Arizona has received the rains needed the past three months. As a result, the desert is green, and we are starting to see wildflowers sprout

The rains need to continue every few weeks or the sprouts will produce less bloom stalks. We do have a 40% chance of rain this week, and we all hope for more (so all together now, rain dance!). So our current prediction for the Sonoran Desert wildflowers is a normal spring bloom…

BUT! This rain pattern we’re currently seeing is similar what we saw 2010, when we saw a big lupine bloom (see photo below from Silver King Mine, location #36 in our Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflower guidebook). If we get a lot of rain in February, we could also get a owl clover carpet bloom like we had in 2005 in places like the Eagletail Mountains (location #18 in the book).

If we don’t see much rain this month, we still have the old faithful poppy fields like we have seen in the last few years at Peridot Mesa (location #48). A few poppies are already starting to show around Lake Pleasant Regional Park (#20), White Tank Mountain Regional Park (#21), and Lost Dutchman State Park (#31).

If you would like to start planning your wildflower outings in Arizona this spring, pick up a copy of our book to help get you in the right place at the right time: Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflower. Thanks for your support!

And keep an eye on our blog here.  We hope to have a field report up soon!

It’s raining again this morning in Phoenix and the only things fuller than the typically dry desert washes right now are Paul’s and my email inbox’s flooded with questions similar to “With all this rain we’re getting, will this be the killer wildflower bloom we’ve all be waiting for in the Arizona desert?”

After less than spectacular blooms for the past several years, this year, we are optimistically encouraged by the amount of precipitation – and as a result, the greening desert.  Although the verdict is still out on what will develop, we do have some early indications of what may come to pass for this year’s desert bloom.

We have been tracking the actual rainfall in a number of key flower hot spots since November, which is when we need abundant winter rains to trigger the sprouting process.  (We need solid rains in November and December, and then steady sprinkles in January, February, and March for a great annual bloom).   Based on rainlog.org data, here’s what we’ve seen in areas where rainfall amounts are collected:

As you can see, the season didn’t start off terribly well (zero rain in November), but has rebounded quite impressively in December and into January (and it’s still raining, at least in Phoenix, as we speak).  Whether December’s amounts were enough to make up for November’s will remain unknown until we see the magnitude and depth of the spring bloom beginning in the next three to six weeks.

First globemallow bud in Paul’s backyard from yesterday

Around the start of the new year, the desert experienced a couple of freezes.  The brittlebush bloom had begun early in some locations, but then those buds froze.  The perennial plants seem to be re-budding as the weather warms, which is good news.  The poppies and other annuals were also affected by the freeze.  How much so, though, will also remain a mystery until we start to see the annual bloom appear.

February is a critical month.  Sort of like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, everything needs to be “just right.”  Too much rain could encourage the grasses to grow and choke out flowers.  Too little rain could cause a smaller bloom.  Cold weather could slow the progress and delay the bloom while warm weather could speed it up.

According to NOAA, Arizona remains in an El Nino Watch status with a 50-60% of this system emerging onto the scene in the next two months.  An El Nino typically brings additional rain to the desert southwest,  which can affect the annual, perennial, and cactus bloom starting in late February through June.  The Farmer’s Almanac is also predicting rain showers for the area from February 1-7 and again February 21-26.  If this prediction pans out, it’s the steady sprinkles we need at the precisely the right time of year.

First poppy bud in Paul’s backyard from yesterday

What can you do to get ready for what’s to come?

Keep your fingers crossed, everyone!

Colleen & Paul

Bloom along Forest Service Road 419

The prolific blue dick bloom along Forest Service Road 419, en route to the Barnhardt Trailhead near Rye, Arizona from this past Tuesday.

Paul_Hedgehog bloom

Detail of strawberry hedgehog cactus from the Gateway Saddle area in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

Though the annual show might be coming to an end, the perennial event is just starting here in the Arizona desert so there’s plenty of excellent wildflower photography opportunities remaining even if the Mexican gold poppies we all love are starting to fade.  Here’s what we’ve seen out there since our last update:

Beeline Highway (Highway 87):  If poppies are what you seek, the sides of the road are still showing some patches of the yellow flower among other blooms like globemallow and brittlebush.

