If you love California wildflowers, it's not too early to go to Death Valley.
Desert golds and sand verbena started popping up in early January at lower elevations on the south side of the national park. Some say this year's El Niño rains could mean an epic season after paltry blooms in recent years due to the drought.
"Southern Death Valley National Park is blowing up! Desert gold (Geraea canescens) is going absolutely wild near Ashford Mill, the Amargosa Conservancy reports on the Desert USA online wildflower report.
In the same area near the historic mining town, you'll also find sand verbena (Abronia villosa), brown-eyed evening primrose (Chylismia claviformis), cryptantha, desert five-spot (Erimalche rotundifolia) and notch-leaf phacelia (Phacelia crenulata), according to the park's Facebook page.
"Flowers at low elevations ... should be good through late March or early April," park spokeswoman Abigail Wines writes in an email. "Flowers are likely to be good at high elevations, such as Wildrose [at] 5,000 feet, in April and May."
Furnace Creek Resort reports that reservations are pouring in. "The East has its fall foliage and Death Valley has its legendary flowers ... which can be a lifetime in the making," general manager Dominie Lenz says in a statement.
Rooms are already sold out for some nights in February. During late winter and spring, rooms at the Ranch at Furnace Creek start at $239 and the Inn at $389 a night. Info and reservations: Furnace Creek Resort, (800) 236-7916.
But all this flower frenzy about big rains comes with a downside.
In October, a flash flood hit the Grapevine Canyon area of the park hard. Historic Scotty's Castle was damaged and has been shut ever since.
Wildflower hunters need to know that Badwater Road from Ashford Mill to Shoshone is closed due to flood damage too (you can find the current blooms by taking Highway 190 to Badwater Road and heading south).
And here's a way to help: Attend a performance of a radio drama called "Death Valley Scotty" at 6 p.m. Jan. 30 at the park's visitor center. It was written in 1931 and recounts the life of the flamboyant performer, con man and prospector named Walter Scott.
Tickets cost $20 (cash only) at the door, and proceeds will go to fixing up the castle. To reserve, call (800) 478-8564, Ext. 10.
But back to the wildflowers. You'll find up-to-date info on what's blooming at: