DEATH VALLEY, CA –November is a particularly good time to visit Death Valley National Park due to a free entrance fee day on Veterans Day, special events, and cooling temperatures.
All National Park Service areas, including Death Valley National Park, will waive park entrance fees on Friday, November 11 in honor of Veterans Day. A seven-day entrance pass normally costs $25/vehicle.
The Death Valley ‘49ers Encampment will be November 9-13. Activities include western music, cowboy poetry, art show, a historic wagon train, covered wagon rides, and presentations by park rangers, authors, historians, and the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe. More information about the events can be found at www.deathvalley49ers.org, but a detailed schedule is only available upon arrival.
The nonprofit Death Valley ‘49ers plans the Encampment in partnership with the National Park Service. Many events are free, but some events require membership in the Death Valley ‘49ers. New members can sign up at a booth during the event ($25/person or $40/family/year).
Interested in getting involved in the park in a hands-on way? The park is hosting volunteer events on November’s holiday weekends: Saturday, November 12; Friday, November 25; and Saturday, November 26. Families are welcome! More details will be available online about a week in advance.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will hold a special naturalization ceremony in Death Valley National Park to welcome 20 new citizens. The ceremony will be at 11:00am on Tuesday, November 15 at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes parking area, with a backup indoor location at Stovepipe Wells.
Come experience Death Valley’s exceptional night sky viewing. Park rangers will host a Full Moon Fest on Wednesday, November 23 and a Night Sky Party on Friday, December 2.
With cooler temperatures and increasing visitation, park rangers are offering regularly scheduled hikes and ranger talks. Daily programs include a Golden Canyon Hike at 9:00am and a Harmony Borax Works Talk at 2:30pm. Flint knapping demonstrations are Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 9:00am-3:00pm. Information on additional programs is available each week at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center or www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/tours.htm.
Unfortunately, Scotty’s Castle remains closed due to damage from a flash flood a year ago. Repair work is in progress, and Scotty’s Castle should reopen in 2019.
Road construction later in the season will affect visitors. Artists Drive, a one-way scenic drive, will be closed from November 27 through March 16. Harmony Borax Works, a popular historic site, will be closed for about a week sometime during those dates.
About the National Park Service: Since 1916, the National Park Service has been entrusted with the care of America’s more than 400 national parks. With the help of volunteers and partners, we safeguard these special places and share their stories millions of people every year. Learn more at www.nps.gov.
FRESNO, Calif. — Jonathan Cornelius Bourne, 59, of Mammoth Lakes, was sentenced Monday to two years of probation, a $40,000 fine, and $249,372 in restitution for felony violations of the Archeological Resources Protection Act, Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced. Additionally, Bourne is banned from entering federal public lands for recreational purposes while on probation.
On August 15, 2016, Bourne pleaded guilty to unauthorized transportation of archeological resources and unauthorized excavation, removal, damage, or defacement of archeological resources. According to court documents, Bourne had been collecting artifacts and archeological resources since 1994. He documented each item and has voluntarily turned over to the government an estimated 20,000 archeological items that he had collected from public lands.
According to the plea agreement, on October 14, 2010, Bourne altered a small prehistoric site, cremation site, and burial cairns in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in Nevada. He removed glass trade beads and transported them to his home in Mammoth Lakes. On January 10, 2011, Bourne altered a large prehistoric site in Death Valley National Park and removed a tool made from a bighorn sheep horn and three incised stone tablets, which were later found in Bourne’s home.
In sentencing Bourne, U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill stated that the damage caused by Bourne could not be undone no matter what sentence was imposed. He further stated that this case highlighted the importance of educating others as to the significance of the sacred Native American cultural resources and the protection of the Native American cultural sites.
Death Valley National Park Superintendent Mike Reynolds said, “Death Valley is the homeland of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe. Dr. Bourne didn’t just steal their heritage; he stole from all Americans when he removed these artifacts from the park. I’m relieved that he has been sentenced and is paying restitution to help us curate the artifacts. I hope this will help deter other people from desecrating important cultural resources that help tell our nation’s history. However, we’ve permanently lost information that could have been learned if the artifacts had never been moved.”
