March 27, 2021

Photo Essay: The Delightfully Uncrowded Bloom at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego hasn't had a "superbloom" since Spring 2019—but I still wanted to go check it out this year, just in case I could find some blooms.

I knew that while there might not be "carpets" of wildflowers per se, I was likely to find something pretty if I went looking—just like I did across from Great Sandy Trail and the "Balance Valley Rancho" sign.on County Route S-2 (a.k.a. the Great Southern Overland Stage route).  

The otherwise nondescript trailhead for Hornblende Canyon, also off of the S-2, was bursting with color this weekend...

...with outcroppings of reddish orange mallow (the apricot variety, I think)...

...and bright yellow brittlebush. 

The landscape was still incredibly dry and, well, brittle compared to how lush and green it's been in prior wildflower seasons...

...and a little farther down the S-2 still, past the "The Meaning of Mail" interpretive signage and before Vallecito County Park & Stage Station...

...there was the pinkish-purple desert sand verbena...

...intermingling with the white-colored desert pincushion. 

The hunt for wildflowers may not always be successful—but one bloom you can count on the desert providing arises out of the creosote bush. 

The petals will eventually turn into little white puffballs, but if you catch them early enough—as I did, along the Elephant Tree Discovery Trail off of Split Mountain Road—you can witness the burst of yellow and catch a whiff of the smoky fumes coming out of one of the planet's oldest plant species. 

Perhaps just as reliable in its seasonal sprouts is the red ocotillo—which erupts into red at its tips sometimes even before its leaves come back to life in their spring greens (as was the case with those along Borrego Mountain Wash, just north of The Slot trailhead). 

Borrego Mountain Wash

Before those rosy-hued clusters come out, this desert plant is so dry and brittle, you might think it's dead and just hasn't fallen over yet. 

Fortunately, nearly every ocotillo I saw this weekend was red...

...including those along the jeep trail leading to the West Dolomite Mine site.

Far less common is the American agave—or "century plant"—some of which wait a decade or two (or more) to grow their big, flowering stalk. And some only bloom once and then die. 

I saw a few isolated agaves reaching towards the sky this weekend, including a couple on the jeep trail towards the Mine Wash historic site. 

And then, just when I'd given up and was heading back home on the Banner Grade (past the "B" in the town of Banner but before Wynola Road)... explosion of tiny buckbrush blossoms!

When I pulled over to see them...

...I was also treated with the beginnings of the chaparral whitethorn's bluish-purple bloom...

...which served as a spectacular grand finale of my trip...

...but not before snapping some shots of bush poppies, which may be the only poppies I see all year. 

The crowds may have not come to Anza-Borrego this year, but I'm glad I did. I've become much more of a plant person since moving to California—and I'd like to keep that up. 

Besides, I need an occasional desert visit to recharge my battery

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