Spring 2016.    ~mike gradziel.
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Almond Orchard along Hwy 152:
Wildflowers in the hills around Caliente, California beside Hwy 58:
Red Rock Canyon on Hwy 14 at the edge of the Mojave Desert:
Owens Valley: another play break for little Norman.
Death Valley is alive!
Lunch stop along the Randsburg Road southeast of Trona, and a few more flower photos from our passage back along Hwy 58:
Marlon the Navigator: 2.5 months old!
Wildflowers so interest me, I have driven more than a thousand miles over the years to look at them. It started eleven years ago when it rained a lot in the California desert and I, an easterner who had mostly taken rain and green springtimes for granted, discovered how dramatic and fleeting the bloom can be in places that lie hot, dry, and brown most of the time. Since then I have gone out to seek the biggest blooms where the normally dull landscape is splashed with color like spilled paint. These events somehow resonate with me, as they reveal how extravagantly life can flourish when given just the right conditions, or how much it is limited when not nurtured. I like to think of that in a broad sense, applied to all situations. Many years pass between big blooms, and they are very localized when they happen. 2005 was amazing but I didn't realize how special it was and I missed seeing a lot of it. In 2008 the scenes in Joshua Tree and Lake Elsinore surpassed the creations of my imagination. Now finally in 2016 I have seen the best that Death Valley shows, which when taken with a familiarity of the usual conditions there, is just stunning.

This end-of-February 2016 journey to the desert took me through scenes reminiscent of 2008, this time in the hills above Bakersfield where green grass glowed and flowers carpeted the hills. The orchards of the Central Valley were in bloom too, which is not quite as dramatic since it happens every year by the care of farmers and their irrigation systems. Still there is something magical about standing in an orchard that is at peak bloom for just a few days.

Most of the California desert is dry and dead this year. The area along the Randsburg Road and the hills above Trona were bright green but mostly without flowers. We saw two desert tortoises there. Norman was really excited about seeing the "land turtle". As with all animals, he wanted me to get it and bring it to him. Naturally, we watched from a distance. Actually I did transfer the first tortoise from the double yellow line in the middle of the road to a dry creek bed a hundred feet away in its direction of travel, where it contentedly resumed its journey.

In Death Valley itself, the bloom was in the southern 25 miles or so. The park is huge and most of it does not look especially alive, but where conditions were right the flowers stand knee deep. Choosing a low camera position to look through the sea of blossoms gives an impression of a continuous carpet, but these blooms are spaced such that one can walk among them without crushing any. I like seeing the concentrations of color trace out braided water channels. Roadsides are especially bright owing to the extra water that ran off the adjacent pavement, so one can imagine how with enough water the entire landscape could grow as dense as my close-framed photos suggest. The dormant potential of this life is staggering. Even as it is, I wonder if there are enough bees and other insects to visit all the flowers.

We did other things too: we found bizarre rock specimens, climbed sand dunes, admired the stars, and walked the flat salt at the low point of North America. It was intensely sunny but not that hot. I could go back and poke around among the rocks and learn more about the history of the area sometime, maybe in the cold of winter some years from now. We will bring my truck to get farther off road, will camp someplace totally dark, and will bring a telescope.


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