Death Valley National Park (March 2005)

Updated to add photos to Flickr (11/30/05)

Due to the heavy rains California received this year, wild flowers bloom early and in abundance. I read several articles on the Web and finally decided to go to Death Valley instead of Joshua NP to see the wild flowers. According to experts, the blooming at Death Valley is the best in 50 years. Many types of wild flowers in Death Valley only bloom when there is plenty of rain that falls over an extended period, which is the condition of this year.

What you should know about Death Valley National Park?

Since my trip was not trouble free, I thought I'd pass along some lessons.
My main advice is to get a map of the park and map out a plan before you go. This park is huge - they say it's now bigger than Yellowstone.

Unlike other national parks that I've been to such as Yellowstone or Yosemite, Death Valley National Park is not highly developed. Only the Furnace Creek area is reasonably developed. It has a visitor center and several campgrounds. I believe there is one campground that takes reservation. Others are on a first come basis. It's not easy to find your way around unless you have a map of the park. Signs around the park are minimal. For instance, there is not many sign to tell you where to find the visitor center, and how far you are from it. Worse yet, highway 190 entering the park from the East is closed due to damages caused by the bad weather. However, the sign about using highway 178 as a detour was confusing. We saw 2 signs - one for 178 and one for highway 190 to Death Valley. We opted to take 190, only to see another sign some 10 miles later that that highway was closed.

Several campgrounds do have flush toilets though. I was surprised to find out that it was not easy to get a camp site. We were lucky to get a camp site for one night stay. Perhaps many people had the same idea to go to DV to see the rare display of wild flowers. I met a person flying in from Connecticut and a couple driving from Indiana to do just that. That made me appreciate taking time off - if I were still with a company, visiting a national park to see wild flowers would probably down at the bottom of my priority list!

The weather is unpredictable and the environment is unforgiving as the name suggests. In our first night there, the wind was gusting to the point it woke us up several times during the night. Tents around us were deformed due to the wind - the couple next to us abandoned their tent in favor of sleeping in the truck. It was warm that night - at 6 AM, the temperature gauge registered 74 degrees. By noon time the next day, it rained off an on till the evening. The next night, it was cold but calm. I felt cold sleeping in the sleeping bag. So bring clothings for all weather conditions.

A good plan may be to call ahead for reservation, then arrive at the park at one end in the morning to do the sight seeing and picture taking, ending up at the visitor center and the campground later in the day. Then you can see another part of the park the next day or two. You can plan to see one path (South or North) and leave the park on the same day. Since the park is so big, it does not make sense to go back and forth too many times. Some areas require 4 wheel drive. The road to Natural Bridge is dirt and rough. Parking is very limited. We wound up giving parking and hiking there. Golden Canyon is great with interesting rock formations and hiking paths.

I took around 400 pictures with my new Canon 20D camera and the 4 GB micro drive, which I had believed to be infinite capacity. As it turned out, I used up all the space and had to buy another 1GB Compact Flash for my trip to the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve a couple of days later. After trying Picasa, I found it too cumbersome to use. So I'm switching back to ofoto. The link should be:

Eventually, I may want to find a way to share high quality picture (up to 8 Mega pixel). If you're interested in any specific picture, send me an email.

What I saw at DVNP

My primary purpose to DV was to see the wild flowers, and set foot on the lowest point on dry land in the continental US. As it turns out, we also found the scenery to be quite interesting as well. It reminded me of Painted Desert in Arizona. The wild flowers, while plenty, were not as impressive as I had envisioned. I'm posting pictures of both wild flowers as well as of the sceneries. I'm still researching names of the plants and flowers I took. As I find them, I'll update the postings.

There were many places to see with or without names. We only saw a portion of the park due to lack of time. The names here were all very dramatic and tend to have a death flavor. We visited the Borax Works trail, Hells Hage, Scottys Castle (waiting time to go in after paying entrance fee might be over an hour), Golden Canyon (my favorite), Devils Golf Course (crystalized salt bed that does look like it come from hell), Bad Water (lowest elevation in the US 282 ft below sea level), and many other places that there are no names.

Flowers are plenty. I was impressed with the quantity of flowers - they cover entire mountainsides. However, I did not see as many varieties as I had hoped. Individually, aside from some such as large cactus flowers, wild flowers tend to be small, so it's more unique to see them as part of a large landscape. You'll find other locations having better showing of wild flowers. The unique thing about Death Valley is it usually does not have much wild flowers due to the arid and harsh condition, and the display this year is the best in 50 years. Imagine a place where it's too hot for cactus to grow! Cactus can only be found on higher elevation in the park. I saw several cactus blooming at Hells Gate and halfway to Scottys Castle from the visitor center.

The sceneries here is unique. There are hardly any trees. There are flowers and brushes covering the hillsides, then rocky mountains all around. The Death Valley lake bed itself is prevalent. I took pictures of all different terrains. The rock formations and colors resemble what I saw at Painted Desert in Arizona except more massive. It's hard to convey the size of the place without some frame of references. Look for little people in some of the canyon pictures.

Browse pictures from Death Valley.