California Desert Wildflower Update

Ron Niebrugge Anza-Borrego, California, Photos, Travel 19 Comments

Yesterday's sunrise, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California.

Yesterday's sunrise, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California.

This was our final sunrise in Anza-Borrego – we made the long drive to Arizona.  So, I thought I would offer one final update on the desert wildflower conditions.

The wildflowers are definitely running late this year – experts in the local newspaper are saying they are at least two weeks late, and cold weather this week won’t help.  In 2005, there were poppies all over the hills near Lake Elsinore, and wildflowers throughout Anza-Borrego and the Southern end of Joshua Tree by the last week of February.  Even in 2008, by the first week of March there were many flowers in Borrego, Southern Joshua Tree and thick poppies around Escondido.  This year I haven’t seen or heard of very many poppies yet, and there isn’t anything happening in the Sonora region of Joshua Tree.   Anza-Borrego is hit and miss, but there is plenty of potential and many photo opportunities.  I read somewhere that 50 different species are blooming right now in Hellhole Canyon, a dream for macro photographers and pedal peepers, but I will stick to the big bold wildflowers favored by landscape photographers.  Here are those hits and misses:


Without a doubt this is the year for the beautiful  Desert Lily – Far better then even 2005!  I’m usually excited to find a few – this year I have found fields of hundreds.  And the plants have more blooms then I’m used to seeing as well.  These should get better in the week or two to come.

In many areas, Lupine and Hummingbird Bush (Chuparosa) are also looking as good as they did in 2005.  The Chuparosa are particularly vibrant- rich red leaves with bright red blooms.

Barrel cactus also seems to be blooming early and looking as good as I can remember.


Brittlebush.  You can usually count on this bright wildflower and it is starting to appear, but not in big numbers.  This could still change.

Sand Verbena and Evening Dune Primrose.  There were a few nice patches of these popular wildflowers early on, but they are starting to show some wear and tear and recent winds won’t help.  The mustard has over taken much of their habituate, but even some of my favorite, more remote dunes that aren’t effected by the mustard are lacking blooms.

Desert Gold.  It was starting to emerge amongst the mustard along the famous Henderson Canyon Road, but the mustard is getting so tall, I think it may be a losing battle.

The weather forecast was for much warmer weather next week – that could be the boast the area needed – as long as it doesn’t get too hot!

Hopefully tomorrow I can share my observations for Arizona.

Comments 19

  1. Thanks for the update Ron. I am planning to try my luck out there again this coming Sunday. The brittlebush in your photo caught the sun so nicely!

  2. That is beautiful Ron. A fitting end to your stay in A-B. Now why couldn’t Sunday have been like that? 🙂

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    Thanks Samantha! Let me know how it goes on Sunday – if you have time, Borrego Palm Canyon might be the best bet despite the crowds.

    Genevieve – Thanks! I know, I was so hoping for something like this last Sunday!

  4. There was nothing going on in Joshua Tree. Some of the trees had blooms starting & the cholla gardens need another couple of weeks. It would probably help if it stopped snowing!

  5. I second Jon about Joshua Tree. However since it was my first time there I really enjoyed working with the weird shaped trees and boulders. I’ll be leaving tomorrow morning for Southwest Arizona, maybe we’ll meet again!

  6. Thanks for the update Ron. I’ll head down there in a couple of weeks to see if things have changed.

    I live in inland southern California, and here are some additional observations. Lake Elsinore is still pretty dead in terms of poppies (although it is very green–I live 10 minutes from there). I would think another couple of weeks and a warm-up (as is slated for this weekend) will help that, however I have seen some poppies in the southern end of the Santa Ana mountains, specifically from the 241 Freeway above the 91 Freeway. Lupine are going crazy on the roadcut all along the 241/261 Freeways; they could be accessed easily for photography, although with a freeway close, intimate landscapes would be best.

    That’s really all I know today. Thanks again for this post, Ron! Much appreciated.


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    Thanks everyone!

    Snow in Joshua Tree is pretty crazy in March!

    Alan – I think you made a good choice – I will be interested in what you see! Maybe this time we will get a chance to visit.

    Scott – no reflector, this was a blend of a couple of images.

    Thanks for the update on the conditions Greg! As green as those hills are, it seems like it could be a good year for poppies! Didn’t realize you lived near Lake Elsinore.



  8. Hey Ron, I dig your coverage of Anza-Borrego. That’s my favorite park to go to and I’m going to see the wildflower bloom within the next week. What areas of the park do you take you photos? I noticed the pic with the rainbow had a stream as well. Where was that?

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    Hi Evan,

    Good to hear from someone else who enjoys Anza-Borrego!

    I was shooting all around the Northern portion of the park – that photo was of Borrego Palm Canyon – water is really flowing pretty far out of the canyon. Unfortunately that is the best part of the park right now – I say unfortunately because the weekend crowds will be pretty thick, especially there, but it is worth it.



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  11. 3/15/10

    Just got in town, just to find out that you pulled up the anchor and left for AZ. Anyone in town would like to get together and try are luck around here?

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  13. Hi, Just spent a day out in AB. The sunflowers on Henderson canyon, are getting more numerous because of the warmer weather but that danged Sahara Mustard is EVERYWHERE and the sunflowers will not be like they have in the past. it’s a real shame. Also went into Glorieta Canyon where there are a lot of Barrel or maybe fishhook cactus just ready to go off. Some have already, for example the one right under the tail of the metal Tyranosaurus sculpture on the dirt road to Glorieta. Some very nice Ocotillo there as well. A lot of people there on Sunday. The little mexican fast food place was jammed and it took 1/2 hour to get my lunch.

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    Hi Steve,

    You know I couldn’t believe how busy Borrego Springs was on the weekends ! I was hoping Glorieta Canyon would have been further along when I was there – that is a pretty area.

    The Sahara Mustard is really a shame!

    Thanks for the update!


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  16. Hey Ron,
    Thanks for the plug 🙂
    I also just posted my trip report from my hike to the Carrizo Gorge Pictographs.
    Awesome spot, but it took a bit of an effort to drive out there.

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