This case was the product of an investigation by the United States Forest Service, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. Assistant United States Attorney Laurel J. Montoya prosecuted the case.
DEATH VALLEY, CA – Death Valley National Park has been celebrating 100 years of the National Park Service with events all year, and will continue to do so in the coming months. From the BioBlitz to the Celestial Centennial this spring, DeathValley has been busy celebrating the Centennial of the National Park Service. Events will continue during the rest of the year, including a birthday party in August and a weekend commemorating the National Historic Preservation Act in October. From August 25-28 all National Parks will waive entrances fees, making Founder’s Day weekend the perfect time to visitDeath Valley and other National Park sites!
On August 25th, Death Valley will host a birthday party for the National Park Service. A reception with cake and refreshments will take place from 1-2 pm in the Visitor Center. Everyone is welcome to attend! During that time, visitors can view Historic Photography in Death Valley, a special exhibit on display in the Furnace Creek visitor center for the rest of the year. The exhibit features the work of several photographers including: Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Frederick I. Monsen, and George A. Grant. Each of these photographers represents a different approach to photography in Death Valley from the late 19th though the mid-20th century. For example, Frederick I. Monsen was a classic frontier photographer, while Edward Weston and Ansel Adams worked closely with park rangers as depression-era photographers and produced photographs used by the Works Progress Administration. Visitors can also take advantage of the beautiful landscape in Death Valley with a scenic drive to avoid the heat, or take a hike, such as the Wildrose Peak trail, in the cool mountains.
October marks the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, a law integral to the protection of many historic structures on public lands all over the country. During the weekend of October 15th-16th events will be held celebratingDeath Valley’s history, from prehistoric archaeology to Mission 66 National Park Service architecture. These events are for all visitors, and include children’s activities, ranger programs, and talks and demonstrations by experts. Check the DeathValley National Park website (www.nps.gov/deva) soon for a full schedule of events.
On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act that created the National Park Service “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for future generations.”
George A. Grant, the first photographer for the National Park Service, too this photograph in Death Valley at Badwater in 1935.
DeathValley, CA: On July 18-20, AdventureCORPS presents its legendary STYR Labs BADWATER® 135. Now in its 39th year, the world-renowned event pits up to 100 of the world’s toughest athletes against one another and the elements. In scorching temperatures and at altitudes as high as 8,300 feet, runners, triathletes, adventure racers, and mountaineers from 21 countries and 27 American states will face off in a grueling 135-mile non-stop run from DeathValley to Mt. Whitney, CA. Widely recognized as “the world’s toughest foot race, “ it is the most demanding and extreme running race on the planet.
The start line is at Badwater, DeathValley, which marks the lowest elevation in North America at 280’ (85m) below sea level. The race finishes at Whitney Portal at 8,300’ (2530m). The course covers three mountain ranges for a total of 14,600’ (4450m) of cumulative vertical ascent and 6,100’ (1859m) of cumulative descent. Whitney Portal is the trailhead to the Mt. Whitney summit, the highest point in the contiguous United States. Competitors travel through places with names like Mushroom Rock, Furnace Creek, Salt Creek, Devil’s Cornfield, Devil’s Golf Course, Stovepipe Wells, Panamint Springs, Keeler, Alabama Hills, and Lone Pine.
A true “challenge of the champions,” the 2016 STYR Labs Badwater 135 features 51 Badwater veterans and 46 rookies: die hard “ultra-runners” of every speed and ability, as well as athletes who have the necessary running credentials, but are primarily known for their exploits as adventure racers, mountaineers, triathletes, or in other extreme pursuits. With one of the most international fields in race history, the athletes represent twenty-one countries by citizenship or residence: Australia, Barbados, Brazil, Canada, Cayman Islands, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Philippines, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, and United States of America (with 27 different American states represented).
