Death Valley is Alive!
March 4-6, 2005



Desert Gold or Desert Sunflowers
Telescope Peak, 11,049', in distance

I've been hoping to get back to Death Valley for a while now...  I spent 4 days there in January 1999 and loved it.  So first I planned to spend New Year's there, but I got a bad cold.  So then I planned to go about a week ago, but I got a bad neck spasm.  So I was so glad to be able to go this last weekend!

Death Valley is huge.  It's the largest National Park in the Lower 48.  And there are many other extremes that describe this area.  At the bottom of the valley is an area called Badwater, and this place is the hottest, driest, and lowest place in the Western Hemisphere.  The lowest elevation is -282 feet.  But from here you can look up at the snowcapped mountains of the Panamint Range and the highest peak there, Telescope Peak, is 11,049 feet.  Stand anywhere in the valley and you feel an overwhelming sense of how small and insignificant you are.

Death Valley in January was beautiful.  There were very few people around.  I camped there with 12 others as part of a photography class and we visited the Racetrack, Ubehebe Crater, Scotty's Castle, Zabriskie and Dante Viewpoints, Eagle and Harmony Borax works, the Devil's Golf Course, the ghost town of Rhyolite, the Sand Dunes, Badwater, Beatty, the Amargosa Opera House, and the Keane Wonder Mine.  These sites kept up busy for 4 days.  Because the driving distances between the different sites in Death Valley is so great, you can't expect to even begin to see everything in a weekend.  So this weekend I didn't even try to visit everything.  In fact, I had a singular goal in mind - to find where it was blooming!

I've read many reports that say this is the best year for wildflowers in a decade or two.  Death Valley has received 6+ inches of rain since July.  They're average total is 2 inches!  And the flowers are just drinkin it up!   

I had a doctor's appointment in Porterville on Friday afternoon and then I was off!  I got to Barstow just as it was getting dark a terrific thunderstorm had enveloped the desert.  Lightning flashed and thunder crashed all around me.  I saw a sign for a campground just east of Barstow and decided to stop early, get some sleep, and then get up early in the morning and drive the rest of the way to the Park. 

What I didn't realize is that the campground was adjacent to the Ghost Town of Calico.  It's a little unnerving to pull up to your campsite and have a sign that says "Graveyard, right", lol  As it was raining buckets when I pulled up, I decided to sleep in the back of my truck.  I've done this before, I have a camper shell to keep me dry, and it's quite cozy back there :) 

In the morning I woke up long before the sun rose and headed back onto I-15 and drove northeast to Baker.  There I gassed up, I'm glad I did!  The gas there was $2.50/gallon but it was about $2.80 in the Park!

I drove north of Baker just as the morning light began peeking through the clouds.  I saw a lake on my left and looked at the map.  It said "Silver Dry Lake."  Well, no, this year it's actually a lake.  I soon learned that all dry lakes in the area are lakes right now.  I chuckled at a sign near one that said, "Such and such lake last held water in the Pleistocene..."  They'll have to update it to say, "last held water in the spring of 2005."
Just past the small, very small, quaint town of Shoshone I headed west into the park.  I stopped in the Greenwater Valley to take some pictures of the fog and flowers...  Then I headed up and over Salsberry Pass, elevation 3315'.  There I stopped again and found more flowers to photograph.  Then it was down down down to Jubilee Pass, 1290' where I stopped yet again to take pictures of the flowers.  At every stop there were hundreds, thousands, and different species favored different elevations.  Here I also started seeing bicycle riders chugging up, going the opposite direction of me.  Several said hello and such as they rode past.  I figured they had to be in awesome shape to 1) ride up that pass and 2) to be able to talk as they were doing so!  I continued down to Ashford Mill and oh my gosh, I've never seen so many flowers in the desert!

Ashford Mill - those two words I'd seen repeated on many a wildflower report in the past few weeks.  Go to Ashford Mill, there you will find carpets of desert gold.  And so I went and found possibly the best wildflower display I've ever seen!  I took a few pictures but by this time it was about 9:00 am and the sun was too high and the light too washed out for good picture taking...  So I headed north with plans to come back that afternoon.

Desert Chicory
Rafinesquia neomexicana
Creosote Bush
Larrea tridentata
Woody Bottle-washer
Camissonia boothii
Evening Primrose
Oenothera caepitosa
Desert Sand Verbena

Abronia villosa

Sheephead Mountain, 4,270'
Part of the Ibex Hills Wilderness Area

Salsberry Mountains
Cottontop Cactus
The highway winds its way between the valley floor and the steep rugged mountains.  You soon pass a sign that says you are now driving below sea level.  I passed more bicyclists and one of their watering/staging areas was at Badwater, so I opted not to stop as that parking area was a zoo.  I drove north to Furnace Creek, stopped at the Visitor Center, bought a couple of postcards and a Roadrunner stuffed toy...  he was too cute, I couldn't pass him up!  He now sits up on the dashboard of my truck and is my new road trip partner :)

I also drove through two campgrounds there, Texas Spring and Sunset.  Both are quite barren and, well, ugly!  The Furnace Creek Campground is a lot nicer but it's also almost twice as expensive...

