I’ve told you before about my love affair with desert and semi-arid landscapes. One of the things I love about water-challenged areas is that they demand that you pay attention. You won’t be slapped in the senses by fields of blowsy over-grown tulips. The desert rewards only those who are really ready to see and those who are willing to seek out. Of course, Georgia O’Keeffe said it much more eloquently when she explained her series of flower paintings and why she painted them so large:
Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time — like to have a friend takes time.
She said “flower”, but she really meant a desert flower. Anyone can see a big ol’ Hydrangea without even trying. But to see a desert flower requires more attention. Living in semi-arid Sonoma, I was somewhat more prepared for the Death Valley super bloom than perhaps others form non-Western areas. But I was still taken a bit by surprise at how the desert serves up a once-in-several-decades massive bloom of millions of flowers.
First of all, it didn’t take me long after entering the boundaries of the park to start seeing flowers. They were all along the roadside — even helpfully blooming near convenient pullouts. But I didn’t understand the magnitude of the bloom until I hit the Salt Creek area between Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek which the rangers told me was ground zero for the super bloom. At first, I just saw a golden haze. I checked my memory banks for the last time I’d driven through Death Valley and it seemed to me the predominant color was brown. It wasn’t until I drew closer that I realized that gold was millions of flowers. But like many desert flowers, these are small intense spots of color on tall hardy stalks. So the effect is that of a Pointillist painter, say Georges Seurat, had colored in large sections of Death Valley. What looks to be a golden haze, as you get closer, becomes dots, and when you get closer still are revealed to be millions of flowers.
At this point, I found it necessary to invoke another desert aficianado, Edward Abbey, who by the way is quoted liberally in the Death Valley Visitors’ Center displays.
In the first place you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll begin to see something, maybe. Probably not.
So I got out and walked, then crawled. And I began to see the flowers. Especially the smaller ones overshadowed by the Desert Gold.
However, Edward Abbey forgive me, it’s not enough to crawl through the desert. Sometimes you have to look up.
Which reminds me that I’ve been thinking a lot about the Joshua Trees. Given that the long extinct Shasta Giant Ground Sloth has been unable to spread the Joshua Tree seeds for thousands of years. I’m proud to announce that my Ranch Guys have found the one nursery that is authorized to sell Joshua Tree plantings. I have one in Sonoma. I’m committed to getting more. Let’s make like Giant Ground Sloths, People. If you think you have an environment conducive to Joshua Trees, grab a seedling and plant.
Let’s create a little super bloom of Joshua Trees.