As I started reading on-line about the 2016 wildflower bloom in Death Valley National Park, I rather impulsively decided to make a trip to the park to see it first-hand; it would be my first time. There were hopeful predictions of a so-called super-bloom, the most recent of which occurred in 2005, when the wildflower display is especially spectacular. The wildflower update page had reported high temperatures and the need for more rain; then the next week a good 0.3-inch soaker occurred, and I quickly made my plans.
I spent 4 days in Death Valley National Park, with another day’s drive each direction to get there and back from the San Francisco Bay Area. My days were full, and the trip was exceptional. This post is a prelude: the 450-mile drive from home to Panamint Springs.
Due to the seasonal snow in the Sierras the shortest route was down I-5 and CA-99 to Bakersfield, then east on CA-58 through the Tehachapi Mountains. From there I continued north on CA-14 and US-395 to Olancha, and east on CA-190 into the park. Driving through the Tehachapi Mountains brought back fond memories from some 20 years ago, when I used to participate in an annual 14-hour overnight car rallye between Santa Barbara and Las Vegas. So many road names were familiar, though during the rallyes I had driven them in the dark.
North of Mojave CA-14 passes through Red Rock Canyon State Park, with kind of a preview of beautiful geological formations that I would see in Death Valley. This picture doesn’t do full justice to the red hues.
CA-14 passes along the western edge of the Mojave Desert, which begins at the eastern edge of the Sierras and continues across Nevada and into Utah. This section of the Mojave is often referred to as the high desert, since most of it (except for Death Valley itself) is above 2000 feet elevation. The Mojave Desert is almost synonymous with Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia).
From Olancha CA-190 goes northeast along the shoreline of Owens Lake, now a mostly dry lake following the famous diversion of the Owens River via the Los Angeles Aqueduct to Los Angeles. The associated California Water Wars inspired the film Chinatown. From CA-190 there was a nice view northwest across the lake and into the Sierras. If you look closely you can see a band of water with reflections of the mountains.
CA-190 meets up with CA-136 at the eastern tip of Owens Lake and then continues, past the Malpais Mesa and Darwin Falls Wildernesses, into Death Valley National Park.
From Owens Lake CA-190 climbs from about 3600 feet to 5000 feet elevation just outside the park boundary before a long descent to Panamint Springs at 2000 feet elevation. Along the way there are beautiful views across the Panamint Valley from Father Crowley Point and from other pull-outs along the road. This picture shows the Panamint Range across Panamint Valley about ½ hour before sunset. I think the highest peak at the right of the skyline is Telescope Peak, which is 11,000 feet elevation at the peak.
About 14 miles inside the park boundary I arrived at Panamint Springs Resort, at about 2000 feet elevation, where I would spend the night. As I parked in front of my room I noted that my neighbors had just witnessed the sunset across Panamint Valley. I was glad to have completed my 450-mile drive in daylight. Just outside my room there was a tall, lone palm tree that served as the view from my room.
Even though there is what appears to be a communication tower in the picture, I had effectively entered an “incommunicado zone” where I would spend the next four days. First up: making more specific plans for wildflower viewing the next day. I could hardly wait!