While runners began running the course in the 1970s, the race itself has been part of the fabric of life in Inyo County since 1987. A recent study indicated an annual economic impact of 1.2 million dollars, half of it spent in DeathValley National Park and surrounding gateway communities such as Lone Pine, CA. The race is supported by U.S. Congressman Col. Paul Cook (Ret.) of California’s 8th District, the Inyo County Board of Supervisors, the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce, and a wide panorama of businesses and charities which are positively impacted.
There are 25 women and 72 men. The youngest male runner is 25 (rookie entrant Sam Weir of Australia) and the youngest female entrant is 29 (rookie entrant Kayla Delk of the USA). The oldest male is 69 (five-time finisher Mark K. Olson of California) and the oldest female is 60 (rookie entrant Pamela Chapman-Markle of Texas). The overall average age is 46. Full roster details are available here: http://dbase.adventurecorps.com/roster.php?bw_eid=78&bw=Go
The men’s course record is held by Valmir Nunez of Brazil with a time of 22:51:29 set in 2007, while the women’s course record of 26:16:12 was set in 2010 by Jamie Donaldson of Littleton, CO. It is expected that the winners of the 2016 STYR Labs Badwater 135 will finish in near record time for both men’s and women’s divisions. The average finishing time is approximately 40 hours, while the overall time limit is 48 hours. For those who finish in less than forty-eight hours, their reward is the coveted Badwater 135 belt buckle. There is no prize money.
The 2016 race field is particularly competitive. Veteran contenders include 2015 men’s champion Pete Kostelnick of Nebraska, 2014 champion Harvey Lewis of Ohio, 2013 men’s champion Carlos Sa of Portugal, 2011 men’s champion Oswaldo Lopez of Madera, CA (Mexico citizenship), two-time men’s runner-up Grant Maughan of Australia, and other notable contenders such as Marathon des Sables champion Mohamad Ahansal of Morocco, Grand Union Canal champion Dan Lawson of the UK, 2016 Badwater Cape Fear and 2016 Badwater Salton Sea champion Jared Fetterolf of Texas, among others. Also competing is Marshall Ulrich, 65, of Evergreen, CO, a twenty-time Badwater 135 finisher and four-time winner in 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1996, along with David Jones, 64, of Murfreesboro, TN, the 1997 Badwater 135 race champion, seven-time finisher, and 60+ age group record holder. For a full preview of the top men’s field, click http://www.zwittyultra.com/remember-you-paid-to-be-in-this-race-daves-blog/2016-styr-labs-badwater-135-mens-preview
Every year is a new year at the Badwater 135, with rookies and “previously unknown” athletes surprising the contenders with top performances. New stars will shine as the race unfolds.
The STYR Labs Badwater 135 is the final event in the Badwater® Ultra Cup, a three-race series which began with the 51-mile Badwater® Cape Fear in March, continued with the 81-mile Badwater® Salton Sea in May, and now concludes with the STYR Labs Badwater 135 in July. Those runners who complete all three events in the same calendar year are featured on the Badwater.com website and their virtues are extolled throughout the Internet and in future editions of BADWATER Magazine. In 2014, seven remarkable athletes completed the entire Badwater Ultra Cup, nine completed the 2015 Badwater Ultra Cup, while seventeen racers completed the first two Badwater races this year and will toe the line at the third and final Badwater race on July 18.