McDowell Sonoran Preserve:  The Gateway Saddle area off the Gateway Loop Trail is showing blooming Strawberry Hedgehog cacti, while the brittle bush is just OK.  Off 128th Street, near Tom’s Thumb Trailhead, carpets of yellow Goldfields cover the desert.  The banana yucca should start blooming in a week or two.  For maps and trail information for the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, visit  www.scottsdaleaz.gov/Assets/Public+Website/preserve/TrailMaps.pdf

(Additional locations/information after the photo)

View of Four Peaks with brittlebush from the McDowell Sonoran Preserve

View of Four Peaks with brittlebush from the McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Sego lily

Sego lily along Forest Service Road 419 en route to the Barnhardt Trail near Rye, Arizona

Forest Service Road 419 (location #44 in our Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers book):  Sick of poppies but still want to photograph a larger, showy flower?  Make the drive to FSR 419 outside of Rye (marked as the Barnhardt Trailhead turnoff from Highway 87) to see an awesome sego lily – also known as mariposa lily – bloom in progress!  In addition to white flowers and many budding, not-yet-blooming plants, you’ll also see a prolific blue dick bloom (see photo above) as well as plenty of goldfields and desert onion.  It’s a lot cooler up there (41 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday at sunrise), so don’t forget to throw in a jacket to stay warm until the sun comes up!

Devil’s Potato Patch (location #46):  The upper south-facing flanks are just starting to display brittlebush color, but peak is likely a week or more away.

Cline Cabin Road (location #47):  Poppies are burned in the lower elevations, but the fairy duster has exploded.  In the lowlands, you’ll also find blooming banana yucca, globemallow, and strawberry hedgehog cacti.  The brittle bush bloom is likely a week or more away…if a great show is in cards at all here.  Some of the Engelmann’s prickly pear cacti have started budding – no blooms sited yet though.  As you travel higher up the mountain, just prior to the burn area, keep an eye out for poppies, lupine, blue dicks, strawberry hedgehog cactii and rock escheveria on the south-facing hillside.  As you drive deeper into the scorched trees, purple nightshade has started to put on its own show.

One final reminder:  As you venture out, keep a watch out for rattlesnakes.  Though a fear of them should not prevent you from enjoying and exploring the desert, we simply need to start watching our step as we travel in their rocky, desert habitat during this warmer weather.

Happy shooting!

Colleen and Paul

Paul_Lost Dog Trail_1

Scorpionweed and strawberry hedgehog cactus along the Lost Dog Wash Trail

Paul_Lost Dog Trail_2

Poppies along Lost Dog Wash Trail in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve

 

Lost Dog Wash Trail:  This trail, as well as other spots in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve takes the cake for peak Mexican gold poppy bloom right now.  According to Paul, who visited yesterday, “It’s screaming out there now!”  In addition to the pretty little yellow flowers, scorpionweed, lupine, and several cacti – including strawberry hedgehog and pincushion – are also showing their colors in this desert landscape.  For maps and trail information visit  www.scottsdaleaz.gov/Assets/Public+Website/preserve/TrailMaps.pdf

Bartlett Lake (location #26 in our “Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers” book):  The impressive show here continues with fields of poppies across many of the hillsides into this area and along Service Road 459.  Though the abundant poppies on the hillsides around the saddle have peaked, last Saturday, there were still buds waiting to bloom north of the saddle (though not nearly in the same quantity as we saw near the saddle).  Typical for this location, a great mix of blooms are still going strong with cream cups, lupine, chia, chuparosa, and desert marigold being most abundant right now.  The brittlebush and globemallow are either budding or starting to show splashes of color.  Watch for the perennials to peak in 7-10 days here.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park (location #21):  Though the annual bloom of the Mexican gold poppy is in decline after a glorious show, plenty of flowers along the trail make a trip to the Pipeline Canyon Trail still worth the visit.  The perennial bloom of desert globemallow and brittlebush has picked up since last week, but could use a little more time to peak.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum (location #37): The Desert Garden in the Demonstration Garden filled with penstemon, lupine, coral aloe, and an array of other blooms. A walk down the Main Trail from the Visitor Center to the Cactus and Succulent Garden won’t disappoint, as there are Texas mountain laurels, penstemon, some Mexican gold poppies, scorpionweed, and even some early blooming claret cup cactus.

Silly Mountain (location #32):  Speeding by this location at 55 mph along Highway 60, the brittlebush high on the hillside appeared past peak, while the middle section looked at peak, and the flat bottom areas hadn’t even started blooming yet.  Despite the strange (silly?), tiered bloom, plenty of excellent photo ops still exist!

 

Silly Mountain Sunset

The brittlebush bloom at sunset at Silly Mountain, Arizona last Saturday

As expected, last week’s rain followed by a fairly intense warm-up in Arizona’s low desert has made the wildflower bloom progress nicely. I took a spin around to some of my favorite locations this time of year to scout for our upcoming “Wild for Wildflowers: Sonoran Desert” Arizona Highways Photography Workshop and was not disappointed! Here’s what I saw out there:

Flora-tude

A Mexican gold poppy demonstrating attitude – or “Flora-tude” at Lake Pleasant on Sunday

GO NOW – LOCATIONS AT PEAK:

  • Lake Pleasant: (location #21 in our “Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers” book) This location is AT PEAK or just slightly beyond when it comes to annuals.  The entire hillside along the south end of the Pipeline Canyon Trail has burst into yellow with Mexican gold poppies and California poppies.  I even saw a handful of albino poppies on the west side of the trail – something I’ve never seen outside of Bartlett Lake!  There is a nice mix of other flowers, including lupine, blue dicks, scorpionweed, and fiddleneck.  A very nice stand of bright orange globemallow begs for some nice photographs just south of the Pipeline Bridge.  Though the poppies will only last another 7-10 days, the perennials like brittlebush are just starting to bud and show, so watch this location for the perennial bloom over the next two weeks.
  • Silly Mountain:  (location#32) The ridiculously silly brittlebush bloom on this hillside along the highway has started almost a week or two early and will peak likely this week.

