Rain and snow have pelted Death Valley National Park somewhat frequently this winter, which raises the question of whether there will be a tremendous spring bloom in the park?
As the accompanying photo of the Furnace Creek area from February 7 shows, water hasn't exactly been hard to come by in the park. In fact, the storm led to closure of Artists Palette Road due to flood damage, while Charcoal Kilns Road was closed due to snow and flooding. Hunter Mountain Road also was closed due to snow and ice. The Keane Wonder Road was closed due to mine-safety hazards, while the Mosaic Canyon area was closed due to flood damage.
There was no access to the Racetrack Road, and the Racetrack itself was flooded (which means the rocks could be on the move!). In the Saline Valley, North Pass was closed due to deep snow and ice, while the South Pass was closed by Inyo County due to deep snow and ice.
It went on and on: Salt Creek was closed due to mud and the Scotty’s Castle Road was closed from Highway 190 to the Ubehebe Crater. Titus Canyon Road also was closed due to snow and flooding, as were the 20-Mule Team Road and the Ubehebe Crater Road.
Now, Spring 2005 gained venerated status among flower lovers for its incredible wildflower blooms. Those blooms -- dubbed the "bloom of the century" -- were triggered by heavy fall and winter rains that dumped almost 6.5 inches of moisture on Death Valley.
So where do things stand now? Well, the park has a ways to go to measure up to 2005's winter precipitation totals. As of February 11 the park had received 1.24 inches of rain for all of 2009, and since July 1, 2008, the total stood at 2.08 inches, so less than a third of the 2005 precipitation has been received in Death Valley so far this winter.
Beginning this month, the Furnace Creek Inn & Ranch Resort posts a regularly updated “Wildflower Watch” in the upper right-hand corner of its web site. The best wildflower shows occur during years when rainfall significantly exceeds the park’s annual average and when there has been sufficient warmth from the sun as well as a lack of drying winds.
Early blooming species include Desert Star, Desert Gold, Poppies, Verbena and Evening Primrose. By early April, the Panamint Mountains and other higher elevation sites begin a showy bloom of Paintbrush, Lupine, Joshua Tree and Panamint Daisies. By late April, the highest elevations of the Panamint Mountains sprout Mojave Wildrose, Rabbitbrush, Mariposa Lilies and Lupine.
That said, unless storms start to rank Death Valley, it looks like this year's bloom will fall in the decent, not spectacular, category.