Then I headed north still towards Stovepipe Wells and the Dunes.  By the time I got up there it was noon and hot!  It must've been 90*!  I ate lunch on the tailgate of my truck at Stovepipe Wells then read that you could swim in the pool there and take a shower for $3.  I decided to do just that and cool off! 

After my shower I drove over to the Dunes.  Clouds had formed over the valley and it had cooled down a bit.  The Dunes are definitely one of my favorite spots in the valley...  Very photogenic and I love searching for tracks.  I only went a mile or so across them, taking my time and enjoying the scenery.  I saw two sets of coyote or fox tracks.

Mojave Aster
Xylorhiza tortifolia
Phacelia
Phacelia sp.
Yellow Cups or Golden Evening Primrose
Camissonia brevipes
Yellow Cups, again above and below
Camissonia brevipes
Brittlebush
Encelia farinosa
Then I headed south again.  This time I stopped at Badwater and walked out only a little ways.  For Badwater right now is a lake and you have to take off your shoes and wade or take a boat out to the point where you are at -282 feet, the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. 

Alongside the road there at Badwater are fabulous displays of Phacelia...  I don't know which species, though...  Can you help?

Colorful Rocks near Furnace Creek
Devil's Cornfield
The Dunes
I think the colors that I'm wearing perfectly complement the dunes, lol
I drove back to Ashford Mill just as the afternoon light was just right.  I walked around snapping photos and found, finally found, a wildflower I'd been searching for!  Desert Fivespot!  A very pretty delicate pink globe that you can open just slightly to reveal five brilliant red spots on the petals. 

Badwater, anybody got a canoe?  lol
Carpets of Phacelia...  Can you help me ID the species?
Phacelia sp.??
Just south of the Mill there is a dirt road, the Harry Wade Road, that you can car camp along.  I saw a few others who'd found turnouts to park in and camp and then found my own.  I opened up a can of soup, heated it up on my stove, and settled back and watched a brilliant sunset.  I went to sleep soon after.


Ashford Mill Ruins
Desert Fivespot!  I found it!  Isn't it pretty?
Eremalche rotundifolia
As the sun rose and the colors started to wash out I decided to head home.  After 8 or 9 in the morning photography in the desert is not good.  So I took my time going home.  In Baker I stopped at the Mojave National Preserve Visitor Center and got some information about that spectacular area where I have not yet been.  Then I drove to one corner of it...  I'd always laughed at the exit sign for "Zzyzx Road" off of I-15.  I'm still not sure how you pronounce that word or what it means, but I took the exit and drove south about 5 miles.  This road parallels the shore of Soda Dry Lake, which right now is simply Soda Lake.  It dead ends at an old Mineral Springs Resort.  I saw a couple of vehicles there but not a single soul about.  I strolled around the palm tree lined spring pool and looked for the rare fish that are supposed to live in there that are remnant populations from the ice age.

Then it was back on the road and I got home in record time, around 2:00 pm, despite stopping a few more times to photograph wildflowers :)
Chia
Salvia columbariae
Checker Fiddleneck
Amsinckia tessellata
Death Valley Phacelia
Phacelia vallis-mortae
Fremont Phacelia, above and below
Phacelia fremontii
Notch-Leaved Phacelia
Phacelia crenulata
Fremont Pincushion
Chaenactis fremontii
Scented Cryptantha
Cryptantha utahensis
In the morning I got up before the sun, got dressed, ate a clif bar, then moseyed north a little ways to where there were fields and fields of desert gold.  I sat down on some smooth rocks, it's a luxury to be able to sit down in the desert and not have something poke you, and waited for the sun to rise.  I got some beautiful pictures of the sunflowers and the snowcapped Panamint Range beyond.  It was a magical morning!
Delicate White Flower, above and below
Found growing on the east side of Salsberry Pass, about 3,000' in elevation
Can you help me ID it?
Another mystery flower growing near the white one above...
The road home...



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Delicate White Flower, above and below
Found growing on the east side of Salsberry Pass, about 3,000' in elevation
Can you help me ID it?
Another mystery flower growing near the white one above...
The road home...



More about this area

Back to Road Trips
Back to Tarol's Homepage

Mystery Flower, can you help me ID it?
Another Mystery Flower...
The road home...



More about this area
Back to Road Trips
Back to Tarol's Homepage

Evening Snow, above and below
Linanthus dichotomus
Mystery Flower
The Road Home...

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Back to Tarol's Homepage