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Death Valley Flower Status

Get Zeiss Loxia at B&H Photo and see my in-depth review of the Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8.

I spent a day and a half in my favorite Death Valley canyon, Cottonwood Canyon. I like the canyons in Death Valley because I can shoot much longer over the course of the day (shaded areas, fill light from opposite canyon wall) and because the elevation is a bit higher.

While there are not the vast fields of yellow ('superbloom') as seen south of Badwater, there are a wider variety of flowers, some quite inconspicuous and easily missed (invisible from a car), and to my eye, elegantly beautiful. Even the dwarfed California Poppies are unusual. This species below grows high on cliff walls in Cottonwood Canyon and is only about 3 inches (8cm) across—easy to miss. Many other species can be found by looking for dwarfed plants—what might otherwise be trodden underfoot.

Death Valley Monkey Flower (Mimulus rupicola), High on Cliff Wall, Cottonwood Canyon
f9 @ 1/10 sec, ISO 100; 2016-03-09 09:48:45
Sony A7R II + Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 Distagon

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Flowers in Cottonwood Canyon are relatively sparse but this mounding flower show is nearly eight feet across!

Death Valley Mounding Yellow Flowers, Cottonwood Canyon
f9 @ 0.4 sec, ISO 100; 2016-03-08 18:42:56
Sony A7R II + Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 Distagon

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I exited Cottonwood Canyon at mid-day. Heading south from Stovepipe Wells, the yellow flowers between Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek tend to grow more sparsely, but the flowers as seen below are a strong showing for this area at elevation 60 feet below sea level. Late-day sun strafing the ground makes a dramatic difference of course, not like this flat mid-day stuff.

Death Valley Yellow Flowers, View towards Badwater
f13 @ 1/50 sec, ISO 100; 2016-03-09 14:11:34
Sony A7R II + Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 Distagon

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This is the view heading towards Furnace Creek / Badwater at mid-day and what things look like much of the day; sunrise and sunset are much more interesting. The largest fields of flowers lie some miles to the south at far right. Heading that way now...

Death Valley Highway, View towards Badwater
f9 @ 1/60 sec, ISO 100; 2016-03-09 14:14:19
Sony A7R II + Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 Distagon

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South of Badwater, the flowers are well past their prime, visibly wilted and forming seed heads. I estimate that this years’s bloom is about 1/2 as dense as the spectacular show I experienced back in mid-February of 2007 or so (exact year does not come to mind). That year, Badwater had a lot of water, the river was flooded 20 miles to the south and the flowers were a thick dense carpet. This so-called 'superbloom' year looks like a shadow of that year with Badwater mostly a salt-pan.

Death Valley: Yellow Flowers Become seed heads
f13 @ 1/25 sec, ISO 100; 2016-03-09 17:34:15
Sony A7R II + Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 Distagon

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While most flowers are now wilting, the ones along the road are particularly large and still in great condition, presumably due to runoff giving the soil near the road some extra moisture.

Death Valley: Roadside Flower Show
f9 @ 1/50 sec, ISO 100; 2016-03-09 17:27:08
Sony A7R II + Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 Distagon

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Dan M writes:

Look just to the right of your watermark. You weren’t the first vertebrate there that day. Beautiful track of some lizard with shorter toes (for the species of that area) and a tail with no bulk. That rules out the big chunky stuff like Chuckwallas and the plump tailed Desert Banded Gecko and the extended rear toes and thinner. longer foot pad of the Collared Lizard. I don’t think the Collared Lizard occurs at the elevation of your image, anyway. Without a total frame of reference as to the size of the feet, I can just guess that it was a Long-nosed Leopard Lizard, Gambelia wislizenii.

My guess is based on that one perfect footprint about half way from your watermark to the first yellow flower at the lower edge and center of the frame. It’s above the tail track. By placement and angle to the tail track, it’s his back left foot. He’s going from frame left to frame right and his tail has made that big sweeping S curve. He has some pad on the ground from the foot and doesn’t appear to have the very long toes of some of the other area species there. All these bits of evidence narrow the possibilities. Even that sweeping pattern of movement rules out stuff like geckos, which just don’t walk that way. Their walk is kind of a delicate lumbering along, side to side. Could be the Great Basin Whiptail, Aspidoscelis tigris tigris, but that has a bit more tail bulk down to the ground when moving, and some really skinny, long back toes. The Long-nosed Leopard Lizard walks more off the ground, has the narrow tail, the same shaped pads to the rear feet as in your photo, no super long toes, the right walk. That’s my guess.

That Loxia 21 really is a nice lens. Great detail.

The Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 Distagon is a gem of a lens. At about $1499 it gives some pause on price, but I consider it a must-have lens for Sony mirrorless. It’s has become one of my favorite lenses ever: small and light, razor sharp, excellent flare control, richly saturated color.

Below, a healthy roadside specimen benefitting from more water than its less fortunate brethren in the distance.

Death Valley : Gangly Yellow Flowers
f6.3 @ 1/25 sec, ISO 100; 2016-03-09 18:34:15
Sony A7R II + Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 Distagon

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I was enjoying the last light of the day when one more car of tourists pulled up to ask directions, promptly burrowing their front wheels (front wheel drive) of the car into the soft shoulder sand. I spent the next hour helping them get unstuck: no tow hook on their rental econobox, front wheels sunk into sand. They were visiting from China, and fortunately the teenager spoke English. Jacking one wheel and digging and to get rocks in place underneath eventually got the car back onto the pavement. My good deed for the day, but it's late and I’m tired now as I write this.

Death Valley : Gangly Yellow Flowers
f13 @ 1/30 sec, ISO 100; 2016-03-09 18:24:39
Sony A7R II + Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 Distagon

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Why so many cars driving towards Shoshone only to find the southern Death Valley Jubilee Pass Road closed (major washout from last falls’s storm). I advised no fewer than six carloads of confused tourists of the road closure. Another dozen or so figured it out on their own. I felt like I should be getting part-time pay for the constant stream of hapless tourists who would have to drive the 40 miles or so back to Furnace Creek. The Park Service failed to post road closure signs (none that I observed and clearly no one else did either).

People in one car even said they stopped at the visitor center to inquire about road conditions and were not advised of the closure. Nor was there any ranger patrol to check on hapless sand-bound tourists. That road has been out for months, but gosh its probably too much work to have a proper sign installed just after the turnoff onto Badwater road, one of those big orange ones. Good enuf for government work. Shameful (and potentially dangerous) incompetence given the remoteness, surely the handiwork of the superintendent, the same one responsible for killing the 20+ year tradition of the Death Valley Double Century.

Death Valley : Jubilee Pass Rd to Shoshone is Closed
f8 @ 1/60 sec, ISO 100; 2016-03-09 18:17:54
Sony A7R II + Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 Distagon

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Update: the very next day the park service seems to have figured out that dozens of people were ending up at a dead-end road closure. The sign is really confusing and rotates with other messages, so I expect drivers intent on getting to Las Vegas to keep driving down to the road closure.

Death Valley : Prk Service installs confusing sign regarding closure Jubilee Pass Rd to Shoshone
f5.6 @ 1/200 sec, ISO 200; 2016-03-10 11:09:27
E-M1 + OLYMPUS M.300mm F4.0 @ 624mm (300mm)

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