Phacelia in Death Valley

Phacelia in Death Valley

By Kimberly Wilkes
Photos By Patrick Wilkes

There’s little in life more magical than seeing the desert in bloom. And this year in Death Valley was no exception, especially since the park experienced a Super Bloom. This is when a particularly wet fall and winter—caused by an El Nino weather pattern—results in a massive number of wildflowers bursting into bloom in the desert.

We recently traveled to Death Valley to capture the grand finale of the Super Bloom as it moves upward, from the valley floor to the 1,000 to 3,000 foot elevation.

Here are some of the wildflowers you’ll find in Death Valley and the best places to find them—both now and in years to come.

Patrick took all the photos in this blog post on March 29 and 30, 2016.

Bright Bursts of Color on Scotty’s Castle Road

Beavertail Cactus Next To Scotty's Castle Road

Beavertail Cactus Next To Scotty’s Castle Road

Beavertail cactus with their fuchsia blooms add splashes of color along the road a few miles from Mesquite Springs Campground. And watch for the purple notch-leaf phacelia, which also grows here near the pavement.

Just don’t touch the phacelia. It causes a rash when it comes in contact with your skin.

Phacelia alongside Scotty's Castle Road

Phacelia alongside Scotty’s Castle Road

Beavertail Cactus in Death Valley

Wildflowers, Death Valley

Mesquite Springs Campground is a good starting point to seek out the beavertail cactus. It bursts into bloom in the campground itself. Follow Death Valley Wash up from the campground and you’ll see even more of it blooming alongside the wash. We saw lots of this cactus blooming here in 2015 as well, even though it was a dry year. Late March seems to be this plant’s time to shine.

Brittlebush, Scotty's Castle Road, Death Valley

Brittlebush, Scotty’s Castle Road, Death Valley

Brittlebush Flower, Death Valley

Brittlebush Flower

Brittlebush with its daisy-like golden flower joined the other Death Valley wildflowers alongside Scotty’s Castle Road. Golden Evening Primrose, looking like little cups of sunshine, waved in the breeze. We also spotted the white blooms of rock nettle and pink desert five-spots.

Desert Five-Spot

Desert Five-Spot

Golden Evening Primrose in Death Valley

Golden Evening Primrose

Wildflowers Erupt On The Sides Of Ubehebe Crater

Little pink flowers adorn the sides of Ubehebe Crater

Little pink flowers adorn the sides of Ubehebe Crater

Miniature magenta flowers covered the sides of Ubehebe Crater when we were there in late March. Watch for them as you’re driving on the Ubehebe Crater Road, just before you reach the point where the road loops off toward the parking area. Hike around the craters and you’ll get a closer glimpse of them—not to mention some great photos.

Desert Dandelion, Death Valley

Desert Dandelion on Ubehebe Crater

A yellow desert dandelion also clung to the side of the crater not far from where the trail ascends uphill from the parking lot.

The Wildflowers Of Titus Canyon

Rock Nettle, Titus Canyon

Rock Nettle in Death Valley’s Titus Canyon

This is a great spot to view wildflowers. I’ve seen plenty of them here even in drought years. El Nino or no El Nino, if you’re searching for wildflowers in Death Valley, this is a good place to look. It’s protected from the wind that roars through the valley itself. And wildflowers don’t like wind.

This year, the purple phacelia brightened up the canyon. Rock Nettle also was going to town here in late March.

Rock Nettle, Titus Canyon

Rock Nettle Flowers, Titus Canyon

Titus Canyon also is home to some flowers that you’ll see in few other areas of the park. Mojave asters added their cheerful flower faces to the canyon bottom. Lesser Mojavea poked up here and there.

Mojave Aster, Death Valley

Mojave Aster, Titus Canyon

Lesser Mojavea, Death Valley

Lesser Mojavea, Death Valley

If you have a 4 X 4, high clearance vehicle, you can drive through the canyon from Beatty into Death Valley (the road is closed from Death Valley to Beatty). But you’ll see many more wildflowers if you hike instead.

Rock Nettle

Gravel Ghosts Will Delight You With Their Haunting Beauty

Gravel Ghost, Death Valley

Gravel Ghost

This was a banner year for the white flowers known as Gravel Ghosts. We saw them everywhere in late March. They popped up in the canyons, in the valley itself, and on Scotty’s Castle Road.

Gravel Ghost

Gravel Ghost

Strike It Rich With Desert Gold

Desert Gold

Desert Gold, Death Valley

Desert gold, a yellow daisy-like flower, is Death Valley’s most prolific wildflower, because at its peak it carpets the valley floor in fields of yellow stretching as far as the eye can see. Although the Death Valley Super Bloom was waning in the valley when we arrived, we still witnessed hundreds of desert gold wildflowers blooming along Highway 178 between Badwater and Ashford Mill. And they were still blooming on Highway 190, near the Beatty cut off.

In any year, whether there is drought or heavy rain, you’re likely to see some desert gold blooming in these locations. Depending on the year, from early February to mid-March, Ashford Mill is a dependable spot to see fields of desert gold. Verbena also blossoms here.

Other Great Places to Find Death Valley Wildflowers

As far as late-season wildflowers (late March to early April), Dante’s View Road, Daylight Pass, Towne Pass, and Highway 190 near Father Crowley Point are all good bets. The white blooms of prickly poppies dot the side of the road near Father Crowley Point. Creosote is showing off its yellow flowers throughout the lower and mid-elevations of the park.

Creosote in Bloom

Creosote in Bloom, Death Valley National Park

If you have a high clearance, 4 X 4, Greenwater Road will reward you with blankets of wildflowers.From Wildrose Campground to the Charcoal Kilns, scarlet desert paintbrush adds an element of interest to the sagebrush-studded land from late March to mid-April. One place to view the paintbrush is along the first mile or so of the road leading to the Hummingbird Springs hike. To learn more about this hike and directions on how to get there, read this article.

Would you like to know which campsites in Death Valley have the most privacy? Read our book Eastern Sierra And Death Valley Camping With Privacy: Your Guide To The Most Private Campsites Near Mammoth Lakes, Tuolumne Meadows, Death Valley, And Beyond.

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