KEEP AN EYE ON IN NEXT 7-10 DAYS:

Albino Mexican Gold Poppy

Albino Mexican Gold Poppy at Bartlett Lake on Sunday

  • Bartlett Lake:  (location #26)  The hillsides around the saddle area are looking spectacular right now – poppies, lupine, chuparosa, fiddleneck, cream cups, and chia.  Though the areas north of the saddle along Service Road 459 are definitely showing a solid wildflower bloom – including the white albino and pink poppies! – a stroll through the desert revealed many, many buds still waiting to bloom.  The shooting is great here right now, but I think this area will likely see peak in the next 7-10 days.  Lots of potential still!
  • Silver King Mine Road: (location #38):  Patches of poppies are evident along the east-facing mountain sides as you drive this recently graded dirt road.  A short hike up the hillside will get you to a relatively young patch of poppies.  A scattering of London rocket, fiddleneck, and lupine are also filling in.  The verdict is still out as to whether we’ll see a spectacular bloom here, but there’s enough going on to warrant putting it on the watch list.
  • Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park: (location #37)  Though not prolific yet, thus far, the Arboretum is showing perhaps the most diverse mix of desert blooms – poppies, globemallow, blue dicks, desert marigold, desert filaree, penstemon, popcorn flower, wild cucumber, and Mormon tea – along the Main Trail.  Though good for ample photographic opportunities now, I think this spot will continue to get even better in the weeks ahead.

FORGET IT – SAVE YOUR GAS & TIME:

  • Saddle Mountain:  (location #20)  Unless you’d like to see what the desert looks like in spring when it doesn’t get enough rain, skip this location this year.  There are a few scattered, tiny poppies, some scorpionweed and fiddlneck, three bladderpod mustard blooms, and a ton of small popcorn flower, which my husband suggested looked more like the bottom of the popcorn bag.  Better luck next year…

Have you been out photographing the wildflowers in Arizona?  Tell us what you’ve seen in your outings!  We’d love to hear from you!

~Colleen

Lupine and cream cups at Bartlett Lake

Lupine and cream cups at Bartlett Lake on Sunday

Thanks to an excellent Arizona Highways Photography Workshop “Bryce in Winter” last week, I wasn’t able to get out to chase wildflowers.  However, en route to and from Utah, I made several Arizona-based wildflower observations worthy of sharing:

  • The Joshua trees north of Wickenburg along Highway 93 are starting to bloom, especially beyond the picnic area.  I didn’t have a chance to check out Tres Alamos Wilderness (location #16 in our book), but I’d assume with confidence the Joshua trees there and in this area will continue to show their big cream-colored blooms for at least the next two weeks.
  • Nothing is blooming in Nothing yet (location #15).
  • The south-facing rolling hills south of Lake Pleasant along Highway 74/Carefree Highway are starting to show solid patches of yellow – poppies appear to be blooming quite well here, but didn’t have time to check out Lake Pleasant (location #21) proper to learn of the progress there.

Paul spent the week wandering around Cabeza Prieta, and though he captured some spectacular images of dune primrose and desert sand verbena, the area in bloom is very small and requires an arduous hike to see – not worth the long drive and safety risk.  He also reported that Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument near Ajo (location # ) is a “no-show” for flowers this year.

It seems we aren’t the only ones “wild about wildflowers” this year!  We’ve received some encouraging news from our blog readers within the last few days, including:

  • Jacque and Bob report that the Arizona Trail near the Picketpost Mountains outside of Superior as well as the roadsides near Florence Junction (location #34) has poppies and lupines.
  • Tom suggests that poppies are showing along the Go John Trail (location #25).
  • Bret saw one tiny patch of poppies along the Jacob’s Crosscut Trail in Lost Dutchman State Park (location #31), but not much else in the Superstitions area.
  • Our dear friend Paul W. out at Boyce Thompson Arboretum just posted a first-of-the-season wildflower report at ag.arizona.edu/bta/events/wildflowers.html.
  • The Arizona State Parks Ranger Cam is live!  Keep tabs on what’s blooming around the state at azstateparks.com/rangercam/index.html.

