San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSDNHM Field Guide

Enjoying Desert Wildflowers

For many residents of southern California--even people who have lived here for many years--their first trip to the desert comes when they hear there's a spectacular spring bloom. Think the media coverage of the bloom is just journalistic hype? It isn't! The flower display in a good year (with plenty of winter rain) can be spectacular. So is the number of people going to see it. Here are some tips for avoiding the crush.

Tip One: Go on a weekday, or as early as you can get there in the morning. If your desert trip will include several stops (which we strongly recommend!), do the most publicized area first, before the tour buses get there.

Tip Two: Take a lunch and plenty of water; you can lose a lot of your desert time trying to fight the crowds in restaurants.

Tip Three: Although the DiGiorgio Road and Henderson Canyon areas of Borrego Springs get a lot of publicity, they're not the only places worth seeing in the Borrego Valley. Drive along other roads and keep your eye open for the purple Sand Verbena that marks the spots where you'll find a variety of flowers that thrive in deep sand. Stop often to walk around and look for the small flowers that can't be seen from the road.

Tip Four: While the Valley is a must-see experience every spring, other areas of the desert are worth seeing, too. You'll find that the southern portion of the desert--lower in elevation, and warmer--gets a head start, and flowers like Desert Lilies may be in bloom earlier than in the more northern desert areas (see the photo on this page, taken near Calexico). Canyons, washes, and rocky slopes are filled with their own special assortment of species different from the sand-lovers seen in the Valley.

Tip Five: Don't drive yourself to exhaustion! Instead, plan another trip in a week or two, perhaps to a different area. There will be flowers to discover from January or February through the beginning of hot weather in April. Go early and go often!

And above all, relax and enjoy an experience you won't be able to repeat soon.

A Desert Lily gives its all, near Calexico, Imperial County, 8 March 1998

Most years, Desert Lilies are scattered and about knee-high. In the El Niño year 1998, there were fields of lilies a meter or more tall.

Text and photo by Judy Gibson, 1998/2001.

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