Alie occasionally uses the phrase, “it’s a bloomin’ miracle.” It was true when we visited Death Valley this March. Violating our personal preferences, we took Interstate highways and raced (compared to our normal turtle speed) across the South to get there before it got too hot. I also held out a small hope we might see flowers that sometimes bloom from January to March if there is a rain. This year there were huge areas of “Desert Gold,” the most since 2005. But perhaps it is not so strange. Long-time friends might recall the rain poured on us in the middle of the Australian desert. This time it was just enough to make things beautiful.
Death Valley was a surprise to us. We imagined a large alkali flat like we found at Badwater. Badwater is the lowest spot in North America at minus 282 feet. But Death Valley is much more varied than that.
The valley is narrow, sitting between the relatively low Amarosa Mountains and the Inyo Mountains which reach over 11,000 feet.
We did not go north to Racetrack Road where rocks seem to move on their own (probably moved by wind with friction reduced by condensation). Scotty’s Castle, a famous early-20th Century home, was closed due to October 2015 flood damage.
But I did walk out on the soft sandy Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes quite unlike the flat cracked surface at Badwater.
We both walked a little up Mosaic Canyon. One side of the canyon is marble polished by water and sand. The other is a mosaic of fragments of rock naturally cemented together.
We also walked up the Salt Creek Interpretive Trail and watched the tiny pupfish scurrying about in the shallow salty water. This species lives nowhere else in the world.
At the Harmony Borax works, we saw a wagon that had been one of the original 20 mule team wagons and learned about borax mining in the desert. Steven Mather, a Pacific Coast Borax Company sales manager, adopted those 20-mule-team trains as a symbol for borax. Later, visiting many National Parks, he was disappointed in how poorly they were managed. He took the issue to the Secretary of Interior who solved it by making Mather the first director of the National Park Service in 1916.
We drove up two side roads. One was Artists Drive where minerals color the rocks in stripes and swirls of red, yellow, browns and green. The other, dirt, was up 20 Mule Team Canyon, a narrow twisting road through what looks like petrified sand dunes.
Although it is just outside the national park, we also visited Rhyolite, a ghost town. An optimistic investor bought a mine in 1906 and invested heavily in infrastructure. They had electric lights, water mains, a school, hospital, opera house and even a stock exchange, but the mines declined and closed in 1911, just five years later.
Because we entered the valley the second day via Rhyolite, we also saw the purple Notchleaf Phacelia. To me, they are just pretty yellow and purple flowers, but the Park Service puts out a newsletter telling visitors what the flowers are and where they can be found.
It was no miracle that we found so much to enjoy – we do that frequently – but we were still surprised by this “bloomin’ miracle.”
Click on photos to enlarge.