Death Valley Road Trip

Exploring wild flowers in the desert.


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 Wild Flowers Bloom in Death Valley after Copious Winter Rains.
Sony Alpha 7R Mark II,
1/500 sec, ISO 100, 35mm at f/8.
All photos copyright, Bill Caid 2015. All rights reserved.

The Trip

One of our expedition camper acquaintances told us of the so-called "super bloom" of wild flowers in Death Valley.  They felt time was of the essence, so they headed out to Death Valley the next day.  We had other obligations, but when our calendar freed up the following week, we headed out as well.  Our calendar was atypically crowded, so we opted for travel in our M5 BMW and hotels rather than Thor (our expedition camper) so we could travel at full highway speed.  We had seen wild flower blooms in the desert before, both the Sonoran Desert (Southern Arizona) and the Lower Colorado Desert (Borrego Springs, CA)  so we had some expectations about what we would see.  The Death Valley region is very harsh as deserts go and rainfall is at a premium.  Yearly average rainfalls are around 1", but the previous winter brought over 4 inches so a large bloom was expected.  Local news stations and even the BBC reported the wild flower "super bloom", so there were plenty of folks en-route to see the flowers.

Wild flowers in the desert are truly a "dated commodity".  The blooms happen within a short window and individual flowers exist only for a few days then wither in the intense sun and desiccating desert air.  So with these factors in mind, we looked for places to stay within easy travel distance of Death Valley and discovered that there were "none".  Excluding the Furnace Creek Inn and camping, the "closest" towns with accommodations are Pahrump, NV and Ridgecrest, CA.  Neither were very close in an absolute sense.  Since we had a mog buddy in Pahrump, it was the obvious choice.  But, as we would discover, others were aware of these constraints as well.

The situation was further confused by road closures and highway construction and were it not for the information we received from our friend in Pahrump, we would have wasted at least a half a day re-routing our path.

Travel Route

Modern "smart phones" have GPS capabilities and now allow easy capture of travel routes (and locations of the individual photos taken!!).  For this trip, we use the "Trails" application on the iPhone to track our route (mostly as practice for an upcoming road trip).  The majority of our route (excepting the most obvious freeway route to Pahrump, NV) is show in the Open Streets map below.


For this trip, I used my Sony Alpha 7R Mark II camera with Zeiss 50mm f/2 and Voightlander 35mm f/1.1 manual focus lenses.  I brought other hardware, but almost every photo came from this rig.  The camera does a good job, but using the manual focus does requires some thought during shooting.

Connecting and Contacting Us While on the Trip

Because of internet connectivity issues on a previous trip, we purchased a MiFi cell phone modem that allows us to connect nearly anywhere there is 3G service via cell phone (which is most of the cell phone service area available today).  But, as we all know, cell phones are useful many places, but not everywhere has coverage, particularly in the remote areas of the western U.S.  Our phones and the modem are enabled daily so you may contact us, although it may take a few days for us to respond.  But, we will respond.  My email, spelled out, is "bcaid at yahoo dot com".

Trip Details

The link table below contains links to the photos and dialog for each of the days of the expedition.  This table will be updated as the trip progresses.

Links to Daily Adventures
Part Dates Adventure Locations
San Diego, CA to Bonnie Springs, NV
Red Rocks Park and Death Valley
Ivanpah Solar Plant and Return to San Diego, CA


Conclusions and Advice to Travelers

It is always good to be aware of what others are planning to do.  I fully underestimated the public's response to the "super bloom".  That said, had it not been for full hotels, we would have never stopped at Bonnie Springs, NV.  Every bad has some good I guess.  Had we been motivated enough to get advanced reservations, we would have missed the Bonnie Springs!

The Mojave Desert is a very big place and frequently not that hospitable to travelers.  The weather can go from very hot to very cold and back in one day.  As a consequence, the range of temperatures can be extreme.  Plan accordingly and understand the expected temperatures, particularly in the summer when heat can be life-threatening.  Water is in very short supply and unless you are staying at locations that are known to have water, you will need to be self-sufficient.  High winds and dust are common in this area and attempting to tent camp in high winds can be an exercise in futility.  Sunburn is pretty much assured if you are wearing brief attire so sunblock should be used liberally and reapplied as needed for sun protection.

Many, if not most, of the areas in the Mojave do not have cell phone coverage so in the event of a mechanical breakdown, you might have to wait for the next passing car to get assistance.  Planning on the kindness of strangers is never a good plan.


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Copyright Bill Caid 2016