Super Bloom and Spirit Food

“There were no lies here. All fancies fled away. That’s what happened in all deserts. It was just you, and what you believed.”             Terry Pratchett

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It has been 11 years since the last super bloom in Death Valley. 11 years since conditions have been just right—soaking winter rains, warmth at the right time and winds holding off until flowers can grow tall and bloom.

This is THE year! A super bloom in Death Valley National Park. I was fortunate enough to catch the beginning of it in late February.

A last minute cheap flight to Las Vegas where I was picked up by my good friend, Teresa. As we drove, I stripped leggings and fleece, and turned my face to the sun shining in the car’s window.

Plans were made over wine and dinner. Mornings we sat outside to eat breakfast—it was chilly but the sun was welcome. As the day wore on, the air warmed pleasantly.

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Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area is located just outside of Las Vegas. The White Rock/Willow Springs LaMadre Springs Loop Trail was crowded — it was President’s Day Weekend. While generally I’d prefer less people on a trail, I was happy to see what could only be described as city dwellers hiking on the trails, enjoying themselves in nature. We all need to get out of town at least sometimes, to enjoy the ‘real’ world. I could only hope that anyone hiking in this gorgeous place would come to love the natural world, want to protect it, and vote to preserve it. These thoughts made for a slightly different kind of hike.

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Amargosa Canyon was the opposite of Red Rock Canyon: empty of other hikers. In the interests of my knee and Teresa’s hip preservation, we hiked less miles, but found a lovely place to sit and journal. We walked along the old Tonopah and Tidewater RR bed much of the way, thinking about others who had passed this way. The sedimentary conglomerate rock walls were particularly interesting, as we looked at sizes of embedded conglomerates and layers of sandstone… how fast was water traveling here? Did it slow down here? How many years passed between these layers? I love these kinds of questions, making hypotheses, wondering… Especially if I can find answers later.

Death Valley: we spent the next three days in Death Valley, in awe of the flowers. We stopped by the road often—it took longer to get to trails we planned to hike. The yellow Desert Gold (Geraea canescens) seemed to have the monopoly on the lower elevations. Though, a walk into the flower field found many other flowers enjoying their bloom: We identified over 19 species, and probably missed quite a few as well.

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Looking out, yellow covered the flats as far as my eye could see, yellow filled washes on mountain sides, disappearing into the mountain folds. Desert Gold flowers are pollinated by solitary bees. These bees do not live in hives. The female digs a hole in the sand, lays her eggs, and gathers nectar and pollen for the offspring. I was told that solitary bees don’t have the pollen sacs on their legs that honey bees have, so pollen is distributed more readily. I’ve tried to search for more information online, but without much luck, especially as relates to Death Valley. Seems that both Death Valley and Yellowstone could benefit from the interest of an entomologist who would be willing to write a book on the insect ecology of each park.

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Death Valley has some formal trails, but much of the area is only accessed by wandering up a likely looking wash toward a likely looking cut in the rock. Flowers often impeded our forward motion. The sight of A Desert Trumpet (Eriogonum inflatum) or Gravel Ghost (Atrichoseris platyphylla) is always cause to stop and exclaim. Something about these less showy but interesting flowers attracts me. A favorite of most people, the Desert Five Spot (Eremalche rotundifolia) is showy—large pink petals with bright red spots. I wonder if those red spots act as beacons for pollinators. I stop for these flowers, too.

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Wandering in the canyons of Death Valley is an antidote to listening to news. Reports of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation with destruction and vitriolic speeches, listening to political rantings—all have taken a toll on my spirit. I hike and ask myself ‘What are we doing as a species to ourselves, to our home?’.. I’ve no answer. The desert begins to heal my disappointment as it works my knee, strengthening my spirit and my quadriceps.

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I am glad that I live in a time when I can get out away from civilization, where I can listen to the wind, feel it blowing against my skin. A time when I can be alone among rocks and flowers in a place that is protected, at least for now. All I have is now—this place, Death Valley. These rocks. These flowers. This one life.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”           Mary Oliver

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