Now in its seventeenth year producing this race, AdventureCORPS is pleased to welcome our title sponsor, STYR Labs – an innovative nutrition customization and tracking platform delivering cutting-edge supplements to connected athletes and health and fitness consumers worldwide. The advanced ecosystem includes an activity tracker, wireless scale, and free app that collects health and fitness data to create personalized multivitamins or protein blends specific to the user’s health and fitness goals and needs. Sergio Radovcic, founder of STYR Labs, is no stranger to this race with three consecutive Badwater 135 finishes. More info at www.styr.com
AdventureCORPS also greatly appreciates the support of Farm to Feet Socks, Fisher Space Pen, Caring House Project Foundation, ZZYXXZ, Goal Zero, 2XU, and ZombieRunner.com, plus the local support of Furnace Creek Ranch, Stovepipe Wells Resort, Panamint Springs Resort, Dow Villa, Pizza Factory, the community of Lone Pine, CA, the people of Inyo County, and other generous companies and individuals. More info: www.badwater.com/about-us/sponsors/
Official Charities of the Badwater 135 include the Challenged Athletes Foundation. As one of the very few charities that provides grants directly to athletes with a physical disability, the Challenged Athletes Foundation has raised over thirty million dollars and directly assisted thousands of challenged athletes world-wide. AdventureCORPS also supports the Bald Head Island Conservancy, DeathValley Natural History Association, Conservation Alliance, and One Percent For The Planet. One of the goals of the Badwater 135 is to raise funds for, and awareness of, these organizations. More info: www.badwater.com/about-us/charities/
This year, over 50 of the race entrants are competing on behalf of a charity of their choice. Some of those include 100 Mile Club, Break the Stigma Project, Caring House Project Foundation, Challenged Athletes Foundation, DeathValley Natural History Association, Homes for our Troops, Hope So Bright, The Herren Project, and others.
This year’s race celebrates the 39th anniversary of Al Arnold’s original trek from Badwater to Mt. Whitney in 1977. Arnold, an ultrarunning pioneer and human potential guru, competed in a solo effort: it was just Arnold and his support crew against the elements and the clock. The official head-to-head race began ten years after Arnold’s pioneer trek, in 1987, and has been held annually without serious incident, fatality, or any citations issued by any branch of law enforcement. For more info about Al Arnold and also the original race click these links:
The Badwater 135 is held under permits from DeathValley National Park, California Department of Transportation, Inyo National Forest, and Inyo County. Media attending the event may be required to obtain permits from some of those same agencies.
Oak Park, CA-based AdventureCORPS®, Inc. is an athlete-run firm producing and promoting ultra-endurance sports events and the world’s toughest brand, BADWATER®. Adventure is our way of life. AdventureCORPS’ world-class events for athlete-adventurers include epic races such as the Badwater® 135, BADWATER® Salton Sea, BADWATER® Cape Fear, and Silver State 508™, and other events. Our products include the Badwater® line of apparel, skin care products, gear, and services. Founded in 1984 by Chris Kostman, this group effort is dedicated to exploring the inner and outer universes, seeking adventure, energy, and insight both in daily life and “out there.” More info: www.adventurecorps.comand www.badwater.com.
Badwater® is a federally registered trademark owned by AdventureCORPS, Inc.
Chief Adventure Officer and Race Director
638 Lindero Canyon Rd #311
Oak Park, CA 91377 USA
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DEATH VALLEY, CA – Badwater Road is now fully open, connecting Death Valley National Park to the gateway town of Shoshone, California. Work remains to be done in other areas of the park to repair road and infrastructure damage caused by flash floods last October.
Several storms between October 4 and October 18, 2015 caused extreme flash flood damage. In one location, 2.7 inches of rain fell in just 5 hours – which exceedsDeath Valley’s average precipitation for a year.
Badwater Road is the main paved road in the southern end of Death Valley National Park. National Park Service road crews cleared large amounts of dirt and rock to open the northern section of Badwater Road by early November, providing access to popular destinations such as Badwater Basin, the lowest elevation in North America at 282 feet below sea level.
The section of Badwater Road near Jubilee Pass was extensively damaged, with about a half mile of pavement and road base washed away in multiple sections of the road. Federal Highway Administration funded the repair work. William Kanayan Construction started repairs in May, under a contract with Federal Highway Administration. Much of the work was done at night so that temperatures would be cooler.
Badwater Road connects to CA-178 and is the primary entrance into the southern section of Death Valley National Park. This ten-month closure affected hundreds of thousands of park visitors and the economy of Shoshone and Tecopa.
