A Traveler and his Cat exploring America.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Chasing Desert Wildflowers

Tread Lightly.

The Flowers will LOVE YOU!

March 2008

Our first stop on the Desert Flower Tour would be the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve west of Lancaster. Expecting the hills to be carpeted with bright orange flowers I was surprised to find none at all. In fact no one was there; we had the place all to ourselves. Evidently it is too early in the year for them. So, I ate breakfast took Sinbad for a walk and on the drive out I finally spotting one lonely poppy by the road’s edge. Lucky me! I was witness to the blooming of the first poppy of the season and everyone else missed it.

Retracing our tracks from a few months before, we motored on to Joshua Tree National Park. Entering Joshua Tree will be an experience I will never forget, for we drove in FREE of the $15 entrance fee, thanks to my Annual National Parks Pass given to me by my daughter for Christmas. I felt like a VIP as the Ranger swiped my card, verified my ID and wished me a pleasant visit. “Don’t I get a map and park newsletter?” I asked. Since I wasn’t handing over any money, perhaps he felt I wasn’t entitled to the automatic free handouts.

So here I am, in the park, driving along at my usual traffic impeding pace and there is not single wildflower to be seen. What is going on here? I wondered. We camped for the night and left the following morning continuing our search for the ever-elusive desert wildflowers. Once we crossed over the ridge at Sheep’s Pass and dropped down on the southern slopes the flowers began to appear. Faints patches here and there of small little violet colored blossoms and little more. I reasoned the further south we go, the more flowers we would see…hopefully.

We arrived at the Cottonwood Visitor Center at the south entrance to the park an hour earlier than last time, thus it was open, not closed for lunch as before. Inside the place was packed with each and every visitor asking, “Where do we go to see the flowers?” I could tell the Ranger lady’s patience was at its ragged end, no doubt having answered this question so many times already, and here her day wasn’t even half over. To the other Ranger lady standing there with glazed eyes I asked “What are the people doing alongside the road with the little black trash bags bundled up along the way?” She was very happy to answer something that it seemed no one had asked before. “I believe biologists and volunteers are in the process of removing exotic plant life from the park.” Sounds like a fun thing to do on a nice spring day in the desert.
I wrestled with the idea of staying at the campground here rather than to rush off southward. After several passes through the two loops of Cottonwood campground, not finding anything that promising or level and not relishing the idea of parting with $12, I decided to head for Anza Borrego as the day was still young. As soon as we crossed the Joshua Tree park boundary I noticed some boondockers on a side road. I had not noticed this area the last time through here. We drove in, liked what we saw and made camp for the night.

We spent the flowing week exploring Anza Borrego where the wildflowers of all varieties were abundant. It wasn’t till we ventured to the southern portion of the park did I finally discover some barrel cacti, cholla, hedgehog and beavertail cactus in bloom. All are in their early stages and I’m sure come April they will be in their full glory.

Desert Sand Verbena


Desert Lily

My desert guidebook doesn't show all the flowers that I have seen and photographed and this here is just one of the many unknowns. I plan to go to the visitor center after posting this into the blog and see if I can ID some of these unknowns. I fear though the visitor center may be like walking into a K-Mart during a blue light special being it Sunday and the weekenders are here.


Barrel Cactus

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