Death Valley Superbloom

Death Valley Desert Gold Sunflowers (Geraea canescens; Hairy Desert Sunflower)

Hairy Desert Sunflowers (Geraea canescens),

referred tocolloquially as "Desert Gold,"

Death Valley National Park

January 2016

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Fleeting Beauty

Sometimes, if the weather is just right the desert blooms. This year with a record-breaking (rain making) El Niño winter helping just enough rain to fall on one of the hottest and driest places on Earth, the desert is indeed blooming in spots. But it won't last long.

Death Valley is officially the hottest place on Earth. It holds the world record for hottest air temperature, 134° F (57° C). The valley is the driest place in the United States. It gets that distinction by having the lowest average annual rainfall of any place in the country—less than two inches per year. Some years, there is no rain here at all. Death Valley's Badwater Basin, in the heart of the valley, is 282 feet below sea level. It's the lowest point in North America. Only a few dry places on Earth are lower than Badwater.

Check out Desert USA for reports on today's

Wildflower Report in Death Valley

My Maserati Goes How Fast?

Maserati Ghibli

Getting to Death Valley

To get to Death Valley from Las Vegas, you need a rental car and a map. GPS is very unreliable in Death Valley. So we called up Avis and this is what they gave us. I kind of don't think they meant for us to drive it into Death Valley, but . . . whatever. . .you only live once.

From Last Vegas to Death Valley (Furnace Creek Area) is about a 2 hour drive.

If you rent a Maserati you can make it much, much faster. The Maserati Ghibli is an extraordinary sports sedan featuring a 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V6, that delivers stunning performance. . . and 345 horsepower.

Maserati Ghibli Hood Ornament

We started out by taking the I-215 Freeway west to Nevada 160 (via Blue Diamond, Mountain Springs, and Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area). The Canyon was designated as Nevada's first National Conservation Area. It is about 17 miles west of the Las Vegas Strip. Red Rock Canyon contains unique geologic features, plants and animals which represent some of the best examples of the Mojave Desert.

15 Freeway LA to Las Vegas

On the way out of Vegas you'll see a lot of road art which I found most pleasing. These kind of installations would be well placed back in our native Florida.

Freeway Art Las Vegas

Freeway Art = OPTIPLEX

The freeway art was installed in 2011 and is a great addition to the desert landscape.

The company that makes these pieces, P and S Metals and Supply Company, refers to the art as an "Optiplex." Whatever you call it, I like it.

Las Vegas Freeway Art Sculptures
Freeway Art Las Vegas Ram Sculptures
Freeway Art Las Vegas Sunset

Desert Cairns

On Nevada 160 we eventually hit Pahrump, Nevada near the California State Line and near Death Valley. By this point we were pretty well just driving, not paying much attention to the maps or GPS. The first chance we had we stopped and built a little pile of rocks (or a "cairn"). In many parts of the world human-made piles or stacks of stones are used as trail markers. Throughout the Southwest United States and other parts of North America that haven't yet been bulldozed cairns still mark indigenous peoples' game-driving "lanes" leading to buffalo jumps, some of which may date to 12,000 years ago.

My little cairn, below, has no such significance but made a nice photo.

Desert Cairns (piles of rocks) and their meaning

I hate to say it, but I didn't see much enjoyable in Pahrump. Even after photoshopping it still looked pretty ragged. I'll probably get hate mail about that. We stopped in Pahrump to see if I could figure out from a map how lost we were. Not too bad, but still in Nevada. Death Valley is mostly in California.

Pahrump Nevada

I did see this pile of tumbleweeds in Pahrump (below). That was kind of fun. Tumbleweed are a mustard plant that become detached when weather is dry and windy. . . then they blow around and. . . well, tumble. This was likely Sisymbrium loeselii (Small Tumbleweed Mustard).

Tumbleweed (Sisymbrium loeselii; Small Tumblewweed Mustard)

Where are we?

