Southwest desert wildflowers have been scarce during the recent drought years, but this Spring may be a winner.
The best wildflower blooming spots can be found in areas protected from cattle grazing and off-road vehicles. Look in state and national parks and national monuments, where the flora is protected, along with specially protected areas like reserves.
The following places have extraordinary displays, even in off years.
• Anza Borrego Desert State Park in Eastern San Diego County is the largest state park in California and has a variety of terrains and elevations, where you can see the first blooming flowers in spring and on through the later blooming cacti. The visitor center publishes a Wildflower Guide with pictures of the more common types and the staff maintain a Wildflower Hotline (760-767-4684) that you can call for a recording of what flowers are blooming at any particular time and where to see them. There are several distinct areas to see different wildflowers, enough to keep you busy for days or weeks. The Springs at Borrego is a Good Sam Park a short ways from the visitor center, as is Palm Canyon Hotel and RV Resort.
• Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve is a specially protected California poppy preserve in Antelope Valley just north of Los Angeles. Rolling hills are blanketed—literally covered—with the vivid orange poppies in a mind-boggling display of color. The poppy fields are hard to imagine until you actually see them. Best display: Mid-March thru April.
• Saguaro National Monument is split into two parts, East and West (of Tucson), about 30 miles apart. Both have visitor centers and scenic drives and trails. Since all plants are protected the wildflower displays are exceptional and this is the place to see saguaros in bloom. There are more than two dozen Good Sam Parks in the Tucson area.
• Joshua Tree National Park (Wildflower Hotline:760-367-5500), though lying directly east of Palm Springs, can only be entered by the north or south entrances. Two different ecosystems, the lower, dryer Colorado and the higher, cooler Mojave Deserts, come together at Joshua Tree. Look for wildflowers first in the lower, eastern end of the park and follow the bloom to higher elevations.
• Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (Hotline: 520-387-6849) hugs the Mexico border 15 miles south of Ajo, AZ on AZ-85. Look all along the road between the town of Why and the park for poppies, desert sunflower, fiddleneck, apricot mallow, and lupine. This is the Lower Colorado subdivision of the Sonoran Desert, the hottest and driest part, and one of the first places in the spring to find wildflowers. There are three Good Sam Parks in Ajo.
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