April 02, 2005

*Death Valley Pics

Some of you may recall the conversation I had with my sis about Death Valley.

Some of you may be interested in seeing pretty pictures, which can be enlarged if you click on them:




Posted by Jennifer at April 2, 2005 10:44 PM


I don't know why, but my 'puter wont load the text of that MSNBC article you linked in the original post. I can see the title, Death Valley alive with wildflowers, but can't get the story. What's it all about?

Posted by: Tuning Spork at April 3, 2005 12:10 PM

DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, Calif. - A rare burst of color is softening the stark landscape of Death Valley, with clusters of purple, pink and white wildflowers dotting the black basalt mountainsides and great swaths of golden blooms bordering the blinding white salt flats on the valley floor.

The winter storms that brought mudslides and death to Southern California dropped 6 inches of rain on this thirsty desert — three times more than usual — encouraging wildflower seeds to sprout. Experts say this kind of show comes once in a lifetime.

The flowers have adapted to the desert by developing seeds with coatings so thick or waxy that they can hibernate for decades. Only continued heavy rains will coax them to grow. Then, when there's just the right amount of moisture, sunlight and warmth, "it's all systems go," says Pam Muick, executive director of the California Native Plant Society.

She says Death Valley hasn't seen such a wide array of flowers in about 50 years — blue pendants of desert lupine and tiny purple chias growing in clumps, golden California poppies scattering all over hillsides. Along roads leading into the park, long rows of bright yellow daisies wave, almost as if they'd been seeded to greet the visitors.

The normally forbidding landscape is not only alive with flowers, but fat, 3-inch-long green caterpillars that develop into Sphinx moths will come out soon to feast on the blooms, said Terry Baldino, a park ranger.

"They're the biggest, ugliest things you've ever seen," Baldino said. "And they have one thing on their mind — eating flowers."

The caterpillars and the abundance of new seeds will attract birds and small rodents, drawing in snakes and foxes in turn — a food chain that is very unusual for Death Valley, Baldino said.

Even in the early spring, temperatures are already soaring into the 90s, reminding tourists flocking in for the flower show that this is a place of extremes. A deep bowl about 156 miles long, the valley was created when great plates of earth pushed apart, giving rise to the Amargosa and the Panamint mountain ranges and dropping the valley floor 292 feet below sea level. The depression works like a convection oven, recirculating hot air and making the valley one of the hottest places on earth, with ground-level temperatures that can reach 200 degrees in summer.

It's also extremely dry, with less than 2 inches of rainfall a year. The water that does wash down the mineral-rich mountainsides carries salt deposits that have formed the great salt flats dominating the valley floor. Visitors can hike or drive for miles along the glistening salt pan, or examine the jagged salt formations that seem to mirror the snowcapped mountains looming in the background.

The recent storms have turned part of the salt pan around Badwater Basin — normally a brackish puddle a few inches deep — into a reflecting pool about five miles across. Kayakers and windsailers cut across the shallow, lifeless water. Other visitors wade in, only to emerge covered in a salt crust.

The flowers will continue to flourish until July, according to Baldino. The blooms in the southern reaches and lower elevations will fade within the next couple of weeks as temperatures climb, but the warmth will trigger seed banks farther north and higher up in the hillsides, creating a moving display.

These flowers will then drop seeds, which will lay dormant until the next really wet winter.

"This isn't a wasteland," Muick said. "It will start looking empty when the flowers are gone, but there's life there at all times."

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Posted by: Jennifer at April 3, 2005 03:39 PM

Wow, thanks Jen! I'm reminded of my time in Nevada deserts back when I was in the Air Force. It could get up to 170 degrees, but, because it was so dry, it wasn't all that intolerable. Joshua trees, cacti and rattlesnakes were everywhere. And sandy dirt. We called it sand but it was just really really really dry dirt. And bare rocky mountains in the far distance in all directions. The salt flats I saw were smallish, less than a mile across, but they were fascinating just to look at. Dry lake beds. Inland lakes whose past lifeforms had left it too salty to live in anymore.. then they dried up completely. The starkness was actually kind of beautiful in a this-ain't-your-father's-backyard kinda way. Sorry for the run-on paragraph. Thanks for posting the article! :D

Posted by: Tuning Spork at April 4, 2005 09:10 PM