So unless you have been living without the Internet the last month, it would have been impossible for someone living in Southern California not to have heard about the “wildflower super bloom” happening out in the Anza-Borrego Desert. It has been all over the news and social media since February. The “wildflower super bloom” wasn’t just making headlines here in SoCal either. It went international. You can find write-ups about it in languages from around the world. With such fanfare, how could Married to Plants not make its way down into the Anza-Borrego Desert to check out this “wildflower super bloom?”
For those that don’t know, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is a state park located within the great bowl of the Colorado Desert in Southern California. Only a two-hour drive from San Diego, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is actually the largest state park in California. It boasts 500 miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas and 110 miles of hiking trails. An interesting fact about the state park is that it has elevations from as high as 8,000 feet to all the way below sea level, so the over 900 species of plants have a great degree of diversity. From White Fir trees to the California Barrel Cactus, Anza-Borrego has it all for a plant lover.
My original plan was to head out to Anza-Borrego Desert on Sunday, March 12th. However, after reading about how busy it was on Saturday and listening to some friends that went the day prior complain about the crowds and traffic, I decided to change it to Tuesday. Not only would the weekday limit the amount of people, the anticipated 96° F temperatures could also help keep the crowds down. I was certainly glad I waited, because even on Tuesday it was pretty busy with people wanting to see the flowers that carpeted the rugged landscape.
My itinerary included two different areas to see the wildflower super bloom. First up was a drive through Coyote Canyon and some scrambling hikes into the adjacent hills. Once on the sandy, dirt road, it didn’t take long to notice the wildflower ‘super bloom.’ The Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) and the Desert Agave (Agave deserti) were surrounded by yellow for as far as the eye could see.
The Desert Dandelion (Malacothrix glabrata) was the dominating wildflower here.
Mixed in were Desert Chicory (Rafinesquia neomexicana).
My timing was pretty good, as a week or two earlier, none of the Fouqieria splendens ssp. splendens were in flower yet.
The bright magenta flowers of the Beavertail Cactus (Opuntia basilaris) stick out of the landscape like a sore thumb.
The key reason for the wildflower super bloom in Anza-Borrego Desert was due to the rainy winter most parts of Southern California experienced. As an example, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park received 5.65 inches of rain (1 inch above normal) from the period of October through February. It has been stated by a few officials that there hasn’t been a comparable bloom since 2005. In many areas of the park there were thick fields of color from the same plants. In other areas, you could find scatterings of numerous different species. My time in the desert became an Easter egg hunt for the plant lover. My goal was to find and photograph as many different flowers as I could. Once I weeded through my over 400 photos, I was able to eventually identify just over 40 different flowering plants that I would end up seeing.
Some flowers are a norm in Anza-Borrego. There were many scenes like this along Coyote Canyon. I was able to count six different plants flowering in this photo. This included the Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata), Desert Chicory (Rafinesquia neomexicana), Desert Dandelion (Malacothrix glabrata), Blue Phacelia (Phacelia distans), Brown Eyed Primrose (Chylismia claviformis peirsonii) and the Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa).
One of the most common plants in the Colorado Desert, the Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata) can live for centuries. Not much to look at out of bloom, but in flower it is quite attractive.
Blue Phacelia (Phacelia distans).
Brown Eyed Primrose (Chylismia claviformis peirsonii).
Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa). I found this plant to be the most widely spread wildflower in Anza-Borrego. From higher elevations to the lower, it would blanket the hillsides.
Desert Sand Verbena (Abronia villosa var. villosa) is usually at the top of a wildflower hunter’s list of favorites.
Arizona Lupine (Lupinus arizonicus).
Bigelow’s Monkeyflower (Mimulus bigelovii var. bigelovii). This wildflower liked to make its home in the sandy washes.
Schott’s Indigo Bush (Psorothamnus schottii).
Woolly Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja foliolosa). I only saw two of these all day.
Narrowleaf Goldenbush (Ericameria linearifolia).
Red-gland Spurge (Chamaesyce melanadenia).
Parish’s Horse-Nettle (Solanum parishii).
Some of the plants and their flowers were quite small. Very easy to miss them if you are not paying careful attention.
Pale Yellow Sun Cup (Camissoniopsis pallida).
Wallace’s Woolly Daisy (Eriophyllum wallacei var. wallacei).
Purple Mat (Nama demissum var. demissum).
Because my truck was in the shop, I had to use my wife’s SUV. I was able to get a few miles down Coyote Canyon before I had to turn around. There was still a lot of water in the seasonal creek bed, so I thought it best to not risk getting the wife’s car stuck. On the return I was able to do some more exploring and found many more things I missed heading out.
Parish’s Poppy (Eschscholzia parishii).
Emory’s Rock Daisy (Perityle emoryi).
Chuparosa (Justicia californica).
