The newscaster announced the desert wildflower bloom this year was the best in 20 years. The finest destinations: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Joshua Tree National Park. We looked at each other and smiled. “Let’s do it.”
The next morning we left early. The car pulled onto the highway in San Diego, climbed the mountains, and two hours later we were in the Anza-Borrego desert with cameras in hand, snapping photos.
Of all the images this one may tell the tale the best: the mountains in the background, sand under our feet, and the hot pink of the desert sand verbena (abronia villosa) against the little white popcorn flower (cryptantha angustifolia).
One of the first and best flowers we saw was wild heliotrope (phacelia distans).
The desert sunflower (geraea canescens), despite what you might think from its name, is a fairly short plant.
Desert chicory (rafinesquia neomexicana) has subtle pinkish-green stripes which can be seen on the bud at the right of the photo. We photographed this flower many times in an early-blooming profile, and it was striking. Only later did we realize it was the same flower.
We had started out in an open desert area with no else in sight. After we’d photographed many of the flower species close by, we walked to the park visitor’s center. Having a few brochures for wildflower ID and hints of where to find the flowers would be helpful in our search. Time to head for the north end of Di Giorgio Road.
We only saw a few Spanish needle (palafoxia arida) plants.
Several Arizona lupine (lupinus arizonicus) plants were scattered around a bush, and then we didn’t see them any place else that day.
One of the most common plants we saw was the brown-eyed evening-primrose (camissonia claviformis).
The largest flower we photographed was on the California barrel cactus (ferocactus cylindraceus).
Wildflower bloom is dependent on winter rains. Anza-Borrego received 7” this winter, the most it’s had since 1999. The result is a “superbloom.” Even though there’s always something blooming between February and September, the peak of the viewing season is mid-March.
We noticed a long, slender-leafed plant on our February visit to Anza-Borrego and wondered what it was. Now we knew: the desert lily (hesperocallus undulate). The distinctive leaf is in the lower left of the photo.
Another white flower was the dune evening primrose (oenothera deltoids), which closes in the heat of the day.
We studied the wildflower brochures over lunch and thought the spectacle pod (dithyrea californica) would be a very interesting flower to see – and it was.
Most of the desert wildflowers are not imposing plants. We forgot how very small some of the plants were and that their flowers were even smaller. Some of these blooms were less than ½” (1 cm) wide.
Purple mat (nama demissum) dotted the desert floor.
We used the macro setting to photograph yellow sun cups (camissonia brevipes). It wasn’t until we looked at the flowers on the computer screen that we saw their details.
Salton milkvetch (astragalus crotalariae), the small reddish-purple flowers, and Mojave desert star (monomptilon bellioides), daisy-like flowers, filled a barren area covered in very fine gravel.
We only saw one of these plants and the flowers were so small we almost missed it. What is it?
We were only able to see a fraction of the many wildflower species blooming in the desert. If we had to do it again, we would have planned our visit at peak season and stayed a few days. We heard that next winter is supposed to have a lot of rain, so the blooms should be spectacular. Maybe it’s worth planning a visit?