Sunday, April 17, 2005

Death Valley flowers

With all of the rain we’ve had this winter (wow, four inches in the first three months of the year, when we usually only have three and a half all year long) – ignore the sarcasm, you can tell I’ve only lived here a short while. Anyway, with all the rain everyone has been talking about the beautiful wild flower display around the valley. Supposed to be the best in over seventy-five years. And Death Valley supposedly had the best around.

So I wanted to go see what the excitement was all about, and since we moved here I’ve wanted to see what the place looked like. So last Sunday off we went – it’s about an hour south of us, down in the foreign land called California. Driving through Parumph – the land of the legal brothels, we turned left and down to the park entrance. It’s a National Park, as are most big places in the U.S.

The main road through the valley is closed. Because of all the rains the hills came rolling down covering the smaller valley with tons of rock. So we get to take the one other road, which runs through the valley from north to south. Death Valley is about two hundred miles long. We entered from the north and drove down about to the mid point before turning around. Coming through the marked park entrance we found assorted scrub brush with flowers scattered around.

This looked promising.
From the North there is a sequence of turns and passes as you descend from around 3,000 ft altitude above sea level down to the valley floor, around 100 ft below sea level. This is all in about a ten mile drive. Turning a corner the first view produced no wild flowers.

Could you see being on horseback, or pulling a wagon, taking however long to travel the two hundred miles through this, at 120F in the summer? Freezing in the winter - about three nice months a year, spring and fall.
But driving a little more the slope up to the mountain edge started to turn yellow.

These were lots of low yellow flowers, about a foot high. Interspersed with a few little purple plants. The same yellow stuff we saw on entering, but just on open flat ground.

Not very many per square foot, but pretty up close.
This was about the end of the flowers. I guess if you live in the desert this is really green and impressive. I was hoping for fields of color, like the mustard and sunflower fields in France, but you take what you can get.
This road went down the west side of the valley, close to the mountainside. You can see across to the mountains to the east, with a flat plain in between. A few thousand years ago this was a shallow lake, but now all that is left is the salt deposits leached from the mountains by water flowing in but not flowing out – when it’s a hundred feet below sea level, there is not much of a downhill to flow down. So it sits and evaporates, leaving behind salts.

These were evident driving a little further. And then just before the stop of Badwater it looked like snow on the ground.

No, not snow, it’s 75F, but yes that is snow on the mountains behind. Probably up around 13,000 feet higher. It’s salts – this is near where they pulled borax from the ground and shipped it off – yes with twenty mule teams and tall wagons. Some of which are still around the station in the center of the valley.
Down a ways more and there is a small walking canyon that leads somewhere –

I think this was the place they filmed R2D2 being captured in the first Star Wars movie – they did filming for the first two around here. (Episodes four and five, since Lucas started in the middle.) There were some nice color changes in the rock layers - from brown to bright yellow to pink and then black.
Didn’t find out where this trail went, as we pooped out and turned around after about a mile of hiking. Lots of the side roads and trails were closed because of the rock and mud washed down in the rains.
Driving back it looked like we were going into the cliff itself.

But not much more excitement here.
Back home we had our own yellow flowers blooming in the yard – the big yellow bushes are about done, and the purple sage hasn’t come in yet, but some of the small stuff we scattered around is really pretty.

We’re not trying for that open desert look, but putting in a low water wildflower and shrub yard anyway. The olives are just coming into bloom – nothing spectacular except all of the pollen from little tiny flowers.
I’ll shoot the sage when it blooms – we put twenty bushes across the front, so it should look marvelous soon. Just green now.

Stripes in the sky

Busy at work - not many different things happening, it is all starting to seem the same, day after day. But no reason to stay away, sorry.
Somebody was discussing the passing of planes, and the patterns they make in the sky. Here in Vegas we are under some major east-west paths, from LA to most of the east coast. I remember flying into LA from New York, and if the pilot was talkative and discussing where we were flying there usually was a mention of the Grand Canyon off to the South. So I guess in the past I used to be parts of these stripes too.