California 190 Road Signs

Finally a sign pointing to Death Valley.

Road Sign to Death Valley National Park

. . . and then this? What?

Somehow we ended up off the main road out of Pahrump and took Bell Vista Road, or State Line Road into California's Inyo County which wasn't too far off from Death Vally Junction and brought us to Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.

Confusing California Road Signs near Death Valley National Park
Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Desolation in the Desert

Ash Meadows is the discharge point for a groundwater system extending over a hundred miles to the northeast. Thirty seeps and springs bring to the surface "fossil" water which entered the groundwater system thousands of years ago. Ash Meadows is home to 26 species of endemic plants and animals, including three endangered fish species (two of them pupfish) and seven threatened plants.

As you can see in these images the area around Ash Meadows is bleak, dry, dusty and desolate.

Devils Hole Death Valley National Park

Devils Holea detached unit of Death Valley National Park—is habitat for the only naturally occurring population of the endangered Devils Hole Pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis). The 40 acre unit is a part of the Ash Meadows complex, an area of desert uplands and spring fed oases designated a national wildlife refuge in 1984.

There isn't much to be seen here as the hole is fenced off due to its sensitive nature, but if you let your mind wander you can imagine how many settlers and indigenous people were saved from death by thirst by stumbling upon the seep (water hole) over millennia.

I couldn't tell you how we got here, but you can follow directions on the internet or with an old fashioned map.

Devils Hole Foot Path Death Valley National Park, Where's the Hole?

Devils Hole in Death Valley should not be confused with the New Jersey Devil's Hole (a blowhole) which is also very interesting, but something different entirely (below).

New Jersey Devil's Hole

New Jersey Devil's Hole Blowhole

Death Valley National Park

Phillip playing dead at entrance to Death Valley National Park

. . . and finally on a lonely road we found this sign (above) and realized we were in Death Valley National Park and those were the Funeral Mountains. So I played dead in the road for a photo, sort of. There was no traffic, no one around, dead silence.

Driving into Death Valley National Park we found that we were at the intersection of State Line Road, California 127 and California 190. How we got there? Who cares.

About 10 miles into the park driving through the Funeral Mountains along the Furnace Creek Wash we came upon Zabriskie Point, the famous late 19th century 20-mule-team borax mines.

Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park, 20 Mule Team Canyon


Part of the Amargosa Range in the eastern part of Death Valley, noted for its erosional landscape, Zabriskie Point offers an overlook after quite an uphill hike to this view.

Zabriski Point Trail leading to overlook, Death Valley National Park

The long walk up to Zabriskie Point Overlook

parking area is in the distance (click on the image for a larger view)

The otherworldly badlands are deathly silent and still. Yet this arid scene is the result of often violent action of water and earthquakes. Three to five million years ago—before the deepest part of Death Valley had formed—shimering lakes filled a long, mountain-rimmed valley here. Fine silt and volcanic ash washed into the lake, settling to the bottom, ultimately creating the thick deposit of clay, sandstone and siltstone that make up the Furnace Creek Formation. These once-level layers are being tilted by seismic activity and pressure that is folding the ancient valley's floor. As the layers uplifted and were exposed, periodic rainstorms caused powerful fullywashers that erode the soft rocks into the chaotic yet strangely beautiful landscape seen today.

Exposed, eroded Furnace Creek Formation, Death Valley National Park, rich in Colemanite and Ulexite (aka Borax)

Within ancient lakebed deposits of the Furnace Creek Formation, are rich layers of Colemanite (CaB3O4(OH)3·H2O) and Ulexite (NaCaB5O6(OH)6·5H2O) (hydrated sodium calcium borate hydroxide)—minerals often referred to as borax.

Although borax was first discovered in a recrystallized form on the salt flats of Death Valley, the original mineral deposits pictured here proved more profitable to mine. Starting in 1882, numerous mining claims were established near Ryan, Twenty Mule Team Canyon, and in Gower Gulch below Zabriskie Point.