Most other park roads are now open. However, the Grapevine Canyon section of Scotty’s Castle Road was the most heavily damaged road and is still closed. Park spokesperson Abby Wines said, “The flood was about a quarter the size of the Colorado River. It was so huge that it changed the shape of the canyon floor. That means it wouldn’t be smart to just replace the road like it was. Engineers are redesigning sections of the road.” Design work and environmental compliance are likely to take some time, so construction probably won’t start until 2017.
Scotty’s Castle and Grapevine Canyon are currently closed to all public entry. Park managers are targeting 2019 to have repairs done and reopen the historic district to visitors. About 120,000 visitors per year traveled through Grapevine Canyon and over 50,000 visitors per year took an hour-long ranger-guided living history tour of Scotty’s Castle each year before the flood.
“There was a flurry of work in the first months after the flood,” Wines said. “We borrowed trail crews and fire crews from other parks and got the mud shoveled out of the historic buildings. That made the site look a lot better.”
However, most of the work is still to be done and needs to be carefully planned. Several historic buildings were damaged, including the Garage/Longshed, which houses the Scotty’s Castle Visitor Center. “The damage to the Visitor Center is obvious,” Wines said. “It looks like a monster punched the wall. We had to dig out 4 feet of mud and rocks.”
Other damage is less obvious but just as critical to repair before the site can be opened to the public. The flood destroyed the water system and washed away 4,000 feet of waterline that was buried in the wash. Repairs have started on the water system. Southern California Edison replaced over 20 power poles, but repairs to electrical wiring in the district will start in a couple weeks to restore power to the buildings. The sewer system was also partially washed away and needs to be replaced.
The estimated cost of recovering from these floods, including road repairs, is $31 million. Major funding is coming from federal sources via the National Park Service and Federal Highway Administration. Death Valley Natural History Association, a non-profit park partner, is coordinating donations to assist with Scotty’s Castle projects through their website, www.dvnha.org.
Oak Park, CA – AdventureCORPS is pleased to announce that the Summer 2016 issue of BADWATER® Magazine is now available for download. Sixty-four pages in length and printed in full-color, it focuses primarily on the STYR Labs Badwater 135 Ultramarathon and its remarkable venues, Death Valley National Park, Inyo County, Lone Pine, Mt. Whitney, and the Inyo National Forest.
The magazine is available as a PDF download at this link:
Dozens of dramatic photos from all three BADWATER races are featured (Badwater Cape Fear, Badwater Salton Sea, plus STYR Labs Badwater 135). Featured on the cover is Nikki Wynd of Lysterfield, Australia as she crosses the 2015 Badwater 135 to claim first woman and fourth overall with a time of 27:23:27.
Design and layout are by KFungDesign and the magazine is printed by Infinity Press.
Several pages are also devoted to the Bald Head Island Conservancy, One Percent For The Planet, Conservation Alliance, Death Valley Natural History Association, and other environmental and charitable organizations with which AdventureCORPS works.
Publisher Chris Kostman, the Chief Adventure Officer of AdventureCORPS and Race Director of all the BADWATER races, commented “Our prime directive is ‘To Seek and Share Adventure’ and we aim to do that not only with our world-renowned races, but also with all our communication channels. In a world dominated by social media, we still derive great satisfaction in publishing a semi-annual magazine which encourages and celebrates exploring what we call ‘the inner and outer universes.’ Whether readers want to compete in our events, or simply dream about running in exotic locations, this magazine is guaranteed to inspire and motivate!”
The magazine is available as a PDF download at this link:
DEATH VALLEY, CALIF.—Death Valley National Park invites artists and photographers to participate in an art contest for the Hike Death Valley program.
Hike Death Valley encourages park visitors to get out on the trails by earning points for each featured hike completed. Upon earning four points, visitors are eligible to receive a free commemorative decal by sharing their photos with a park ranger and learning how to share their experience online. Each year, a different group of hikes and a new version of the collectable decal are featured.
Two categories of artwork are included in the contest—a decal design and a promotional poster design. Participants may share their entries by using #HikeDeathValleyArt via park social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, or by email @ firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line #HikeDeathValleyArt.
