Devil's Cornfield, Death Valley National Park

"Nothing" sign near Death Valley National Park

The sign near the entrance to Death Valley should say "Nothing but Trash"

The plague of litter is not only spreading across Florida but across the entire United States. What does this mean about our respect for the natural environment? Nothing good.

And its not just an American problem

Environmental Implications of Plastic Debris in Marine Settings

Litter, A Social Ill With Big Implications

Litter: Its Impact on Local Communities

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Eerie sunset over the Devil's Cornfield in Death Valley National Park

Eerie sunset over the #DEVILSCORNFIELD.

Driving down into Death Valley National Park

On a recent afternoon Death Valley National Park was mostly deserted.

The weather wasn't too hot, but there was a threat of storms.

Devil's Cornfield, Death Valley National Park

I spent some time investigating the Devil's Cornfield. This area is in the northern part of the park on the slopes of Tucki Mountain (6732 feet, 2052 m). The Cornfield is bisected by California 190 which runs up the mountain through Emigrant Wash between Ubehe Peak (5678 feet, 1731 m) and Pinto Peak (7508 feet, 2288 m).

Devil's Cornfield, Death Valley National Park with the Panamint Mountains in the background

Devils Cornfield is a broad, open area near the Mesquite Sand Dunes were shrubs grow and collect wind-blown soils around their base. As soil accumulates, the shrub grows higher, resulting in shrubs growing on tall, narrow mounds resembling harvested sheaves of corn (note that this area was named back when corn was harvested by hand). Meanwhile the surrounding ancient lakebed is subsiding exposing the roots of the shrubs which makes them appear even taller.

Mesquite Sand Dunes behind Phillip, Devil's Cornfield, Death Valley National Park

The shrubs are Arrowweed (Pluchea sericea), a salt-tolerant desert species that grows where moisture is close to the surface. They also tend to grow upright with long, straight stems, a characteristic that facilitates the sheaves-of-corn shape. In the spring, the haystacks have blue tops due to the profusion of flowers. Pluchea is a camphorweed which is common across the continent, but these camphorweeds are special. They have evolved to perhaps the harshest climate on earth; salty, unGodly hot, and painfully dry. In the South a more common species (cousin) of Pluchea is Pluchea odorata (Saltmash Camphorweed).

Devil's Cornfield, Death Valley National Park

Other than standard warnings about hiking in the desert (water, everything in the desert bites, heat, etcetera), this area is about as safe as it gets, but be careful along the highway. The parking is narrow and the passing vehicles are moving fast along highway 190.

Arrowweed (Pluchea sericea), Devil's Cornfield, Death Valley National Park

Close up of Pluchea sericea in the Devil's Cornfield area of Death Valley National Park.

There had been just enough snow and ice to dampen the ground alongside California 190 resulting in fields of Desert Gold (Geraea canescens; Hairy Desert Sunflowers).

Desert Gold

Desert Gold Sunflowers (Geraea canescens) Death Valley National Park

There had been just enough snow and ice to dampen the ground alongside California 190 resulting in fields of Desert Gold (Geraea canescens; Hairy Desert Sunflowers).

Desert Gold Sunflowers, Death Valley National Park

While these Aster family annuals were very short (generally less than 1 foot tall; 30 cm) they were abundant.

Desert Gold Sunflowers, Death Valley National Park
Browneyes or Brown-eyed Primrose (Chylismia claviformis) Death Valley National Park

Also abundant, but much smaller (maybe 4-inches tall; 10 cm. at their largest) were these "Browneyes" or "Brown-eyed Primrose" (Chylismia claviformis)

Notch-leaved Phacelia (Phacelia crenulata) Death Valley National Park

The violet (center above) closely resembles the houseplant african violet (Sanitpaulia sp.) It is likely a tiny version of Nothch-leaved Phacelia (Phacelia crenulata). Its name of notch-leaved phacelia refers to the deep lobes along its elongated, dark green foliage. Leaves are found mostly around the base, from which rises a sturdy, branched (usually), reddish stem terminating in arched clusters of purple flowers, which tend to grow on one side only, facing upwards. Stems and buds have a relatively sparse covering of fine, glandular hairs. Also known colloquially as a "Wild Heliotrope" it is in the Waterleaf family so not even remotely related to the Gesneriad family African Violet despite their similar appearance.

Flowers are formed of five, partly fused lobes, five thin stamens about half an inch in length (twice as long as the lobes), yellow-brown anthers and one style. Flower color ranges from rich purple to pale lavender-blue, or even pure white. The plant exudes an unpleasant aroma and can produce a rash if touched. There are three varieties (minutiflora, ambigua, crenulata), differing in the style and stamen lengths, the color of the lobes, the level of glandularity, and the margins of the seeds. My photos would tend to confirm that classification though again, on a tiny scale. This plant was no bigger than a couple of my fingers.

Desert Gold Sunflowers, Death Valley National Park
Desert Gold Sunflowers, Death Valley National Park

Through most of Death Valley there is vast nothingness. Nothing but silence and dry landscape.

Deserted Death Valley National Park

Below, looking across the salt flats toward Poison Spring and at the Panamint Range.

Panamint Mountain Range, Death Valley National Park, as seen from the bottom of the valley in the midst of the great salt flat

Below, just what you don't want to see in the middle of the desert. A no A/C sign on westbound highway 190 as the road starts its climb over the Panamint Range near Pinto Peak.

Avoid Overheating Car Turn Off Air Conditioning Sign, Death Valley National Park

If you're really adventurous at the top of Emigrant Pass climb on up to the top of Tucki Mountain and see if you can find this U.S. Geological Survey Marker marked simply "DEATH."

Read the details of this marker at this link: GS0796

US Geological Survey Marker "Death" atop Tucki Mountain, Death Valley National Park

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Below Tucki Mountain you'll see the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Look closely in the center of this image to see the dunes.

Very little of Death Valley is covered with sand dunes. For dunes to exist there must be a source of sand, prevailing winds to move the sand, and a place for the sand to collect. The eroded canyons and washes of Death Valley provide plenty of sand, the wind seems to always blow (especially in the springtime), but there are only a few areas in the park where the sand is "trapped" by geographic features such as mountains.

Devil's Cornfield and Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park

These dunes are the best known and easiest to visit in the national park. Located in central Death Valley near Stovepipe Wells, access is from Hwy. 190 or from the unpaved Sand Dunes Road. Although the highest dune rises only about 100 feet, the dunes actually cover a vast area. This dune field includes three types of dunes: crescent, linear, and star shaped. Polygon-cracked clay of an ancient lakebed forms the floor. Mesquite trees have created large hummocks that provide stable habitats for wildlife.

It is a fairly long hike out to the dunes from the parking areas along California 190 so remember the standard warnings about hiking in the desert (water, everything bites, heat exhaustion, etcetera).

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park

Death Valley UFO

UFO Death Valley National Park

Deadly quiet, not even the sound of a bird, then this comes out of nowhere, super fast. I barely caught a glimpse of it and snapped about 20 images as it tore across the southwestern sky across Death Valley. What could it be? Who knows. The truth is surely out there somewhere.

UFO with labels, Death Valley National Park

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