NPS’ Abby Wines on Potential 2024 Superbloom in Death Valley

Love Hiking News’ Rich Hersey corresponded with officials at Death Valley National Park to gather insights about the anticipated 2024 Superbloom event. Abby Wines, Management Analyst for Death Valley National Park, provided detailed responses in this informational exchange.

 

Will there be a Superbloom in 2024? 

"Based on all of this, I predict there will be nice flowers this spring, but not a full superbloom."
Abby Wines
Management Analyst, Death Valley National Park
National Park Service Abby Wines 2017
National Park Service Abby Wines - Photo Credit: National Park Service

Background on Abby Wines and Death Valley

Love Hiking News: Through this interview, I’m hopeful we can give our readers a deeper understanding of the Superbloom, its ecological significance, and practical advice for those planning to visit. Your insights will enrich our coverage and offer our audience a comprehensive view of this remarkable phenomenon.

With nearly two decades of experience in the National Park Service, including your current role as Management Assistant at Death Valley National Park, could you share how your various roles have shaped your perspective on park conservation and management?

Abby Wines: I started with the NPS as a volunteer park ranger at Wind Cave National Park in 1994. After that I held temporary positions in interpretation (the park rangers that lead the walks and talks) and in natural resource management in Wind Cave NP, Jewell Cave NM, Great Basin NP, and Carlsbad Caverns NP. I worked for 3 years for a nonprofit partner, the Sequoia Parks Conservancy.

I’ve worked in Death Valley National Park since May 2005 in several jobs: administrative assistant in maintenance department, park ranger/interpreter at Scotty’s Castle, and now management analyst. I have done details (temporary assignments, usually 4 months) at Pearl Harbor, Kenai Fjords, Sitka NHP, and Kobuk Valley/Cape Krusenstern/Noatak.

My focus related to park management has largely been helping the public enjoy parks, learn why they are so special, and provide reasonable access. For the last few years, it feels like my job is “all flood, all the time”. I’ve been working on projects to repair flood damage across the park caused by major floods in 2015, 2022, and 2023.

Abby Wines Death Valley National Park sign
Abby Wines in front of the Death Valley National Park sign - Photo Credit: National Park Service

Unique Challenges Facing Death Valley

Love Hiking News: Having worked in different national parks, including Kenai Fjords and Carlsbad Caverns, how do the challenges and experiences in Death Valley compare, especially regarding environmental management and visitor engagement?

Abby Wines: Death Valley has the largest land area of any park in the Lower 48. It’s about the same size as Connecticut. Several Alaska national parks are much larger (Kobuk Valley, Wrangell-St. Elias, Denali), but most of those parks have a lot less roads and facilities to maintain. DVNP has 1,400 miles of roads within it, about 1,000 of which are the responsibility of the park, while the others are maintained state and county agencies. We operate 8 water systems, providing safe drinking water to over 450 people that live within the park, plus park visitors. We are the local fire and ambulance service. And of course, we keep an eye on the park’s natural and cultural resources, such as monitoring springs for impacts from groundwater pumping outside the park, or attempting to reduce the number of feral burros. We provide campgrounds and interpretive programming for the 1.2 to 1.7 million visitors that come here each year. And we do all that with a staff of 100-150, which includes NPS employees, partner employees, and volunteers.

The extreme heat here provides unique challenges for keeping our employees and the public safe.

The very vertical terrain that doesn’t absorb water easily makes flash floods an intermittent issue. Climate change models predict that storms will be more frequent and intense, causing more frequent flash floods.

Death Valley’s visitation nearly doubled from 850,000 to 1,700,000 in the ten years before COVID. But, the park has wide shoulders for people to park on when parking lots are full, so it doesn’t have issues with crowding that some parks do.

Lower Wildrose Road 2023-10-31 Jason LIeber & Abby Wines, NPS photo by Heather Davies
Lower Wildrose Road 2023-10-31 Jason LIeber & Abby Wines, NPS photo by Heather Davies

Love Hiking News: What initially drew you to work at Death Valley National Park, and how has your relationship with this unique landscape evolved over the years?

Abby Wines: I first came to Death Valley as a visitor in 1998, and really loved the open space. However, realistically the reason I first moved here to work was more pragmatic. At the time, my (now ex) husband and I were both temporary workers for the NPS, seeking the magic park that would hire both of us into permanent jobs so we could get health insurance and start saving for retirement.

My love of the open, dramatic landscape has never changed. My tolerance for heat has gotten worse with time, though!

2016 Superbloom in Death Valley
2016 Superbloom in Death Valley - Photo Credit: National Park Service

Predictions on a Superbloom in 2024

Love Hiking News: I understand that a Superbloom rarely happens because of the combination of circumstances that need to be perfect. What are the predictions for this year’s Superbloom in Death Valley based on the current environmental conditions? How does this compare to previous years?

Abby Wines: It is so hard to predict a superbloom! We need soaking rains several times through the fall and early winter to get a superbloom. Even then, if there’s a blue-wolf-moon, it won’t happen. Just joking about the last part. The most recent superblooms here were in 2005 and 2016.

Will it happen this year? The park got more rain in one day in August than it averages in a year, but it didn’t rain much after that until late December. There are areas with nice arrays of flowers in the park since November. I see sprouts that will later be flowers at about 2,000-4,000 feet when I’m out hiking. But I don’t see any sprouts below 2,000 feet. And it’s those low elevations that can transform from bare rocky slopes to carpets of flowers, that people call “a superbloom”. Flowers at middle elevations interspersed with shrubs are pretty, but do not form a continuous carpet of color. By this time of year in 2016, sprouts were coming up in the valley floor.