Winning artwork will be featured on the decal and promotional poster, and winners will be awarded an Interagency Annual Pass that covers admission to national parks, wildlife refuges, national forests and other federal recreation areas for one year. Second place winners will receive a $50 gift certificate for Death Valley Natural History Association bookstores. Prizes are complements of Death Valley Natural History Association.
The deadline for submissions is July 31, 2016. Contest details are available at nps.gov.deva.
DEATH VALLEY, CA – Construction on Badwater Road will start May 9 to repair damage from October’s flash floods. The route from southern Death Valley to Shoshone, California will remain closed until construction is complete, which is scheduled for July 14.
Storms in October caused severe flash flooding in Death Valley National Park. Road crews cleared debris off roads and reopened hundreds of miles of roads in the following months. Badwater Road is currently open for 47 miles from CA-190 past Badwater to the unpaved Harry Wade Road.
The Jubilee Pass section of Badwater Road is closed from Harry Wade Road (milepost 47) to milepost 56. Through traffic from Shoshone, California to southern DeathValley is not possible during this closure. This section of road has been closed since October and will remain closed during construction due to safety concerns. Due to concerns about summer temperatures, some construction work may take place at night. Due to the possibility of nighttime work, residents of Shoshone may see and hear construction trucks at any hour.
October’s storms heavily damaged the Jubilee Pass section of Badwater Road, and washed away extensive sections of pavement and road base. Federal Highway Administration is funding these repairs. William Kanayan Construction is the general contractor performing the repairs.
Scotty’s Castle was the other area of the park most severely affected by October’s storms. A contract to connect a temporary waterline from the spring to the historic structures’ fire suppression system is in progress. Southern California Edison has replaced power poles and repairs of the electrical distribution system at Scotty’s Castle should start soon. There is still a lot more work to be done, including redesigning and reconstructing 8 miles of road, replacing portions of the sewer system, permanent water line replacement, and repairs to multiple historic structures. Water entered the annex wing of Scotty’s Castle and two other historic structures again during a storm on April 27, highlighting the need for repairs. Park officials hope to have Scotty’s Castle fully repaired and reopened by 2019.
AMARGOSA VALLEY, NV – The National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Nye County Sheriff’s Office are investigating damage to government property and unauthorized entry of Devils Hole last weekend. One endangered Devils Hole pupfish was found dead. The National Park Service is offering a reward for information leading to arrest and conviction of the men.
At around 7:20pm on Saturday, April 30, three men in an OHV drove off-road around a gate at the Devils Hole parking lot. They discharged a firearm at least 10 times, shooting locks on two gates, a motion sensor on the security system, and several signs. One man swam in Devils Hole and left his boxer shorts behind in the water. Alcohol was involved; three beer cans were left behind and one man vomited.
Park employees found an endangered Devils Hole pupfish dead on Monday. A necropsy is being performed on the pupfish to determine if the men’s actions might have caused the death of this critically endangered species.
Although the men attempted to dismantle the security system by shooting a motion sensor and removing cables from two cameras, parts of the system continued to function during their entire time at Devils Hole. Video cameras recorded the men climbing over the fence and driving away in the direction of Crystal.
Investigators are seeking information about the incident. The OHV appeared to be a blue Yahama Rhino which had been extensively customized with an added seat and safety cage. A reward of up to $5,000 is available for information leading to arrest and conviction in this case. Tips can be reported to the National Park Service’s Investigative Services Branch at:
Devils Hole–a detached unit of Death Valley National Park–is the only natural habitat of the critically endangered Devils Hole pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis). The National Park Service works in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Nevada Department of Wildlife to protect the endangered Devils Hole pupfish and its habitat. There were only 115 observable pupfish in Devils Hole counted during April’s spring survey.
DEATH VALLEY, CA – There are unusually dense displays of wildflowers in several areas of Death Valley National Park. Triggered by a series of storms in October, the current flower display is the best the park has experienced in a decade.
