Due to historic flooding last October 2015 in the Valley, yellow ‘California Gold’ wildflowers have covered the desert floor. “Superbloom”, at the peak of the season two weeks ago meant the park was “pretty full” according to the rangers. My chosen campgrounds were already ridiculously full but this particular National Park differs from the usual NP management policies in allowing overnight parking along any road. Who needs a campsite when I have our “tent” on wheels?
Walking out among the yellow flowers allows siting of a few others (I saw White Belly Flowers) but the palette was uniform, the diversity to an amateur seemed limited, and it was crawling with people and quite hot down on the desert floor. My smartest move was to explore the edges and approaches to the Park, with no wildflower displays. Quiet, serene, and isolated.
Trono Pinnacles in Searles Lake’s Saline Basin was my best find. Southeast of Ridgecrest, CA, a Pleistocene era lake dried up leaving behind the largest salt deposit in the world…30 feet deep in places! At one time this was part of one extended lake running from Mono Lake in the north just outside Yosemite through Death Valley down to Searles Lake. The tufa spires, formed under water 10,000 to 100,000 years ago from the release of calcium carbonate, rise up to 140 feet and number in the 500s. A stunning and wonderful site and as it sits on BLM land (a federal agency, The Bureau of Land Management) and allows free camping among the spires. As it is a five mile entry on a funky mud road, only five rigs overnighted in the 3800 acre area. At 1800 feet, it was warm in the day and cold at night. I can’t wait to bring Steven on the next desert trip here!
I also hiked and overnighted on the Rim at Dante’s Point at 5,000+ ft, overlooking the lowest place in Death Valley, 278 feet below sea level. Down in the Valley it was hot and crowded but I had the sunset to myself… .along with the icy wind off the Sierra Nevada Range.
Also close by is the Red Rock State Park in Nevada. Great hiking was available in blonde and red bouldered washes with jackrabbits and lizards out sunning themselves. The traffic, while doing some errands in Las Vegas, was a stressful intrusion on my serene desert attitude. I would have been happier watching a gazillion Banded Woolybear Caterpillar Moths hatch from these white silky constructions decorating thousands of plants in the desert.