Based on all of this, I predict there will be nice flowers this spring, but not a full superbloom.

Desert gold 2023-12-10, NPS photo by Abby Wines
Desert gold 2023-12-10, NPS photo by Abby Wines

Death Valley Wildflowers

Love Hiking News: What types of wildflowers are typically most prominent during a Superbloom, and where in the park can they be best observed?

Abby Wines: Desert gold is by far the most common flower during a superbloom in low elevations. It looks like a yellow daisy. Phacelia (purple) and evening primrose (some species are white, others are yellow) are the next-most-common. In lower densities, but extremely captivating are gravel ghost and desert five-spot.

Managing Visitors during a Superbloom

Love Hiking News: How does the park prepare for the influx of visitors during the Superbloom? What measures do park authorities take to balance visitor experience with conservation?

Abby Wines: We use signs, social media, the web, and personal contacts to remind people not to pick flowers or drive off roads.

Love Hiking News: What are the biggest challenges in managing and preserving the park during a superbloom, and how does your team address these challenges?

Abby Wines: People that don’t normally visit national parks come during a superbloom. They are less likely to be prepared for limited services and lack of cell phone coverage, and are more likely to be unaware of how to behave in a national park (i.e., not drive off roads, where they can legally camp, etc.). We address this through messaging and education, but it gets exhausting!

Lake Manly 2023-11-12, NPS photo by Abby Wines
Lake Manly 2023-11-12, NPS photo by Abby Wines
Lake Manly 2023-11-12, NPS photo by Abby Wines
Lake Manly 2023-11-12, NPS photo by Abby Wines

Where to See the Superbloom in 2024

Love Hiking News: For visitors planning to experience the Superbloom, what are the best times and locations within Death Valley National Park to witness this phenomenon?

Abby Wines: Flowers usually bloom at low elevations (sea level to 3,000 feet) late February through early April. It dpends on the year where this is best, but usually can easily be seen along paved roads, including CA-190, Badwater Road, Daylight Pass, and North Highway.

Different species bloom at 3,000 – 6,000 feet from April through June. This is usually best in Emigrant Canyon and Wildrose area of the park.

Love Hiking News: What guidelines or recommendations does the park have for visitors to ensure their safety and the protection of the natural Superbloom?

Abby Wines: Feel free to pull over anyplace you see a safe place to park on the road shoulder. The flowers don’t run away, so you have time to look both ways for traffic before opening your car door. Be aware that other visitors might have “flower brain” while driving; they might drive erratically.

The phacelia (purple flowers) can cause a skin rash if you touch their leaves. Best to wear long pants and shoes if skipping through the flowers!

Love Hiking News: What advice would you give visitors looking to photograph the Superbloom while ensuring they adhere to park preservation guidelines?

Abby Wines: Time of day makes a huge difference. Desert gold (the yellow daisy-like flowers) track the sun. They get this really photogenic warm glow when the sun is at low angle (i.e., late afternoon). And be prepared to kneel down for the small-but-pretty flowers.

Tips for Visitors to Death Valley

Love Hiking News: Given the harsh desert environment, what should visitors prepare for regarding weather, hydration, and sun protection?

Abby Wines: It can reach 100 degrees here in late March, so be prepared for it to be warm. Death Valley’s paved roads vary from below sea level to over 5,000 feet, so temperatures will vary as you drive around the park. It could also be cold. There is no cell phone service in most of the park.

Love Hiking News: As someone deeply involved with Death Valley National Park, what aspect of the Superbloom do you find most personally rewarding or inspiring?

Abby Wines: It’s gorgeous!

Love Hiking News: Do you have any final thoughts or messages you’d like to share with our readers at Love Hiking Club, particularly those passionate about nature and conservation?

Abby Wines: Thank you for your love of natural places!

Love Hiking News is an integral part of Love Hiking Club, dedicated to delivering in-depth news and reports on National Parks. We focus on bringing the latest updates, fascinating stories, and insightful interviews from the heart of nature’s wonders.

Our commitment is to keep outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers informed about the diverse landscapes, unique events, and conservation efforts shaping our National Parks. 

My name is Rich, and I love to hike!

I grew up in Idaho, with plenty of hiking and camping just minutes away from our home. Growing up, we spent summers at the lake and falls in the mountains. Camping and hiking with friends was such a special way to spend time together. I’ve spent a lifetime outdoors, hiking, camping, fishing and hunting.

2 thoughts on “NPS’ Abby Wines on Potential 2024 Superbloom in Death Valley”

  1. I’m a 2nd grade teacher in Riverside, CA, and one of our science units, on plants, has an anchor lesson on Death Valley and the Superbloom. I told my students that the next time there is a Superbloom – I’m outta here LOL

    Do you send out emails to let folks know that the Superbloom is occuring?? If so, I’d love to be on the list.
    Thanks so much,
    Tarah

    1. Hi, Tarah,

      I’m sorry but I do not have a email list for this event. According to Death Valley National Park Rangers, it sounds like this is going to be a great year, but not necessarily a Superbloom. Remember, the definition of a Superbloom is not a scientific one. It’s all about your perspective! There will be great wildflower bloom in Death Valley this year and you should go experience it.

      Cheers!

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