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Death Valley Bursts to Life With Rare “Super Bloom”

A rare spectacle covers Death Valley in wildflowers

Desert Gold wildflowers carpet Death Valley during the 2016 "super bloom." (National Park Service)
smithsonian.com

With a name like Death Valley, it’s easy to imagine the National Park as a barren, desolate wasteland. But thanks to some unusually heavy rain storms last fall, the park that sidles along the border between California and Nevada is bursting with the most wildflowers it's hosted in a decade—a rare event known as a “super bloom.”

A super bloom isn’t an official term, but it’s an apt one. Parts of Death Valley National Park are blanketed in millions of wildflowers, with species like the yellow Desert Gold and the pink or purple Desert Five-Spot carpeting the southern parts of the park, where the elevation is lowest, Kayla S. Samoy reports for The Arizona Republic.

Under normal circumstances, Death Valley is a hard place for anything to live. The valley is one of the hottest places on the surface of the Earth and only gets a rough average of two inches of rain annually, Tatiana Schlossberg writes for The New York Times. On top of that, the grounds of Death Valley are not the best for blooms, composed of rocky earth, salt flats, and sand dunes. The desert region does get a smattering of wildflowers during normal years, but a series of heavy rainstorms in October triggered the recent burst of blooming flowers—the first super bloom since 2005.

"There are so many seeds out there just waiting to sprout, just waiting to grow," park ranger Alan Van Valkenburn says in a video. "When you get the perfect conditions, the perfect storm, so to speak, those seeds could all sprout at once."

The park's "old timers" talk about super blooms "as a near mythical thing—the ultimate possibility of what a desert wildflower bloom could be,” Van Valkenburg says in a statement. “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 views are spectacular, but they are fleeting. While it’s possible that the bloom will continue to burst with color over the next few weeks, Wines says it all depends on weather. The wildflowers will start wilting once temperatures hit about 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and the blooms lower in the valley might only last until mid-March or April, barring any heat waves, Samoy writes. As the weather gets hotter in the park, the blooms will likely move north, into higher elevations and cooler temperatures where the super bloom could last as late as mid-May.

"These areas that are normally just rock, just soil, just barren, not even shrubs," he says. "So Death Valley really does go from being a valley of death to being a valley of life."

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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