20 Mule Team in front of Furnace Creek Inn, Death Valley National Park

While mining claims still exist in this area, mining in its more modern form has left huge open-pit and strip mines further to the east near Ryan. Public outcry over this high-impact activity led to passage of a law in 1976 which closed the park to prospecting and gave the National Park Service more control over mining activity.

Hikers in the Funeral Mountains, Death Valley National Park

The area between the mountains was Furnace Creek Lake, which dried up 5 million years ago.

Click on the image above to see how vast this area is. I've inserted an arrow pointing to a group of trekkers making their way through the foothills. They appear as tiny dots from this vantage point.

Spectacular Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park

This location was named after Christian Zabriskie, general manager of the Pacific Coast Borax Company in the early 20th century. The company's twenty-mule teams were used to transport borax from its mining operations in Death Valley.

Death Valley '49ers

Death Valley 49ers Memorial with the Inn at Furnace Creek in background

The Inn at Furnace Creek in the background. Foreground is a memorial to the Death Valley '49ers, a group of pioneers from the Eastern USA that endured a long and difficult journey during the late 1840s California Gold Rush across Death Valley.

Furnace Creek Visitor Center Thermometer, Death Valley National Park

On a January afternoon it was a cool 63° (17° C) when we found the Furnace Creek Visitor Center late in the afternoon.

Furnace Creek Visitor Center, Death Valley National Park

This spot is 190 feet below sea level and I imagine it is quite hot 9 months out of the year.

View Across Death Valley

Death Valley is immense, occupying an interface zone between the arid Great Basin and Mojave deserts. The park encompasses 5,270 square miles (13,540 square kilometers).

At this point we realized it was going to take more time to see it all. . . and it will take another blog post to show the rest of my photos from the following day's trek across the

northern end of Death Valley National Park.

Death Valley National Park Map

Meanwhile back in Florida, it finally started raining. . . we received almost 4.00" (101 mm) from the January 26-28 rain event making January 2016 one of the wettest on record. It will take a lot more rain to bring back our lakes, however.

Florida Rainfall Event January 26-28, 2016

Beginning late on January 26, 2016 and continuing into the late evening of January 28, 2016, a cool front stalled across the Florida peninsula with periods of heavy rain and a few thunderstroms. The heavist rain fell over portions of southwest Florida where up to 6 inches occurred. Further north, portions of Levy County were the opposite, receiving less than one-tenth of an inch. The I-4 corridor of Central Florida received a much-needed 4.00".N Most of west Volusia County, Florida ended January with between 7 and 8 inches of rain (177-233 mm) likely making January 2016 one of the wettest starts to a year on record.

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Ronaldo and Alassandra Ambrosia GQ Body Issue Cover

The really standout story in the latest eye-catching GQ

wasn't about Rolando or Alessandra Ambrosio, but

about the latest fad for men:

The Silicon Penis Implant is Here

An enterprising LA surgeon has invented a silicone penis implant, which, costs 13 grand and nearly doubles size. No wonder Ronaldo and Alessandra are so happy.

Conor McGregor, Human Weapon
How UFC Champion Conor McGregor Became a Human Weapon, GQ, February 2016

How UFC Champion Conor McGregor Became a Human Weapon

Newly crowned 145-pound UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor is obsessed with the way his body moves, the way it attacks and defends, the way it inflicts and absorbs harm.

Pairing Wine and Girl Scout Cookies:  A Guide

How to Pair Wine With Your Favorite Girl Scout Cookies

How about Thin Mints and Brunello, or Caramel deLites with Rioja?

Trees, Phillip's Natural World

Trees Have Social Networks Too

Scientific research and observations in highly anthropomorphic terms, with the news — long known to biologists — that trees in the forest are social beings. They can count, learn and remember; nurse sick neighbors; warn each other of danger by sending electrical signals across a fungal network known as the “Wood Wide Web”; and, for reasons unknown, keep the ancient stumps of long-felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through their roots.