Death Valley is the hottest place on Earth and the driest place in North America, averaging about two inches of rain per year. These extreme conditions make it difficult for most plants to survive. Most of the time, the lower elevations in the park appear stark: a landscape of salt flats, sand dunes and rocky mountains vegetated by a few hardy shrubs and small trees.
Rain in cooler months triggers wildflower seeds to sprout, some of which may lay dormant for years until just the right conditions occur. Wildflowers bloom each spring in Death Valley, but the density of flowers, extent of the area covered by flowers, and variety of plants varies a lot based on rainfall and temperature.
A series of unusual storms in October dropped locally heavy rainfall in several areas of the park. The most rain fell in places without official rain gauges, but the National Weather Service estimated that over 3 inches of rain fell in just 5 hours in one area of the park. This autumn soaking was followed by enough winter rain to cause a large-scale wildflower bloom.
October’s storms also caused flash floods which damaged park roads and the historic district at Scotty’s Castle. Most roads have been repaired and re-opened, including most recently the very scenic Twenty Mule Team Road. Major roads that remain closed are: Scotty’s Castle Road (8 miles in Grapevine Canyon), Badwater Road (from Ashford Mill to Shoshone over Jubilee Pass) and Lower Wildrose Road. Repairs to utilities and historic structures at Scotty’s Castle could take a few years.
The current bloom in Death Valley exceeds anything park staff has seen since the 2005. Some people are calling it a “super bloom,” which is not an official term. Park Ranger Alan Van Valkenburg has lived in Death Valley for 25 years and said, “I’m not really sure where the term “super bloom” originated, but when I first came to work here in the early 1990s I kept hearing the old timers talk about super blooms as a near mythical thing–the ultimate possibility of what a desert wildflower bloom could be. I saw several impressive displays of wildflowers over the years and always wondered how anything could beat them, until I saw my first super bloom in 1998. Then I understood. I never imagined that so much life could exist here in such staggering abundance and intense beauty.”
The previous super blooms of 1998 and 2005 occurred in El Nino years. El Nino can affect Death Valley by shifting the track of winter and spring storms into the area, increasing rainfall during flower season.
Matching previous patterns, this year’s wildflower bloom started in elevations below 1,000 feet in the southern end of the park. Typically, the peak of the bloom will move northward and upwards in elevation over the course of the spring. The bloom in lower elevations is likely to continue at least through mid-March, with flowers at higher elevations possible later in the spring.
One area that is currently particularly spectacular is about 10 miles south of Badwater on Badwater Road, where Desert Gold is growing so thickly it appears as if the alluvial fan were painted yellow. Nice displays of white and purple flowers are visible along the Beatty Cutoff Road. Park Ranger Alan Van Valkenburg described the bloom, “The hills and alluvial fans that normally have just rocks and gravel are transformed by huge swaths of yellow, white, pink, and purple. At first glance you are blown away by the sheer numbers of flowers, then on closer inspection the diversity of species will draw you in.”
While broad areas of color can be viewed from the road, another way to appreciate the flowers is to walk among them. Some flowers are commonly called “belly flowers” because it is easiest to appreciate their beauty by getting down to ground level. With over twenty species of flower in bloom currently, everyone can find their favorites. Many park employees identify the beautiful Desert Five-Spot as their favorite, an elusive flower that consists of five pink-purple petals in a cup-shape, with a large red spot on each petal. Another engaging flower is the Gravel Ghost, which has leaves that blend in flat against the gravel and has a white flower that appears to float about a foot or two above the ground on a very thin stalk.
Superintendent Mike Reynolds said, “Right now is the best time to visit Death Valley in over a decade! The flower display is astounding and this is a rare time to experience one of the most incredible displays Death Valley has to offer. We don’t know how long the bloom will last so come now!”
Park roads, campgrounds and hotels are all busy currently with the increase in visitation triggered by the wildflowers, so visitors should plan accordingly. All flowers should be enjoyed in place, as picking wildflowers or removing them from the park is illegal and reduces other visitors’ enjoyment.