Once in a great while, storms laden with sufficient moisture make it past the coastal ranges and Sierra Nevada to create the opportunity to see one of the more magical moments of the California Deserts: water and snow. The most memorable of such storms in the past 100+ years was the winter of 2004-2005, which dumped over 37 inches of rain in the LA basin. Adventurers from across the country flocked to what is typically one of the driest places in California, to do what? Go kayaking. Of course, why not?! Yes, the salt flats of Badwater, Death Valley, had flooded with an impressive 16 inches of salty water. What followed were some of the most spectacular desert wildflower blooms the desert parks have ever seen. This past week, Southern California received 600% more rain than it would in a typical week at this time of year – about 8 inches in Los Angeles, and up to 2 inches in the Death Valley area (http://water.weather.gov/). While this in no way compares to 2005, I wasn’t in California in 2005, so I jumped at the opportunity to see what a wet Death Valley might look like. I didn’t get to go kayaking, in fact, my feet hardly got wet, but it was still a special experience!

As of Friday morning, all roads in Death Valley except highway 190 were closed. I tried calling the ranger station several times, but kept getting a busy tone. Eventually I got through – the ranger was surprised to find out I was speaking to him from Pasadena. You see, they hadn’t had contact with the outside world (phone or internet) for the past 24 hours, until I got through. Well, I waited patiently until I finally found confirmation that Badwater road had opened (conditions). Within 20 minutes I was packed and on the way, and five hours later I arrived at Badwater, in the dark, only to find it dry. Hmm.. there must be water somewhere! I proceeded to scout the area by moon and flash light. Eventually I found some nice pools between the hexagonal salt formations. At least I’d be able to sleep that night, until 4:15am, when my alarm went off a full 2 hours and 45 minutes before sunrise. I hadn’t taken my GPS with me when scouting (to tag my spot), and I sure didn’t want to miss the sunrise while trying to find it back! Of course, it wasn’t that hard to relocate, so I had a full 2 hours to contemplate my existence under the stars twinkling above and below me. Reflected in those same zen pools (elevation: -282 feet) was the snowy crest of Telescope Peak, 2.14 vertical miles above me. It truly was a delightful place to be – and just the start of a wonderful day in the desert, more later.

“Flooded” ~ Badwater, Death Valley National Park, CA
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 16-35mm mkII, tripod
Exposure (primary): iso 200, f/16, 1/6th sec
Notes: Two exposure blend. I processed this with a cool white balance throughout most of the scene to enhance the refreshing experience of water in the desert.

Will these impressive rains bring an impressive display of wildflowers? It’s hard to tell, but with the lack of much rainfall earlier in the year it likely won’t be quite the paradise of 2005. Time will tell. Plants that bloom later in the year, such as cacti, will likely fair better. (http://www.yumasun.com/news/rain-55586-yuma-wildflowers.html, http://www.maturango.org/DeathV.html, thank you Michael Gordon and G Dan Mitchell for the links).

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5 Comments to “The Rains”

  1. Charles Frey says:

    Sometimes just a subtle amount of water is better than the flood of ’04-’05. I like the pools captured by the hexagonal formations and especially the reflection, as well. I agree with the choice for a cool tone, as it makes the warm tones on the snow-capped mountains pop even more.

  2. selina says:

    I visited after the 05 flood and bad waters was knee deep in water. These little pools of strange hex salt shape with the sun kissed mountains makes for a better photo op. This photo stand out and a great shot. Visiting a flooded bad waters area was fun and amazing, but if you didn’t have mountains in the shot, you could of been at a strange lake.

  3. Aleks says:

    I was wondering what the place looked like after all of this rain. Glad you were there to document it. And it’s really awesome that you had just enough water to make the place unique and familiar at the same time.

  4. […] in half an inch of water on the flooded Badwater salt flats is a magical way to start the day. Fortunately, in a place like Death Valley, it really […]

  5. Isabel says:

    “Flooded” looks really great, Floris!
    Good luck with wildflower shooting this year!
    Best wishes from Europe,