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Death Valley gets surprise blanket of wildflowers

April 4, 2014

Spring is in the air in Death Valley National Park thanks an unexpected bloom of wildflowers. Park officials said visitors can expect to see the colorful display for at least the next couple weeks before temperatures pick up and the blossoms begin to wilt. Photo courtesy Death Valley National Park

Spring is in the air and in Death Valley, that means wildflowers are sprouting from the ground.
Death Valley National Park announced earlier this week that the spring wildflower bloom has begun and with the mild April temperatures and colorful display of wildflowers beginning to bud, park staff says there’s no better time to explore Death Valley.
“Much to our surprise, wildflowers are turning out to have a pretty decent bloom this spring after all,” a press release from the National Park Service states. “Rainfall in the higher elevations – especially in the Panamint Mountains – are allowing a late spring bloom, and it may only get better and higher up as the temperatures warm.”
Death Valley is the largest national park in the United States outside of Alaska, and there are literally hundreds of destinations for residents and visitors to explore and according to park staff, spring has sprung at many of them.
Public Information Officer Cheryl Chipman said that this year’s unexpected wildflower bloom hasn’t reached the magnitude of the spring 2005 wildflower display, but it’s still worth a trip to the park.
“That was known as the 100-year bloom. It’s not quite the same this year. In 2005 there were flowers everywhere. The (alluvial) fans were green. There were flowers on every hillside. This year the hillsides are covered in flowers, just not every hillside.”
Chipman said it appears the wildflower peak is just beginning and visitors should have spectacular photo opportunities for at least the next couple weeks.
“Every time I go outside, I see more flowers,” Chipman said. “The cactuses are blooming now, and they usually bloom when it’s warmer. I think you’ll have a couple weeks before it really starts to heat up” and the delicate blossoms begin to wither.
Chipman said the bloom came as a surprise to park staff because big wildflower blooms generally come on the heels of wet winters. “This year, we were at about average precipitation, or maybe a little low. We’re at 1.76 inches this year, and we usually get around 2 inches. But the storms we had came at the right time and in the right location.”
Though the bloom is specific to some sites in the park, Chipman said visitors won’t have a hard time finding the flowers.
South of Badwater, on the west side of Salsberry Pass there are carpets of yellow Desert Dandelion, Wooly Daisy and Gold Poppy. “For the full effect,” the press release states, “visit on a sunny mid-day as the dandelion and poppys open only in direct sunlight.”
Along State Route 190, between Emigrant Campground and Towne Pass are orange Globemallow, yellow White-Stemmed Blazing Star, white Gravel Ghost, pale purple and yellow Mojave Aster and vine-like Death Valley Phacelia. 
“In lower Emigrant Canyon the bloom is about to peak,” the press release states. “Hillsides are covered with Golden Evening Primrose, white Pebble Pincushion and lavender Fremont Phacelia and Broad-flowered Gilia.” 
The magenta flowers of Beavertail Cactus are also popping open throughout the park, and those who are willing to take the time to look closely may also notice the green flowers on the Golden Cholla. 
According to the NPS, “bit by bit, high desert flowers like scarlet Indian Paintbrush, richly-hued Indigo Bush, sky-blue Desert Larkspur, tall spikes of Princes Plume and multi-colored Hopsage are just starting to appear,” so the time to get out and explore is now.
For those who want to really explore the more remote corners of the park, backcountry roads are also leading to more isolated wildflower destinations.
On the north end of Greenwater Valley visitors can find fields of Desert Dandelion, Fremont Phacelia, Tickseed and Coreopsis and at Eureka Dunes the rare white (fading to pink) Eureka Dune Evening Primrose is just starting to bloom and will have an exceptional flowering season with huge plants already in place. The large flowered Yellow Evening Primrose and Desert Marigold are currently in full bloom. 
At Lee Flat, the Joshua Trees are blooming nicely and the canyons on the east side of the Panamint Mountains that were flooded out last summer are thick with yellow Brittlebush this spring. “The roads in the washes are still a mess, but worth walking into from the canyon mouths,” the press release states.
As always, Death Valley visitors are encouraged to stop and take a closer look to discover the diversity of wildflowers, but visitors are being asked to not block traffic by parking on the roadway.
Chipman also said that temperatures in the park are currently below 80, but visitors should come prepared with layered clothing for weather changes, and plenty of water.

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