This year (2019) was considered a “super bloom” in the Southwest deserts. What that means is that we had good rain last Fall and mild weather over the Winter months so there is a better than average flower display in late February through early April. A good bloom is very hard to predict. You can predict that it won’t happen if there isn’t enough rain, but even with good rain, a hot wind can dry up all the flowers in a couple of days, so you never know for sure until you get there. A good source to check in the days leading up to a trip is www.desertusa.com.
Since different plants bloom at different times and under different weather conditions, usually something will be in bloom in any given year during the Spring. Also, elevation can make a difference. Spring comes slower at higher elevations. Above all, remember that this is a desert. A superbloom is not like the miles of lupines in some parts of Iceland or the miles of poppies in the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve. Desert flowers are generally smaller and less densely packed than flowers found in wetter environments.
On my most recent trip, I started with a hike just outside the town of Borrego Springs.
Just outside Borrego Springs
The carpet of pink is Bigalow's Monkey Flower
After breakfast, my cousins and I drove out to Hawk Canyon because of reports of a relatively rare bloom called Ghost Flower. Hawk Canyon is 15 miles Southeast of the town of Borrego Springs but still within the Anzo Borrego State Park. On our way from Borrego Springs to Hawk Canyon, we stopped in a wash because we spotted Century Plants. The Century Plant is so named because it was thought that plant lives for a hundred years, blooms and then dies. The last part is true (blooms and dies) but the plant actually only lives from 10 to 30 years.
Century Plant in bloom
Close up of Century Plant blossom
A hike up nearby Hawk Canyon shows that Anzo-Borrego really is a desert
After hiking up that canyon, you can see why we were excited to find some relatively rare Ghost Flower and Sand Blazing Star. The main difference between the two is that Ghost Flower has a brown speckled center. We did by the way see a hawk and a hummingbird in Hawk Canyon.
Sand Blazing Star
Lizard bench by visitor center
After lunch, we drove out of town along DiGiorgio road. As we headed out of town, we passed my favorite metal sculpture in the area - that of an enormous dragon.
One of the great things about Borrego Springs is that the late Dennis Avery bought a lot of land around Borrego Springs and commisioned artist Richard Bracedo to create 130 large metal sculptures of creatures that once lived on that land. The local chamber of commerce will give you a map of all the sculptures. There is no fee to visit them.
Dragon tail with Sand Verbena
The photo below was taken on Di Giorgio road, just North of town. The fields alongside Di Giorgio have had consistently good bloom in the years I have gone. This particular section is covered in what looks like a yellow Chicory. It is right next to a citrus orchard and so it smells divine. The road continues with lots of Lupine, Desert Dandelion, Chicory and Dune Primrose on either side. Di Giorgio eventually becomes a dirt road and leads to a little parking lot called Indian Garden.
Sometimes you do get a carpet of color
Though the color is not as dense, this is an amazing bloom
The photo above was taken along Henderson Road, just East of where it intersects Di Giorgio. The locals said they have never seen so many Dune Evening Primrose (the white flowers). It is because of the heavy rains this past winter. Evidence of that rain can be seen in the cracked mud at the base of the flowers, indicating rapid runoff from nearby mountains.
One way to get a shot that emphasizes the density of bloom is to shoot at a lower angle. Drop to one knee instead of standing. You’ll see less sand and more flower that way.
Use the sky as a background
Dune Evening Primrose from below
The following shot shows the ratio of sand to plant. The profusion of bloom is amazing when you consider the lack of decent soil and short growing season.
Here is a dense patch of Dune Evening Primrose
Sphynx moth caterpillar
It can be fun to figure out what plant you are looking at. Using a wildflower identification book or website can be helpful. Identifying and labeling photos can be fun to do in the evenings but better yet, go outside and look at the stars.
Borrego Springs is a “Dark Sky Community”. This means that the town’s residents use minimal outdoor lighting at night and the town itself has been certified by the Internaltional Dark Sky Association. For more on their work, visit https://www.darksky.org/. My first attempts at imaging the night sky were done at the metal sculptures around Borrego Springs.
Borrego Springs is a Dark Sky Certified Community
While there are many hikes to do in the area, the must-do, easy hike is up Palm Canyon. While there, you can also tour the Visitor Center and Museum. I have been up that canyon every time I have been to Borrego Springs. It is a lovely walk, though it can be hot. Be sure to bring water.
Trailhead to Palm Canyon
Palm Canyon is so named because there is a palm oasis at the end of the trail. The start of the trail includes an open air bathroom and a sign warning of mountain lions and rattlesnakes. Do not be deterred. The trail is so busy with people that you would consider yourself fortunate to see either species.
This year the bloom was more extensive and the creek extended farther down the canyon than usual, due to the wet Winter.
Mouth of Palm Canyon
Palm Canyon bloom
Water was flowing in the canyon this year
Two years ago, I came to Borrego Springs with my friend Gary because that year was also considered a “superbloom”. As we were walking up Palm Canyon, we saw some Borrego’s (wild bighorn sheep) a hundred yards away. All I was carrying was a 24-70mm lens so I said to Gary, “Give me the car keys. I want to go back for a longer lens.” He said, “You think the borregos will wait for you?”
I said, “They’ll wait.”
When I sprinted back up the trail, I found to our surprize that the borregos had come right to the trail. They were about 10 to 15 feet away. We didn’t move quickly or towards them, so they ignored us. I have never seen them so close before or since. I had to change my lens back to the 24-70 to get them in the frame.
Borrego getting close
Borrego by the trail
Borrego with tasty flowers
Below are samples of some of the marvelous metal sculptures around Borrego Springs.
Gomphothere (Extinct N. American Elephant)
I have spent the night sleepng in my van next to the Dragon while doing a timelapse of the Milky Way. I got one of my best shots of the dragon at sunrise the following morning.
One morning, I awoke before dawn to see layers of clouds on the horizon (usually the desert is clear blue) so I hopped in my car and drove out to where some dinosaur sculptures would make a nice foreground.
I have been to Borrego Springs during the new moon to three quarters moon and each has its attractions. The images below were taken during the 3/4 moon. You can't image the Milky Way, but the blue sky with stars and the well lit foregrounds make some great shots.
Dragon by three quarter moon
One night, during that 3/4moon visit, there were ice crystals in the sky making a ring around the moon. Fabulous!
Moon ring and smoke tree
Borrego Springs in springtime has a lot to recommend a visit. Wildflowers, night skies, wildlife and desert solitude can make for a refreshing get-away. If you want to go, start reading the wildflower reports after a winter of heavy rains. You won't regret it.