After reading in the paper about 2005's outburst of wildflowers in Death Valley, we decided to go. We arrived March 26 via Rt. 374 from Beatty, NV. About halfway down the 4,000-foot hill going into the Valley, the flowers started--tall yellow, white, and purple, but no more impressive than what we had seen before in Capitol Reef and Zion NPs. We stopped alongside the road for a closer look, and at walking speed, many small, mostly white flowers were seen among the taller varieties.
Things changed once we reached the valley floor. Death Valley proper is a flat, almost vegetation-free rocky plain about 80 miles long. When the weather is right, as it was this year, the barren plain explodes into flowers. They live their brief life while the water lasts, and the wind spreads their seeds across the barren desert, where they lie and wait for decades, even centuries, before precious water brings a new generation to life.
We saw a field of yellow stretching as far and the eye could see. We drove north on the valley road about 20 miles before the elevation changed and the great flower field ended. Then we headed south, to the Shoshone exit, surrounded by the yellow flowers for 60 miles. As the road climbed out of the valley, the flowers changed to a mix of purple, white, yellow, and orange, the orange being some strange desert bush whose hair-like foliage had turned bright orange.
All in all, it was a remarkable sight and probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If you can, don't miss it, but time is running out. The last projection I saw from the park service estimated it will all be over by mid-April. Be sure to check Death Valley's website or call to be sure life goes on when you plan to visit--and be prepared to drive back to Pahrump or maybe Las Vegas to find an empty room.