This Spring we decided to go to Death Valley and see desert flowers. The Grapevine Mountains were hit by several localized storms this winter. We even witnessed one when we were there in November 2012.
We entered the valley via Titus Canyon. The one-way dirt road through the canyon starts at Hwy. 374 in the Nevada desert and ends on the other side of the canyon in the Death valley. The road is approximately 27-28 miles long and is suitable only for high clearance 4-wheel-drive vehicles, but the jeep we rented in Las Vegas airport worked just fine. That is I believe the most beautiful way to enter Death Valley, it has with gorgeous narrows, twisted rock formations, indian petroglyphs, an interesting geology, and a lot flowers in Spring (but one needs to know where to look for them). Near the beginning of Titus Canyon lies the ghost town of Leadfield which experienced a short mining boom in 1925-1926. One can also see the closed mine on the left side of the road right before entering the ghost town.
The first flowers we saw entering the canyon were desert sunflowers (Geraea canescens). The desert sunflower has a yellow sunflower-like flower, each flower on a slender, hairy stem. It grows 30-90 cm high. The leaves are gray-green and dusty.
The flowers attract bees and birds. Seeds are eaten by birds and rodents.
Although the stream orchid is not a rare flower, we were surprised to find them in Death Valley. Actually we were not. We were looking for small stone pyramids which friends of ours, who visited Titus Canyon a couple of years ago, built to mark the places in Titus Canyon where they found stream orchids. And we did find both – the pyramids and the orchids.
More photos of stream orchids are here
We pictured this perennial evergreen bush of Mormon tea (Ephedra viridis) on banks of a small stream in Titus Canyon, in the same place where we found stream orchids. I hope we identified this plant right. If we don’t please let me know. It looks like Ephedra for me. It can be distinguished from other plants because it has numerous stems pointing upwards instead of leaves. Ephedra make a big potion of the ration for many wildlife species (and we can tell this, Ephedra bushes in Titus canyon were full of invisible life), but is not eaten by livestock.
More pictures of Mormon tea can be found here