Super Bloom at Death Valley National Park

Death Valley Superbloom by Melly Lee (mellylee.com)

It happened! After many, many months of dry, abysmal drought –it rained in California. Yes, water fell from the sky and replenished our dehydrated, seared land with sweet, sweet rainwater. Clearly as a native Californian I’m very excited about finally getting rain. As it turns out so are all the native plants in the area.

Death Valley Superbloom by Melly Lee (mellylee.com)

Four hours northeast of Los Angeles lies Death Valley National Park. Its claim to fame is being the hottest and driest of all national parks in United States and at 282 ft (86m) below sea level it also earns the title of being the second-lowest point in the Western Hemisphere.

Once every rare moment when conditions are perfect the park becomes carpeted in a sheet of vibrant yellow wildflowers. This year is a perfect year. We’ve received enough rainwater to cause all the dormant wildflower seeds to sprout. Since the last “Super Bloom” of wildflowers in Death Valley occurred 11 years ago in 2005 I hightailed it up the 395 highway to photograph the rare Super Bloom.

 

Quick Facts

Entrance Fee: $20
Road Conditions: A mix of paved and dirt roads. Some areas required a 4WD vehicle with high clearance
Elevation: 283 ft (86m) below sea level
Misc:

  • Dog Friendly
  • Porta potties are provided at most of the trailheads
  • There is absolutely no cell phone service within the park
  • Gas prices are also ridiculously high within the park, try to fill up before entering

Death Valley Super Bloom by Melly Lee (mellylee.com)

What to Bring

  1. Sun Protection – Hat, Sunglasses, Sunblock …umbrella! During the day Death Valley is extremely hot and dry.
  2. Water –  2-3L per person, you don’t want to dehydrate.
  3. Navigation Devices – If you plan to explore off trail into backcountry like me bring a GPS, printed map, and compass. There’s absolutely no cell phone service within the park.
  4. Wet Wipes  After frolicking in the flowers, you will be covered in pollen and dust.

Where to Find the Super Bloom

The keys to seeing the endless golden carpet is knowing where to go. When I first drove into the park the roadsides were decorated with flowers. They were lovely, but they weren’t the densely packed fields that I was looking to photograph.

Death Valley Super Bloom by Melly Lee (mellylee.com)

To capture that epic, scenic photograph I needed to find a large, densely packed field of flowers and be at a far enough vantage point for the camera to compress the individual flowers into one big, yellow flower rug. As of March 2016, the sweet spot for a packed field of flowers that’s accessible to most vehicles lies 25-27 miles south of Badwater Basin.

DeathValleySuperBloom

You can stayed updated with Super Bloom conditions on Death Valley’s National Park Service website: nps.gov/maps/full.html?mapId=0a6c34dd-a246-4d08-b35f-d8115ec8e3d2

Death Valley Super Bloom by Melly Lee (mellylee.com)

Desert's Gold (Geraea Canescens)
Desert’s Gold (Geraea Canescens)

Death Valley Super Bloom by Melly Lee (mellylee.com)

Death Valley Superbloom by Melly Lee (mellylee.com)

Death Valley Superbloom by Melly Lee (mellylee.com)

Death Valley Super Bloom by Melly Lee (mellylee.com)

Death Valley Superbloom by Melly Lee (mellylee.com)
My friend Avery Ota trotting through the Super Bloom for scale.

Photographer Notes

Death Valley Super Bloom by Melly Lee (mellylee.com)

Death Valley’s Super Bloom is a photographer’s ecstasy! I’ve photographed wildflowers before, but that can’t match the surrounding environment of the world’s driest place. Looking to the west you can compose photos of the wildflowers adjacent to the High Sierras. Spin around to the south and you can capture flowers dancing along the side of the salt flats. Over to the east you’ll see fields flowing along multi-hued volcanic hills. For a photographer there’s really a lot you can play with in composition.

Primarily I shot mostly on a Sony A7s II paired with Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar T* Lens and Sony 90mm f/2.9 Macro FE  and my Canon G7X . I brought a few other lens as well, however I found the 50mm and 90mm to be the most practical. From a distance both of these lens worked to get the compression effect I was looking for –the flowers appears to be squished and packed together. Whereas with wider lens such as the Sony 28mm f/2 FE the space between each individual flower appeared more exaggerated and therefore made the fields look more sparse and empty.

Equipment

Camera:

Sony A7s II
Canon G7X

Lens: 
Sony 28mm f/2 FE
Sony 35mm f/1.4 FE
Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 (Sony/Canon/Nikon)
Sony 90mm f/2.9 Macro FE
Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar T* Lens

Accessories:
Peak Design Slide Strap
MeFoto Carbon Fiber Tripod

Death Valley Superbloom by Melly Lee (mellylee.com)
Melly Napping in a Flower Field by Sherrie Li

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