I got a text late Wednesday night from my college friend, Hannah. She read the news about a once-in-a decade flower bloom in Death Valley and wanted to go. She asked if I wanted to go with her over the weekend and I said okay.
We settled on an overnight trip leaving Friday night and returning Saturday night. Normally, I would drive my car in this situation, but Hannah had a strong emotional attachment to her 1993 Volvo station wagon and insisted we take it because it was more “road-trippy” and she wanted to take pictures of it in the flowers to hopefully make it onto a popular Volvo Instagram account. The catch was that the Volvo had almost 230,000 miles on it and, from experience, having a car malfunction in Death Valley is no bueno as the nearest auto repair shop is over 50 miles and a mountain range over from any point in the park. Hannah agreed to take the Volvo to a repair shop on Friday to make sure it was good.
At 6pm on Friday, we met up at Hannah’s apartment in Silver Lake. The Volvo had just gotten $1,200 worth of repairs and the mechanic assured Hannah that the car would make it to Death Valley and back in one piece. After loading up the car, we set off.
Using the semi-broken stereo system, we started blasting a mix of 90’s music and upbeat indie pop. It took almost 2 hours through traffic to get out of LA County via the 14 Freeway through Lancaster and Palmdale. As we braked, I could feel the car shaking slightly. The brake rotors definitely needed replacing, but there was nothing we could do now (well there actually was, but we didn’t want to go back and fight the traffic). Eventually the traffic got so bad, we decided to have a sing-along duet to Total Eclipse of the Heart (Hannah knows every lyric). After entering the Antelope Valley, the traffic let up and we stopped just over the Kern County line in Rosamond for dinner.
Continuing on through the darkness, we left civilization and cell service just past the town of Mojave. From here, it was 2 lane roads. The only town we saw for the next 3 hours was the borax mining community of Trona. The saline soil there apparently kills all grass, so there is no greenery in the town. Eventually we both got too tired to drive, so we found a dirt patch on the side of the road and set up the tent around 11pm.
We awoke with the sun around 5:45 to a beautiful sight! We had managed to reach the Panamint Valley, just to the west of Death Valley. With no people or towns, we could see all the way to the end of the valley about 65 miles to the north. The sunrise was majestic and made the Volvo look good. The road up the valley was in relatively good condition except for a 3-mile dirt stretch. A sign said “Under Construction”, but someone accurately graffitied “NOT” directly above it. Due to the recent rains, the road was washboarded and the Volvo shook violently due to its lack of working shock absorbers. After careful driving and a little off-roading for better conditions, we hit pavement once more.
To reach Death Valley, we then had to cross the Panamint Mountains. In a normal car, this would not be a problem, but we were driving the Volvo. It maxed out around 55 mph on the 7% grade. We were nervous about working the engine too much, so we actively tried to go slow, but not too slow because we had a day ahead of us and there were cars behind us on the road. 14 miles and 3,000 ft of uphill later, we reached the Towne Pass. From there, it was 5,000 ft down into Stovepipe Wells at the western edge of Death Valley. We made it!
It was around 8am, 87 degrees and we had the whole day to explore, so we took a quick hike through the beautiful Mosaic Canyon. From there we reached the bottom of the valley and caught our first glimpse of the super bloom. They were yellow- Desert Gold to be exact and there were thousands of them. While the flowers clearly extended for miles, they were not incredibly dense, like I was expecting. We pressed on.
Hannah had heard that the Beatty Cutoff Road had some cool flowers, so we moved over to the east side of the valley and climbed towards Nevada. Here the flowers were mostly purple with some yellow and white flowers sprinkled in. For some reason they were concentrated by the roadside. After reaching Hell’s Gate, we stopped for some cool pictures, although the flowers were not “super” in my mind.
By the time we got back down onto the valley floor, it was nearly noon and we were hungry. However, we saw one more awesome flower field and had to stop to frolic. There, we met a German man who said that the best flowers were on Badwater Road. We then stopped for lunch at Furnace Creek, the largest settlement in Death Valley and home to the park’s Visitor Center. Then we headed south towards Badwater.
After stopping briefly at Badwater Basin, a salt flat that happens to be the lowest point on the North American continent. Just beyond that, we found it, the most amazing flower field of all. The yellow flowers were so thick it looked like a giant yellow carpet. Hannah and I both agreed that it was one of the most amazing sights we have ever seen.
After that, there was really nothing else that could top that and we were running out of sunlight so we headed back to LA. Once again we had to cross the Panamint Mountains and the dirt section, but the Volvo handled it well. 26-hours after we left, we arrived back in Silver Lake tired, but inspired by a once in a decade sight.