THAT INVERTED BOWL FULL OF NIGHT: It's along about late January when lovers of interesting natural juxtapositions begin to turn their sights to the deserts of California. That's because small buds start to pop out of the sand 'round about February, petals of yellow and pink and even the occasional blue, to match the desert sky. Carpets of flowers -- well, in the arid desert sense, at least -- can show after an especially wet season, but that is not what we're looking at in 2014. Conditions have been dry, very, and bud buffs may find their back-country Anza-Borrego and Mojave and Death Valley toodles a little petal-less. A? You should still keep an eye out, because rumor has it nature is hardy and full of mystery. And B? You should also find another be-outside alternative to springtime flower-seeking, if your flower-seeking comes up short. One place to look? Well, the ranger programs of Death Valley National Park are a fine way to get acquainted with the lizards and plants and such of the ancient ocean. One excellent ranger-led experience happens after-hours, once a month, and the "once a month" part should be a good clue. We speak of the Full Moon Festivals, where you venture into the lunar landscape by night.
YEP, LUNAR: If you've ever looked out across Badwater or Zabriskie Point or, heck, *any* point in Death Valley on a bright night, it isn't hard to marvel at its sheer alien-planet-ness. For sure, our moon is pretty pocked and cratered in ways Death Valley is not, but the beautiful emptiness draws instant comparison. A walk through the empty, with a ranger, by full moon, can provide a stunning peek at "moonlit canyons" as well as "looming sand dunes" and "sparking sand flats." Pretty. Also pretty? The ranger'll break out a telescope, so you can look at the large off-white orb in the sky. If you've done the valley for years, figure this is a new way to commune with it, after-hours and with a ranger on your crew. And if you take a few snapshots, your friends might believe you went to the moon (or somewhere moonlike).