Fields of gorgeous wildflowers are bursting to life throughout the typically barren landscape of Death Valley — in what experts think may be the early stages of a rare "superbloom."
The rocky and brown environment of Death Valley National Park, in California and Nevada, only gives way to great expanses of vibrant yellow, purple and white flowers under perfect conditions. When this happens, it’s truly a sight to behold.
“Although you can find a few scattered flowers in Death Valley almost every spring, during a superbloom there are thick meadows of flowers that stretch for miles across the desert,” park ranger Alan Van Valkenburg said to Yahoo News.
“At its best, the flowers cover just about every surface of ground that isn't solid rock or salt flats. The most amazing wildflower displays are in the valley bottom where practically no other vegetation exists.”
Upon moving to the area in the early 1990s, Valkenburg kept hearing old-timers talking about the sea of gold during superblooms as near-mythical events — the apex of what a desert bloom could be. He had seen several impressive wildflower displays and wondered if anything could beat those — and then he saw his first superbloom in 1998.
“I never imagined that so much life could exist here in such staggering abundance and intense beauty,” Valkenburg said.
Death Valley is a famously inhospitable environment where anything alive struggles to survive. Rain is scarce, summer temperatures are extreme, and the bottom is usually barren except for a few resilient shrubs and lots of rocks. It is considered the driest place in the country and the hottest place in the world. The last superbloom occurred in 2005.
Thunderstorms last fall resulted in significant rainfall in different sections of the park. Flowers started to bloom in December, essentially transforming the valley floor into a gigantic wildflower garden. But, experts say, if the El Niño rainstorms arrive as expected, this will just be the beginning and the superbloom will continue into April.
“The flowers actually started blooming a lot earlier than they traditionally do,” park ranger Phil Officer said to Yahoo News. “March is traditionally when we see wildflowers, so we’ve seen them for about a month and a half longer than we normally have.”
Most of the flowers that live in Desert Valley are known as “ephemerals” because of their short lifespans. It’s this limited time that allows them to thrive here in the spring and remain as seeds in the harsher months.
According to the National Park Service, peak blooming periods vary based on elevation: mid-February to mid-April for alluvial fans and foothills; early April to early May for upper desert slopes and higher valleys; and early May to mid-July for mountain slopes.
David Blacker, executive director of the Death Valley Natural History Association, has lived in the area for more than a decade and is a self-professed desert-lover who appreciates the region’s unique color palette and textures.
“When you have a superbloom, what you see are those same steep mountains but then you see these sloping fields of yellow,” he told Yahoo News. “It’s such a different color contrast than what you would normally see. And it’s a whole different view when you get up close. The diversity of the flowers is just amazing.”
Valkenburg agrees: “At first glance you are blown away by the sheer number of flowers; then on closer inspection the diversity of species will draw you in.”