Earth and Sky
The mere mention of Death Valley National Park stirs images of an inhospitable, wretched landscape of nothingness. Truth be told, there is an alluring and astounding variety of natural and cultural features at Death Valley. The curious visitor is confronted with vast sand dunes, a high mountain forest with incredible stone ruins and a night sky so deafeningly spectacular that the visitor is transported to another world.
Located about five hours northeast of Los Angeles and two hours west of Las Vegas, Death Valley National Park is over 90-precent wilderness; solitude can be found in these wide open spaces. But, the Park also offers great opportunities for camping and ranger-led interpretive activities abound, especially in the pleasurably mild winter months.
We timed our visit to coincide perfectly with two natural phenomena, one quite predictable and one left to the whims of nature.
Death Valley National Park is a certified International Dark Sky Park, a testament to the remarkably clear skies present in the Park. Participating in an evening program featuring amateur astronomers from the Las Vegas Astronomical Society, whose motto, The Greatest Stars of Las Vegas – can’t be seen on the Strip, was a memorable and highly rewarding activity. Featuring two-dozen enthusiastic astronomers and their precision instruments, the Dark Sky Party treated the visitor to a one-of-a-kind opportunity to see the far reaches of our galaxy.
The other natural phenomenon was far less predictable, the start of a spectacular wildflower season. While only just beginning the weekend we visited in early February, the pending brilliance, estimated to occur about once per decade, permeated the floor of the Park. In recent weeks, the media has been saturated with stories of this years “Super Bloom”. This magical display of sublime color and beauty was a pleasant surprise in a place synonymous with harsh starkness.