Pima Rhatany (Krameria erecta).
Desert Globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua). I had a hard time getting a good photo of this one.
Desert Wishbone Bush (Mirabilis laevis).
Star Gilia (Gilia stellata).
Sand Blazing Star (Mentzelia involucrata).
Whispering Bells (Emenanthe penduliflora var. penduliflora).
Desert Lavender (Hyptis emoryi).
Desert Chia (Salvia columbariae).
Wide-throated Yellow Monkeyflower (Mimulus brevipes).
Wild Canterbury Bells (Phacelia minor).
Along with the numerous wildflowers in bloom, so too were many cacti.
California Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus).
Fishhook Cactus (Mammillaria dioica).
Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii). In my opinion, this is the most attractive of all the cactus flowers found in the various Southern California deserts.
While I missed the chance to see any tarantulas or Desert Bighorn Sheep, I did run into a few animals. The Desert Iguana is not a bashful lizard. Most let you come up pretty close to snap a photo.
The White-Lined Sphinx Moth Caterpillars were out in mass, munching down wildflowers.
Another of the many things that make the Anza-Borrego Desert so unique are the Ricardo Breceda metal sculptures that can be found all around the Borrego Springs area. I wrote a blog post about Ricardo Breceda’s art a few years ago while camping at Lake Vail. From what I could gather online, the total number of his metal sculptures is approaching 200 in the desert. Below is Franciscan missionary Pedro Font.
After spending most of the day exploring Coyote Canyon, I decided to head back into town and grab some food before heading out to Henderson Canyon Road to finish off the long day. Henderson Canyon Road was the popular sunset wildflower viewing area. I got there about two hours before sunset and the cars were already lining up along the road. I heard you couldn’t find a place to park over the weekend.
The reason for the popularity of Henderson Canyon Road was due to the fields of Desert Sunflowers blooming. The colorful flowers went on for as far as the eye could see and the mountains made for a wonderful backdrop.
It truly was a “wildflower super bloom.”
Desert Sunflower (Geraea canescens).
Something new that I learned in my photography class last year was that you can shoot into the sun and then later clean it up using a preset in Lightroom. It gives you a different perspective on things.
Mixed in the fields of the Desert Sunflower were a few other wildflowers like the Dune Primrose (Oenothera deltoides ssp. deltoides).
Dune Primrose and Desert Sand Verbena.
Desert Lily (Hesperocallis undulata). What trip to Anza-Borrego to see wildflowers would be complete without finding this desert bulb?
It was late in the afternoon, so the individual flowers on the Desert Lilies had already wilted away. To show how pretty the individual flowers of the plant are, I forced open a new bud that would have opened the following morning. The Desert Lily has an intoxicating fragrance that had me repeatedly putting the flower back up to my nose.
Your window of opportunity to catch the wildflower super bloom before it withers away is pretty short. The peak usually only lasts around two weeks. The baking sun, the hot, dry winds, and the caterpillars are tough on the flowers. This is truly an event in which if you snooze you lose. The very next Tuesday I headed back out to the desert to explore the hills around Montezuma Grade and San Felipe to see all the cactus in bloom and to hike in Palm Canyon. Sadly, the wildflower super bloom had already started its downturn.
Due to a prior evening engagement I had to attend, I needed to leave Anza-Borrego Desert before the sunset. Just as I made it to the top of the Montezuma Grade, I was rewarded with this amazing parting gift. What a way to end my visit to the Anza-Borrego Desert to see the wildflower super bloom!
Beautiful Len. Locally,the bay area wildflowers display has been contaminated for over a century now by European Cattle grasses and weeds. Luckily the desert heat takes them out. The desert or high elevations have the only pristine displays left to see.
Len Geiger says
Anza-Borrego has the Sahara Mustard Weed – which could a huge problem. They got on it early so it isn’t as bad had it been left unchecked.
Beautiful–thanks for sharing your visit. The Hesperocallis undulata was a great find! Are they difficult to spot?
Len Geiger says
Thanks. Yes, they can be. There were quite a few out this year.
What a wonderful documentation of the event- and all the amazing native wildflowers in their prime. All new for me. Thanks! Ana
Len Geiger says
All new for me too 🙂
Was in Anza Borrego April 2 enjoying the beautiful desert and mild temperatures. I am thrilled to see your presentation identifying the flower names which I had questions about. Thank You!
Len Geiger says
Glad I could help with the names you needed.
Kelley Macdonald says
Fantastic! I wish I had seen your blog a couple hours earlier. I have spent forever searching for plant IDs. It is amazing how many photos I found just like mine but with no name. Thank you for taking the time to ID them and name them in your post!
Len Geiger says
Glad the post helps. I understand the time commitment id’ing plants as I had to do a lot of searching for many in this post.