By Bob Difley
This is one of the best times to be in the Southwestern Deserts. When the New England states are trying to cope with single digit temps and the south and mid-west are experiencing record cold, the mid 60-degree readings in the desert bring us out in T-shirts and shorts.
But it still is only mid January, and though the nights are dipping into the mid forties, the day time sun not only triggers our Spring genes, it also begins tickling the genes of Spring wildflowers.
Wait a minute. Wildflowers? In January? Well, not quite, but if the days continue sunny (likely) the lower deserts along the Colorado River at the Parker Strip, the Yuma area, and south central Arizona around Organ Pipe Cactus NM, as well as Anza Borrego State Park in California will soon have wildflower leaves and stems poking up through the scree on sunny slopes and in sandy washes.
This scenario, played to the accompaniment of adequate gentle winter rain, enough hours of daytime sun, and temperatures inching upward from cold, all orchestrate to invigorate the wildflowers to rise from their life of dormancy to bestow on us the riot of color as if Jackson Pollack had flung his paints across the desert floor.
Before you can say Happy Valentine’s Day, Arizona poppies, blue phacelia, sand verbena, brittle bush, desert sunflower, globemallow (top photo), lupine, and Canterbury bells (photo left) will wave their colors at you as you pass by.
Look for the first wildflowers along the sides of washes where the most moisture collects, and on roadsides, where the Winter rains have flowed off the roads to collect and water buried and unseen seeds. Sunny hillsides will also begin to sprout with new green shoots as will the base of rocks that retain warmth like a blanket covering the dormant plants about to awaken.
Visit your favorite bookstore and pick up a desert wildflower guide, and brochures from desert visitor centers. Anza Borrego SP and Joshua Tree NP also have wildflower hot lines that you can call to find out what is blooming now, and soon, and where.
If you can stick it out until April, when the temperatures start reaching into the 90s, you will see the cacti begin to bloom, with their impossibly bright, neon-like flowers, displaying their extravagant flashiness like the rock stars of the desert.