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Life blooms in Death Valley

The driest place in North America is one of the most colorful this winter, thanks to record rainfall. NBC's Brian Williams reports from Death Valley, California.

You've no doubt heard about the torrential rains this season in Southern California, but not far from here it’s been more like a perfect storm.

It is literally the lowest point in the western hemisphere — 282 feet below sea level. And it’s routinely the hottest as well. Because of the nearby mountains, hardly any rain ever makes it here — just two inches a year, on average. And that makes this the driest place in all of North America.

At least that was true until this year. This winter, Death Valley came to life after six inches of rain. The very same heavy rains that drenched California, woke up some flower seeds that had gathered and were sitting — hibernating — on the desert floor for years.

"It's the perfect storm of blooms," says Charlie Callagan, a park ranger at Death Valley National Park.

Callagan has been here for 15 years and he's never seen it like this.

"We were seeing flowers in December and here we are nearing our peak in March, and it just gets better everyday," he says.

There are the purples — Phacelia, beautiful, but they'll cause a rash; the whites, Gravel-ghost; and fields of Desert Gold that have never been more rich.

For seven-year-old Amanda Rose, a trip to Death Valley has turned into an unforgettable family outing.

"The wildflowers, they're all different colors," she says.

And then there's Colleen Penihan. 

She drove ten hours to get here — and at $3.00 a gallon for gas, that's an expensive proposition. But this is her life's work. She's studying for her Ph.D. in biology.

"It was a long drive, but we're like, if it's a 100-year bloom, we're going," says Penihan.

Death Valley has never been more packed with visitors. But it’s seldom been home to more wildlife. It means more walking and more tours for the Rangers, but they're happy to do it.

Everyone here seems to understand this is something special and rare.

"It's like a giant party and the flowers are the one's hosting us," says Adele Smith, a volunteer at the park.

A young child learning to walk today may not see this again until she has children of her own.

If you want to see the flowers, you'll have to hurry. You have two weeks. Soon, it will simply get too hot and the great bloom of 2005 will come to an end.