You wouldn't think that the extreme environment of Death Valley - where rain seldom falls, the valley floor is below sea level, and summer temperatures can reach 120 degrees - would be the place to go to see spectacularly colorful displays of wildflowers. But every so often, when conditions are right, it happens. And this year, with an unusually powerful El Niño altering weather patterns, it is one of those times.
For the first time in 11 years, the national park is experiencing what wildflower enthusiasts call a "super bloom," in which millions of colorful flowers dramatically change the look of the desert floor.
A Springtime Trek Through Death Valley
In a press release, the National Park Service explained that a series of storms last October brought unusually heavy rainfall to several areas of the park. In one spot, three inches fell in just five hours, which is more than the two inches that the park typically gets in an entire year. That soaking was followed by more rains over the winter months.
El Niño years, in which there is an unusually warm mass of water in the Pacific, typically cause such shifts in precipitation patterns in Death Valley. The two previous super blooms–in 1998 and 2005–both occurred in years when there was an El Niño.
In early January, the park's wildflower update blog noted that patches of Desert Gold (Geraea canescens) and numerous other flowers were beginning to appear. By mid-month, though, it was obvious that a super bloom was in the works. " The southern end of the park is going crazy with wildflowers," the blog noted.
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Typically, super blooms start in the south, at elevations below 1,000 feet, and then move northward and upwards in elevation in 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, according to the park service.
See a really cool video showing the suddenly vibrant landscape: