After spending the winter in a snow-blanketed mountain town, trapped in by icy roadways, we finally broke free from the winter gloom. We ran towards the desert like there was no other escape from the clinching cold and snow, bounded away from the white encrusted ground, in search of yellower pastures in the desert bloom.
Death Valley National Park was our final destination, where we were to watch the dry Earth give birth.
In October 2015, a flood hit Death Valley after a three-year drought in California. The land, usually a basin for only two to three inches of rainfall a year, received three inches of rain in merely five hours. This rare El Nino weather pattern created the perfect condition for over 20 species of wildflowers to grow in enormous numbers, a phenomenon known as the Super Bloom. The last time this occurrence appeared in the valley was in 2005.
After a 10-hour car ride, we arrived at the Amargosa Opera House for our first night in the desert. Murals of old characters lined the walls of the dilapidating inn. Its owner, a 93-year-old retired Broadway dancer, keeps the Opera House alive. She’s one of the few brave enough to search for her destiny in the driest, hottest place on the continent, just like the wild flowers, growing through the rough.
In the morning, the cold that had wrapped our bones for months unraveled and melted onto the desert floor, luring us further into the park. Waving goodbye to the last bits of civilization, we drove onward in hopes that we could find ourselves amongst the flowers.
The blossoms we were in search of live short, fleeting lives of ephemeral beauty, blooming only a few days before returning to sow their seeds back into the dusty carpet of Death Valley. Oh, what lies latent beneath the Earth’s crust! If a carpet of flowers can emerge from the Valley of Death what else can grow from an incubation of rock and sand?
The park rangers tip us off to head towards Badwater Basin, saving us from the Disney-land like maze of tourist traps. The basin is the lowest elevation in North America, and most lush point of the Superbloom, or so we had been told.
In a thick sea of flowers, cameras and tourists, we tried to find sanctuary in the efflorescence, soaking in a sight, removed, yet surrounded by the all-encompassing landscapes. Just like the others who had embarked on the pilgrimage to the bloom, we filled ourselves with smells, colors, and photographs, enough to remember that it happened once our memories fade. Our flower and sun appetite satiated, we piled back into the car, sure that we had seen the bloom we drifted quietly along the road, ready to find a place to rest our heads.
The desert heat woke us, stoking us with a relentless hunger to seize the day. We cruised through the park on a strange journey through tourism and establishment into deserted nothing. Large expanses of land, full of human traces, yet seemingly untouched, unfolded in front of us for miles. Neon-clad strangers walked by without smiles in the isolating vastness. The harshness of the desert’s dry heat wore away at the tendons of our road trip relations, coaxing our fears out of their subconscious caverns to rip at the seams of our experience.
With thoughts of a desert escape, we rolled through the park, ignoring the sign that clearly stated the road was closed. Desert Golden’s yellow bloom surrounded us. A painted mars-like landscape breathed life into a colorful mirage of endless yellow, blanketing a desert carpet. Coasting out of the tourist-entrapped park, we were surprised as we realized we had only skimmed the surface of the bloom at Badwater.
The flowers tantalized us, floating in the gentle evening wind, beckoning us to run in their beauty. The sun tucked behind the rocky mountainside and at that moment the true bloom appeared, flowers upon flowers abounding in front of us upon hundreds of acres of yellow buds.
Rushing out of the car, astonished laughter reverberated our bodies and tired souls into an ecstatic and sudden awakened sensation. Our feet were colored with yellow pollen and the intoxicating smell released into the twilight. We run through the thick scent of honey, the golden-evening primroses lavish me with the laughter of their essence.
The fleeting momentary spark of something that just slipped from your grasp moves through the desert winds like the scents of flowers under our noses. We hold onto this moment forever, yet it crumbles through our fingers at its indescribable nature.
Orion begins to shed his dusky skin above us, shining in the glory of the night sky. The yellow faces fade into the desert ground, the scent the only reminder of what lies beneath the dark. We had what we came for, bottled up in our cells of remembrance, gone again on midnight’s coat tails.