Monday, March 7, 2016

Death Valley, "Super" Blooms, Turtlebacks, and Detachments

Looking southeast from the alluvial fan coming out of Titus Canyon.
When MOH and I came into Death Valley at Titus Canyon (and that's another story) on Leap Day, February 29th, we didn't see very many flowers right off, although it looked like Titus was poised to bloom heavily in a couple weeks or so (will we be back?). We had heard in Beatty that the best area was down near Badwater, so we headed that way, driving south on the paved Scotty's Castle Road (AKA North Highway or Bonnie Clare Road—Clare or Claire, whichever).

Approaching the junction of the Scotty's Castle Road with Highway 190, things started looking up. (By the way, Scotty's Castle Road was closed to the north while we were there, with no known opening date, as was a good portion of the Badwater Road, so be sure to check road conditions if you go!)
Looking southeast toward the Black Mountains, with the Badwater Turtleback coming into view beyond a carpet of gold.
The turtleback is the humped part of the mountain to the right of the varicolored volcanic and sedimentary rocks that sit in the hangingwall of the Badwater Turtleback fault near the Artist's Drive area.

Overall, things did get perceptibly better south of the junction with 190, where we turned on to the Badwater Road.
Our first view of the Death Valley playa, looking south toward Telescope Peak.
In the wash photo above, Telescope Peak is a faint bluish bump at the top of the Panamint Range in the distance on the right. A few footprints cut across the photo in the lower left, probably attesting to one of the many photographers and desert enthusiasts that were in the area during our short visit.

The vast majority of the color—a bright yellow gold—was from one plant, Geraea canescens, AKA desert sunflower, hairy desert sunflower, or desert gold. (I prefer the latter.)

I didn't take very many closeups of flowers, but I got a good one of the desert gold:
Desert gold, just north of Furnace Creek on March 1st.
Desert gold in a dry wash, with a bit of the Black Mountains in the background.
A view of low hills, looking south, from north of Furnace Creek.
We passed through Furnace Creek as quickly as possible, moving even farther south on the Badwater Road. Bicyclists cluttered the highway in places; I think a race or tour of some sort was in progress. We slowed constantly (unlike a few rude and dangerous drivers that I hereby excoriate) for photographers, road-crossers, bicyclists, and other miscellaneous travelers.

Turtlebacks and the salt flat came back into view.
The Badwater Turtleback and the Badwater Turtleback fault dominates this view of the Black Mountains range front.
A bit of the varicolored, Mio-Pliocene Artist Drive Formation is visible in the low hills to the far left, with reddish rocks to the right at least partly consisting of the late Tertiary Greenwater Volcanics in the upper plate of the turtleback fault. The greenish rocks forming the turtleback surface are mostly mylonites, gneisses and marble of the lower plate.
Turtleback and superbloom.
Desert gold (et al), the Death Valley salt flat, and the Panamint Range.
Looking south toward Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America.
We drove past Badwater, where the parking lot was full, and turned around at a point just past the alluvial fan seen above.

We weren't seeing a lot of flowers at this point, although there was still quite a variety, so we turned around.
I grabbed a photo of this small alluvial fan. You can see some flowers if you look closely.
And I took this photo of a desert five-spot (Eremalche rotundifolia).
Driving north from Badwater, we decided that we had to stop and walk up to this fine exposure of the Badwater Turtleback fault, which is a detachment fault in my book, but may or may not be regional in scale, so may not technically qualify (Miller and Pavlis, 2005).
Detachment fault with superbloom flowers, one of at least two purple types.
Ah, it's only a little farther—and it's only 89 degrees! (That's the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit, not the dip on the fault. The dip was about 45 degrees.)
Fault plane with desert gold on the fan in front of it.
Turtleback fault with various flowers and greenery.
Yay! We're there! What's that in the hangingwall???
    Location map:
I've added a real location map here, because the "Location" feature offered by Blogger (below, where it says "Death Valley, CA, USA") is no longer as functional as it used to be. The default view for this map may change as I publish new blog posts, and I will add additional photos and possibly additional features as I go along. Right now the default view is centered over Death Valley. The purple pins are photo locations.

If anyone knows of a simple way to change Google's embed code to add a centered location and a height ("z" or "zoom") when embedding a MyMaps map, please let me know. I probably won't be able to use java or other fancy attributes here on this blog. The embed code looks like this:
[iframe height="500" src="" width="500"][/iframe]
Selected References:
Greene, R.C., and Fleck, R.J., 1997, Geology of the northern Black Mountains, Death Valley, California: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 97-79, 110p.

Miller, M.G., and Pavlis, T.L, 2005, The Black Mountains turtlebacks: Rosetta stones of Death Valley Tectonics: Earth Science Reviews, v.73, p. 115-138.

Read more about the "superbloom" here (Geotripper), here (National Geographic), here (NPS), here (Death Valley NPS Facebook page), and here (U.S. News).

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