Note: If you are planning to make a trip to Death Valley this winter or spring, you may be interested in our popular ebook on the park, Desert Paradise: The Landscape Photographer's Guide to Death Valley National Park.
The last so-called wildflower "Super Bloom" to occur in Death Valley National Park happened in 2005. The next one may very well be this year and is already in progress in parts of the park.
On October 18, 2015, Death Valley suffered a historic flood event. By early January, the first wildflowers started to bloom in the southern part of the park, much earlier and more profusely than typical years. More rain has helped build momentum by keeping the plants healthy and growing. On January 6, 0.2 inches of rain fell and on January 31, another storm brought 0.32 inches of rain, as measured at Furnace Creek. These three rain events, along with the current profusion of wildflowers, make it likely that this wildflower year in Death Valley could be the best since 2005. All photos in this post were taken this year (January and February 2016).
Current Wildflower and Road Conditions
When should you photograph the wildflowers in Death Valley? While the best showing may be weeks (or a month) away for parts of the park, some of the early bloomers may fade by then. If you are going to be in Death Valley soon, now is an excellent time to seek out and photograph the flowers since dense patches are blooming in some parts of the park. If hot weather and drying winds remain at bay, any time in the next 6-8 weeks could be good depending on elevation, with lower elevation flowers blooming earlier.
As of this posting, the best flowers in the park are in the Ashford Mill area and at the foot of the Black Mountains along the southern part of Badwater Road (about one hour south of Furnace Creek), and along the southern part of West Side Road (high clearance recommended by the NPS for West Side Road). Desert Gold and Sand Verbana are out in full force right now, and other flowers are starting to show up as well. Note that Jubilee Pass, between the town of Shoshone and Badwater Road, is closed and likely will be for the duration of the wildflower season due to last year's flooding. Thus, the easiest way to get to the Ashford Mill area is via Badwater Road from Furnace Creek.
From our recent travels around the park, the section of Badwater Road near the Natural Bridge turnoff also has some potential for photographing wildflowers and should be getting better with time. Flowers are also starting to bloom in the alluvial fans around the Furnace Creek and Salt Creek areas. If you are looking for macro photo opportunities, many smaller plants are growing in the washes around Texas Spring campground and along the Beatty Cutoff Road. As time passes,higher elevation areas should present good opportunities as well.
In addition to checking the resources we note below, the best way to find flowers is to scout by driving around the park and by using your feet once you see a promising area. Cross-country exploration is permitted in Death Valley National Park so you can explore beyond the few established trails in the park. Just be sure that you are very careful not to damage the flowers and other plants if you decide to explore beyond the roads. Like the NPS website says, "It's getting pretty dense out there. Be mindful of where you step. Don't crush five flowers to take the perfect picture of just one!"
A Few Other Notes About Current Conditions:
Twenty Mule Team Road is closed to traffic due to flooding (not great for flowers, but great for badlands). Even with this closure, the washed out road can still be easily hiked. As of early this week, Badwater Basin has a little water pooled in some small areas from the January 31 storm. An easy way to check for water: drive up the road to the Natural Bridge trailhead and use binoculars to locate possible areas, and then hike out on foot from Badwater Road (bring your crappy boots as walking in the salt water will destroy leather). It is likely that the water in Badwater Basin will fully evaporate within a few days to a week. Even without water, some interesting patterns are reforming after the October flood (it will take scouting time to find the best areas, so plan on spending some time to explore on foot).
For the latest and most up to date conditions, we recommend the following resources:
- Death Valley National Park Facebook Page
- Death Valley Road Conditions Facebook Page
- Death Valley NPS Wildflower Updates 2016
- DesertUSA Death Valley Wildflower Updates
And, if you are planning a trip to the park this winter or spring, you might be interested in our ebook, Desert Paradise: The Landscape Photographer's Guide to Death Valley National Park, for more detailed information on our favorite locations in this wonderful park.