DEATH VALLEY, Calif. (CN) - Death Valley defies its name each spring and fall when desert wildflowers blossom, and this year's spring bloom is drawing thousands of visitors to what the National Park superintendent calls an "astounding" display.
"Right now is the best time to visit Death Valley in over a decade," park superintendent Mike Reynolds told Courthouse News. "The flower display is astounding, and this is a rare time to experience one of the most incredible displays Death Valley has to offer."
The National Park calls it the best bloom in a decade, and says October rainstorms made it possible.
Park officials credit El Niño event for providing the fall and winter rains, and said super blooms often coincide with El Niño years. The last two super blooms occurred in 1998 and 2005, both of which were El Niño years.
El Niño is a naturally occurring cyclical warming of the Northern Pacific Ocean, which triggers unusual weather, including rainstorms in Death Valley.
Death Valley among the hottest places on Earth and the lowest and driest place in North America. Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley five times recorded highs of 129 degrees, and recorded a then-world-record high of 134 degrees on July 10, 1913, and which many meteorologists consider the highest reliably recorded temperatures on Earth.
(Weather stations, however, are few and far between in the Sahara Desert and Middle East. Some consider a 136 degree reading in Libya the world record.)
Particularly at lower elevations, Death Valley has little vegetation beyond scrub brush and gnarled trees, and wildflower seeds can lie dormant for many years before springing to life.
It receives an average of about 2 inches of rainfall per year, according to the National Park Service. But El Niño brought as much as 3 inches of rain in 5 hours to parts of Death Valley last October.
Continuing rainfall throughout the winter helped make this one of the best blooms in years.
"When I first came to work here in the early 1990s, I kept hearing the old-timers talk about super blooms as a near mythical thing - the ultimate possibility of what a desert wildflower bloom could be," Park Ranger And Van Valkenburg said.
"I saw several impressive displays of wildflowers over the years and always wondered how anything could beat them, until I saw my first super bloom in 1998," he said. "I never imagined that life could exist here in such staggering abundance and intense beauty."
This year's super bloom started in the park's lowest elevations, mostly near Badwater Basin, and is expected to proceed through mid-March as the weather warms and life comes to higher elevations through March.
Telescope Peak still has snow cover, and snowmelt in upper elevations will help to ensure plenty of water remains for spring blossoms in many parts of Death Valley.
Current locations suggested by the Park Service include an area of Desert Gold blossoms that have painted the desert floor yellow about 10 miles south of Badwater Basin, and displays of white and purple flowers near the Beatty Cutoff Road near Scotty's Castle.
But the fall rainstorms that produced the super bloom have decimated roads in many parts of Death Valley. The park entrance at Jubilee Pass near Shoshone, Calif., is closed. So is Scotty's Castle Road, Badwater Road south of Ashford Mill, and Lower Wildrose Road.
The Park Service said it might take years to repair damages to historic structures at Scotty's Castle.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.