For the last two months or so I’ve been following the progress of the impending wildflower bloom in Death Valley National Park, waiting for the moment everything would jump into bloom. Well, that moment has arrived! My first destination was to a spot where a friend and I discovered the tiny beginnings – cotyledons – of what later turned into carpets of flowering Sand Verbena. I monitored the flowers twice since first discovering them, watching their progress. Over the first three weeks they had gone from just tiny sprouts to identifiable plants with 4-6 large leaves. Another two weeks later and they had more than doubled in size and were sporting their first flowers. Then this weekend, another two weeks past, everything came together with nearly peak blooming plants. It’s amazing how fast all that goes!

As I drove out from Pasadena I could hardly see through the haze created by a cold and damp approaching storm – I was afraid that the sky would close up and the sun would never make it’s way through. But, I told myself I was headed to the desert – and the sun almost always makes it through there. I spent several hours exploring the vast expanse of sand and blooms, smelling their sweet scents, and relaxing in the sand, waiting for the sun to show its face. An hour or so before the sun would disappear from view the winds picked up, blowing sand into my eyes as well as order into the haze. A diverse collection of lenticular clouds emerged and the sun finally broke through, illuminating the landscape in a gorgeous warm light. Meanwhile the poor little blooms were flailing about in the wind, mostly pointing in the opposite direction of what I want to photograph!

"Sandy Blooms" ~ Death Valley National Park, CA
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 16-35mm mkII, tripod
Exposure: iso 200, f/18, 1/50th sec
View the larger version - click the image

As sunset progressed some of the lenticular clouds picked up a brilliant fiery orange, making for a truly delightful visual treat.

"Storm Flowers" ~ Death Valley National Park, CA
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 16-35mm mkII, tripod
Exposure 1: iso 200, f/16, 1/5th sec
Exposure 2: iso 1600, f/16, 1/10th sec
Notes: Simple two exposure blend. Due to the blowing winds (which also formed the lenticular cloud) I needed a high iso to do my best to freeze the flowers in place.

The following morning I headed to another spot that showed promise in wildflower reports, near Ashford Mill south of Badwater. There I found fields of blooming Desert Gold (Geraea canescens), a spectacular sight to see! In one section I found large patches of healthy Sand Verbena flowering in the small sandy gullies mixing in the with the brilliant yellows of the Desert Gold. I found the diagonals and varying topography gave this composition much more depth than most of the flat land flower scenes out there in Death Valley, so I set up to await dawn. The winds picked up again, but rather than use an exposure I had managed to get while it was still calm, I found that including some of the motion blur added another interesting contrast to the rest of the static desert landscape adding even more depth. Hopefully it helps convey the feeling of being there – the smell of all those flowers was just overpowering!

"Spring Desert Dance" ~ Death Valley National Park, CA
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 16-35mm mkII, tripod, Singh-Ray Vari-ND
Exposure: iso 100, f/16, 8 sec
View the larger version - click the image.

These kinds of wildflower displays don’t happen every year, in fact, the last one to be on this level was in 2005, which was quite possibly the most spectacular Death Valley bloom in recorded history.. sadly I missed it. The flowers require a significant amount of well timed rainfall, which usually happens in El Niño storm cycles every 3-8 years or so when the rains that normally pelt the Northwest come south to Southern California instead. So, if you want to see the desert in bloom anytime soon, you’d better hurry to see it this year!

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6 Comments to “Desert Blooms”

  1. Tree says:

    Wonderful composition.
    How did you manage to keep focus in face of blowing winds?

  2. Kerry says:

    A really interesting post with great shots. I never think of desert in terms of carpets of flowers, more of barren waste lands of sand. You have certainly opened my eyes to its magic qualities. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Hi Floris: “Twice times”? 🙂

    Especially love “Spring Desert Dance”!

  4. Thanks folks!

    Tree – When it’s windy and I want to keep the flowers in focus I’ll go up to a higher iso and blend that image over a low iso image where necessary to eliminate motion blur.

    MG – Thanks 🙂

  5. Another fantastic series Floris! The sand verbenas are truly beautiful against the sand and even more so with an impressive fiery sky with a lenticular wave towering over them.

  6. Thanks for sharing Floris. I really appreciate it!