A Mosaic of Flowers (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source, Science, and Nature.

Wed, 30 Mar 2005

A Mosaic of Flowers

Passing through Death Valley wasn't the point of our Mojave trip, but it seemed like a nice bonus. Everyone's been talking about how due to the unprecedented southern California rains, this spring is a record year for wildflowers in Death Valley.

Of course, what that really meant was that everyone in the western half of the US decided to spend their spring break week there. Stovepipe Wells was a zoo.

But I wanted to see Mosaic Canyon, rumored to be a good slot canyon, and favored in "Geology Underfoot: Owens Valley and Death Valley" for breccia containing fragments of the precambrian Noonday dolomite.

It's a fabulous canyon. The book got so involved in talking about the breccia and stream undercutting that it didn't mention the gorgeous, smooth, veined, water-cut dolomite comprising a long and narrow slot canyon for the first half mile or so of the hike. Farther upcanyon, warping caused by the Mosaic Canyon fault creates impressive exposures in the walls.

After reluctantly leaving Mosaic Canyon, our route led us down the Badwater road, where the fabled wildflowers were impressive in number, if not in color (almost all yellow, with a few small whites and pale purples). The photographers, too, were impressive in number if not in intelligence, tending to back into the roadway in front of traffic at unpredictable times. The fields were full of people looking for just the perfect flower for their shot.

I'd heard rumours that Badwater was flooded, to the point where people were kayaking there. Not true: the water wasn't deep enough for kayaking, but the shallows were full of families and couples wading barefoot in the brine. We didn't wade, just walked to the water's edge and admired the new incarnation of ancient Lake Manly, the huge lake which once filled all of Death Valley, sparkling in the sun.

South of Badwater the flowers were a little denser, but didn't change very much in character until we left the park, where yellow coreopsis gave way to bushes covered with bright orange dodder, a parasitic plant that I think of as "silly string plant" because it covers other plants with a thin, bright orange string that looks like "silly string" sprayed out of cans.

Our last stop was just a few miles east of the town of Shoshone: a roadcut highly recommended by the Geology Underfoot book, which devoted a whole chapter to it. Rightly so! A strikingly weird black stripe which appears to be a coal seam is clearly, upon closer inspection, a layer of obsidian sandwiched between red rhyolite layers with interesting inclusions. Both the obsidian and the rhyolite includes bits of quartz. A little farther up the roadcut, past the obsidian, are two striking vertical faults. Quite amazing, and I'm glad we made a point of taking that route.

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