny labels, too. Dodder and tamarisk trees are evil, but mistletoe and cottonwoods are okay. I’d start a dodder and tamarisk anti-defamation league, but I’m afraid no one would join except me.

  4. I enjoyed reading this informative article and will try to take advantage of this.

  5. Beautiful shots! I like looking at the big picture showing not much in the desert but the big mountains in the background then getting the close up of the beauty that’s all around, you just have to take time to “smell the flowers”. Very nice.

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