In a first glimpse of spring, the California desert is starting to pop with wildflowers and the upcoming season promises to be a big one.
Just like the Golden State’s explosion of color two years ago, 2019 is shaping up to a be a super bloom that will be at least as amazing as 2017 and maybe more so at many locations, says California nature guide author Ann Marie Brown. What makes a bloom “super”? “It happens when all the weather conditions are just right, and that means substantial rainfall in late fall and early winter, cool daytime temperatures, and cold nights,“ she says, adding that such blooms tend to happen once a decade. California has now had two in the past three years.
Here are the areas where you can head right now, and throughout March and beyond, for colour:
Go to the Coachella Valley right now and you’ll see purple sand verbena, yellow brittlebush, and brown-eyed primrose. “They’re bursting out alongside the freeways and in every vacant lot, ” Brown says. Head to Thousand Palms’ Coachella Valley Preserve and Mecca’s Box Canyon Road, which both have lupine and desert sunflowers. Another contender is Palm Springs’ Indian Canyons, currently closed due to flooding in February. But once it reopens (keep tabs on it here), expect colour through April.
The colour at the San Diego County state park is still developing, Brown says, but there’s a lot to see right along the roadsides. Drive Highway S-22 between mile markers 31 and 38, or cruise along DiGiorgio Road or Coyote Canyon Road. “If you have 4-wheel-drive,” she says, “the Borrego Badlands are a must. ” The state park, meanwhile, updates its website and map every few days with the latest wildflower alerts.
This desert park actually got snow a few weeks ago, which has delayed the onset of colour. Even so, “we have some blooms in the lower elevations around the Bajada Trail and Cottonwood areas of the park,” says George Land, the park’s Public Information Officer. “Most of what is coming out in the southern boundary is bladder pod, brittle bush, creosote, lupine, and poppies.” Brown recommends flower-watching hikes in the lower elevations in the south part of the park, like the Bajada Nature Trail.
Up next: A little farther north in Los Angeles County, the Antelope Valley State Poppy Reserve, near Lancaster, is on the brink of a big bloom of the state flower. While some poppies are already visible, according to the park’s site, the biggest displays should arrive around mid-March and stick around through April.
The desert, meanwhile, offers only the first act: Read on to see where wildflowers will keep blooming in other California regions, to the north and in higher elevations, as spring progresses, stretching from the Channel Islands to Pinnacles National Park, High Sierra, and Butte County in the Shasta Cascade.