The 'Super Bloom': Gardiner residents make mad weekend dash to Death Valley to witness desert phenomenon

Liz Kearney

So if you really want to see Death Valley National Park’s “super bloom” and you don’t have enough vacation days saved up to take off from work, what do you do?

You do like three area residents did and make a mad, 2,000-mile roundtrip dash in a slightly longish weekend. 

“We work for the Yellowstone Association and love national parks, so we decided, ‘OK, let’s just go for it,’” Neala Fugere, marketing coordinator for the Gardiner-based nonprofit said Monday. She and two co-workers, Aaron Strong and Maria Bisso, made the trip this past weekend. 

The “super bloom” is a relatively rare blossoming of desert flowers that occurs in Death Valley National Park, located in southeastern California. Known for being the lowest point in the U.S. —  282 feet below sea level — the park is also known for its absurdly low annual rainfall. Death Valley averages about 2 inches of rainfall per year, according to the park’s website. 

The super bloom occurring now happens about once every 10 years, according to a park news release. 

Three conditions required to make a super bloom, the website states, are well-spaced rainfall throughout the winter and spring, sufficient warmth from the sun, and a lack of drying winds. 

Fugere and Strong left Gardiner on Friday at noon and arrived on the outskirts of Death Valley around 4:30 a.m. Saturday. Bisso, traveling alone in her own vehicle, was a few hours behind them. They pulled over and slept for a while before checking into their campsite around 8 a.m. They got their tents set up and explored the area all day Saturday. 

There were flowers everywhere — and other tourists. Sometimes the traffic was bumper-to-bumper, and it was hard to get a desert bloom photo without a lot of other people in the shot. But Fugere also enjoyed the fact that so many people had come to see flowers.

“It was neat seeing people coming all this way to appreciate flora rather than megafauna,” Fugere laughed, referring to Yellowstone National Park’s “megafauna,” such as bears, wolves, bison and elk.

All the campgrounds were full, and she and her friends had to camp in an overflow area. But strong winds came up Saturday and they all ended up sleeping in their vehicles. They managed to squeeze in a hike and do a little exploring in the park. 

They headed north on Sunday around 7 a.m., driving into Las Vegas and hammering home on Interstate 15, up U.S. Highway 20 to Island Park, Idaho, onto West Yellowstone, up U.S. Highway 191 to Bozeman, then home to Gardiner. 

They were slowed by falling snow Sunday night from Island Park to Bozeman, Fugere said, arriving in Gardiner about 3 a.m. Monday.

Just in time to grab a little sleep before making it to work by 8 a.m. 

Fugere said the trip was worth it. 

“It brings to mind the possibility of what you can do in a weekend,” Fugere said. 

Now a weekend trip to Glacier National Park doesn’t seem so far-fetched, she laughed.  


How they did it

The one-way drive was about 18 hours, Fugere said. She and Strong developed a system for maintaining forward momentum in as safe and sane a way as possible. 

They stopped in Pocatello, Idaho, to stock up on road food and have a little break. They bought things they wouldn’t have to cook, like bagels and cream cheese, and ingredients for combining in wraps. 

They listened to a lot of podcasts, especially National Public Radio’s programs “This American Life,” “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me,” and “Stuff Your Mom Never Told You.” 

They took turns driving and checked in with each other often to make sure they weren’t too tired to drive. 

It helped that they have similar personalities. 

“We’re both pretty laid-back, happy-go-lucky people,” Fugere said. 

They also went into the trip with the mindset that it was something they were going to get through, like a marathon. 

And it especially helped that they’re both relatively young. 

“We’re fortunate we’re in our mid-20s and early 30s,” Fugere said. “We can just drive, and we can keep going and going.”


Liz Kearney may be reached at