Will Recent Storms in Death Valley National Park Fuel A Spring Bloom?

Recent storms have left their mark on Death Valley National Park, as this photo by Jimmie Affholder shows. But will the rains lead to a bloom similar to that of 2005, when Jubilee Pass was awash in wildflowers? NPS photo by Alan Van Valkenburg.

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.

Comments

Kurt, your Death Valley article is very timely, given that the park just celebrated its 76th birthday this past Wednesday (February 11). Speaking of timely, it looks like my January 19-21 visit to DEVA was just in the nick of time, since roads have been closed now in many of the areas we visited. It rained the last day we were there, and that really caught me by surprise (Death Valley being the driest place in North America). A ranger I queried about the rain told me that the January 21 rainfall in the Furnace Creek vicinity was "about the fourth" in the park since October 6. I took him at his word and haven't checked the official records.

Howdy Kurt:
If the good rains continue to come, I surmise we just might catch the belly flowers in bloom as well. Get your best camera out for a spectacular spring showing.

This Valentine's day Iam sitting in the LA Basin watching a series of storms come through. I was wondering if there is a possibilty that a portion of Lake Manly might reform? Be a great chance to get an, "I kayaked Death Valley", shoulder patch if it did.

Jim, I'm told that Lake Manly, at least a portion of it, did reappear following the Feb. 7 rainstorm.

Here's the latest wildflower forecast from Death Valley:

Wildflower Update for Death Valley National Park
February 8, 2009

A strong storm has brought one to two inches of rain and significant flooding throughout the park the last few days. This has greatly increased our prospects for spring wildflowers in Death Valley. Much of the park received an early rainfall in October and a parkwide rain, nearly one half inch, just before Thanksgiving. This early rain, followed by warm temperatures allowed a widespread sprouting of annual wildflowers seeds. Some of these such as Desert Gold, Brown-eyed Evening Primrose and Sand Verbena have already been observed blooming along park roadsides in the southern and northern ends of the park.

In Death Valley, the driest spot in North America, spring wildflowers are not a yearly event. It’s a rare treat for conditions to be just right. The bloom this spring may still be spotty, nothing like the huge blooms in 1998 and 2005, but still worth a viewing. The heavy rains were received late in the season, so the peak blooming period along the valley floor and up to 2,000 feet may be anywhere from mid-March to early April.

Charlie Callagan
Ranger Naturalist

Even if this year's showing doesn't compare to 2005, I look forward to checking it out. Death Valley is an amazing place to visit -- springtime there is my favorite. Living in the desert has really made me appreciate wildflowers. I've got my eye on the wildflower reports! Thanks for sharing!