Chasing Wildflowers

Plan tours of nature’s most beautiful displays now

phacelia SPRING SHOW From late March to mid April, hillsides south of Gorman have showy displays of blue phacelia. Photo: Ron Erskine

Each winter, outdoor lovers hope the season will bring enough rain to light up fields and hillsides with color. And when conditions align just right, the spring flower show can pop like a bicentennial fireworks display. My crystal ball is no clearer than any other, but a look at statewide rainfall totals says this may be a special spring.

It surprises many people that California’s most stunning wildflower displays generally occur in the desert regions down south. Parched landscapes that burn under triple-digit temperatures in August bloom with stunning beauty in March. This season, rainfall totals in much of Southern California are double their annual average—and winter isn’t even half over.

Like the other bucket list item on the calendar for 2017—the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21—this wildflower season calls for a road trip. Here are five places on my itinerary:

Anza Borrego State Park: The hall of fame wildflower geeks I have known all run out of superlatives when they describe this state park in a good wildflower year. Anza Borrego sits in the Colorado Desert two hours east of San Diego and is California’s largest state park. Things will bloom here first (mid to late March), so start your road trip here, then work your way north.

Joshua Tree National Park: On my one spring visit to this national park, I captured some beautiful photographs that a chimpanzee could have taken. Everywhere I turned, showy carpets of sand verbena and evening primrose curled through the park’s characteristic rock formations and various other desert plants in bloom. Driving the main road through the park, you will see patches of color out your car window. When you do, pull over, and walk into the desert. You won’t be disappointed.

Antelope Valley: Several miles west of Lancaster, the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve anchors a region with many beautiful wildflower spots hidden on side roads. After you visit the reserve, explore Elizabeth Lake Road. The flower show I saw across the street from Lake Elizabeth last spring still shines in my memory.

Gorman: As you travel west from Lancaster on Highway 138, turn right onto Gorman Post Road just before the Grapevine and Interstate 5. From late March to mid April, wildflower photographers flock to this frontage road just south of Gorman to capture hillsides cloaked in bright oranges and blues of California poppies and blue phacelia.

Carrizo Plain National Monument: Hidden beyond the Temblor Range west of Buttonwillow, the Carrizo Plain is a chance to see California’s Central Valley before it was tamed for agriculture. At 250,000 acres, it is the largest native grassland remaining in California. Whenever I have been there after average winter rains, the flowers have sparkled.

These five places usually bloom brightest from mid-March to mid-April, but wildflowers don’t always perform on schedule. Consult and other websites that regularly post wildflower updates. I hope to see you there.

Ron Erskine
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About Ron Erskine
Ron Erskine is a local outdoors columnist and avid hiker.