Desert in Bloom: Anza-Borrego Wild Flowers

The Anza-Borrego Desert Bloom is as unpredictable as Mother Nature herself. Conditions have to be just right – abundant rain December to February, mild temperatures below 85 degrees, and average desert winds. It’s the precise formula for producing a tapestry of brilliant color that carpets the desert floor with blooms. Most years are a disappointment, especially during Southern California’s long drought, but that just makes an epic bloom year all the more spectacular.

Cactus and wildflowers at Anza-Borrego State Park in California.

Predicting the timing of the blooms is equally tricky, but generally speaking the short bloom season begins late February or early March and extends through late March. Catching it at its peak requires diligent watchfulness, which if you don’t live in the desert you can do by calling the Anza-Borrego State Park Wildflower Hotline for recorded updates at 760-767-4684. To keep your finger on the pulse of Desert Bloom and make your trip at just the right time, you’ll want to call often.

Droves of San Diegans and tourists alike head to Anza-Borrego Desert each spring hoping to experience the elusive Desert Bloom phenomenon. Naturalists will tell you 1993 was the bloom year to beat with the entire desert valley aflame in color. It was a long time before a comparable bloom came along again, but 2005 and 2010 were also memorable bloom years. After a long drought, 2017 looks to be the best bloom year in recent memory, so you’ll want to plan right to make the most of it.

There are a few useful resources to help you take advantage of Desert Bloom. The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center in Borrego Springs is a good place to start for those who are experiencing their first bloom. They have great information, a map of the state park, and easy-to-follow short trails among the flowers close to the Center. The Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association Desert Nature Center, also in Borrego Springs, is another resource you’ll want to take advantage of, because they pass out free flower maps that are updated weekly to guide you to recent blooms. You can also purchase a Flower Guide at the Nature Center.

Near the State Park Visitor Center, you’ll find poppies, visalia, and brittlebush blooming. North of Borrego Springs proper, along Henderson Canyon Road, you’ll see flower fields of delicate purple sand verbena blanket the desert with showy blooms that photography dreams are made of. Dune primrose, desert sunflowers, and desert dandelions make splashy appearances. Head to the end of De Georgio Road for abundant desert lilies, white and lavender spectacle pod, and maybe an ethereal bearded cryptantha or two. Chuparosa bush along Glorietta Trail south of town and widespread ocotillo plants, especially at Ocotillo Flats, add vibrant reds to the mix. Desert Bloom in all its colorful glory is a visual feast everywhere you turn.

First timers to Desert Bloom may want to opt for guided nature walks with guides from the Natural History Association Desert Nature Center. It’s a great way to get a picture of what you’re looking for when you explore on your own. Besides Glorietta Trail, De Georgio Road, Desert Gardens, and Ocotillo Flats, there is another popular hiking hotspot. Palm Canyon Trail west of town is a favorite year-round hiking trail where you may even catch a glimpse of desert bighorn sheep resting in the oasis or stopping by for a drink. If you’re planning to take a guided nature walk or hike on your own to make the most of Desert Bloom, be sure to bring a hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water.

For a different perspective of Desert Bloom, visitors can drive up Montezuma Grade to the small town of Ranchita. It’s the descent back toward Borrego Springs that offers spectacular views of the wildflower blanketed valley. It’s an unbelievable scenic drive virtually any time of year that avid bikers would also enjoy. If you have time, you may want to explore more of Anza-Borrego Desert before you leave.

Beyond wildflowers there is more desert magic at Borrego Springs. One such place is Galleta Meadows. Sculptor Ricardo Breceda created 129 giant metal desert sculptures commissioned by Dennis Avery. Larger than life meticulously detailed works of art include a T-Rex, saber-tooth tiger, elephant, raptor, and desert serpent. You can get a map of the sculptures from the Anza-Borrego State Park Visitor Center.

The Borrego Badlands, another must-see, can be best viewed from Font’s Point, which is often referred to as “California’s Grand Canyon.” You can’t go all the way to the point by car, but you can go by 4-wheeler, or you can take a guided tour with either Borrego Jeep Photo Adventures or California Overland Desert Excursions. For epic photos, the best times are sunrise and sunset, though any time is mesmerizing.

Nighttime in the desert hides the beauty of Desert Bloom, but brings out the sparkle of the stars above. Borrego Springs is California’s only International Dark Sky Community. Visitors will see the night sky like never before from star clusters to planets to distant galaxies. You can enjoy this epic experience on your own, or join astronomer Dennis Mammana on one of his Borrego Night Sky Tours.

What’s your favorite desert bloom location? Was it one of these, or someplace we didn’t mention? Share your spot with us in the comments.