Let’s us know what you’ve seen by leaving us a Comment below!

Weather forecasters are predicting rain for the Phoenix area on Friday and Saturday, with warming temperatures and much sun next week, which should encourage the blooms to continue showing around the Sonoran Desert.

If you’re looking to get ready for photographing wildflowers in Arizona, hear photographic tips, tricks, and inspiration at two upcoming FREE events this week:

  • Thursday, March 7, “Wild About Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers” at 7 pm at the Northern Arizona University School of Communication (Building #16), Room 119
  • Saturday, March 9, “Mastering Macro Photography” presentations at 11 am and again at 2 pm, first-come, limited seating and book signing event at Tempe Camera

For more information about these two special presentations as well as other upcoming presentations and learning opportunities, be sure to check out our Events page on the Wild in Arizona website.

Brand new Mexican gold poppy

Brand new Mexican gold poppy (wearing its “winter hat”) along the Dynamite Trail in San Tan Mountain Regional Park.

As a proud member of the “Poppy-razzi” (definition: “one who enjoys chasing wildflowers, especially poppies, and potentially to obsessive levels…”), it’s exhilarating to find your first poppy of the new season.  And how exciting it was to see them yesterday as we hiked in the San Tan Mountain Regional Park!

While I was wrapping up my artist-in-residency in Acadia National Park in Maine, my non-photographer parents had gone for a hike last week, and sent me a text message with photos of a brilliant golden blooms along the Dynamite Trail within the park.  It seemed strange that this area would start blooming so early – typically starts in early March – but their iPhone snaps showed it would be worth a visit to see for myself right now.

Show me the lupine!

“Show me the lupine!” Along the Dynamite Trail in the San Tan Mountain Regional Park, captured on Sunday, February 24, 2013.

Though we started our hike yesterday morning on the  Moonlight Trail and San Tan Trails – where the ground was very green with splashes of tiny filaree, popcorn flower, fiddleneck, and other wildflower sprouts as well as grasses – it wasn’t until we walked about 10 minutes along the Dynamite Trail that we finally saw a handful of poppies scattered across the west-facing slopes.  Because of the cold weather, their petals were still curled in tightly even at noon.  The dirt and rocky trail also displayed a handful of just-budding lupine and fiddleneck.

With warming temperatures and plenty of sun in the forecast for the next two weeks, this area could start producing large quantities of wildflowers easily over the next month or so.  Mark your calendar to catch two upcoming one-hour ranger led programs about wildflowers at the San Tan Mountain Regional Park on March 9 at 10 am and March 23 at 11 am ($6 entry fee per vehicle or pass required).

The Dynamite Trail is easily accessed by parking at the Goldmine Trailhead on the far north side of the park.  Follow the Goldmine Trail a quick 0.2 miles (0.4 km), then turn right on the Dynamite Trail.  After walking up the hill and around the first bend, keep your eyes peeled for wildflowers on either side of the trail.

You can also find more information about the San Tan Mountain Regional Park in our guidebook, “Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers, A Guide to When, Where, and How” on page 108-109.

Ice on Fiddleneck in the Lost Dutchman State Park.  Photo copyright Paul Gill.

Paul’s also been out and about recently, where he’s seen lots of fiddleneck and wild onion just starting to bloom around the Superstitions.  Brittle bush are showing early color roadside along the Apache Trail (pages 158-161).  Saguaro Lake is starting to see some poppies, particularly in the aptly-named “The Rolls” area.   Down south, the Sutherland Trail in Catalina State Park north of Tucson is a good bet for early blooms.

The snow fall down to 2000′ last week did not do any real damage and will help with the perennial wildflowers later in March.  Here are a couple photos from Paul from the snow storm last week at the Lost Dutchman State Park.

Snow on green hills in Lost Dutchman State Park.  Photo copyright Paul Gill.

First Poppy 2013

Wildflower up date the season started good with some rain in Nov.-Dec. then we had a dry spell with a sudden freeze and now above average rains. The deserts are showing large areas of green ground cover mostly grasses but there are sprouts of lupine on the south slopes of the Superstitions and as long as it keeps raining we should see some wildflowers in the next 2-3 weeks.

The Farmers Almanac is showing rain every other week for Feb.-March. My prediction for this year is a OK Annuals bloom, GOOD Perennial bloom (brittle bush looking good for late March-April) and GREAT cactus bloom. I have a good amount of Mexican gold poppy and scorpionweed sprouts in my un-watered garden.  The photo of the first poppy is from my watered garden.

I will be in Southern Arizona the first of March and will update again at that time.

Thanks Paul

RainTo all of you who have performed the Rain Dance, we thank you!  That liquid gold has finally returned to Arizona!

With the drenching we’ve had yesterday afternoon and this morning, combined with Arizona’s autumn season coming to an end about two weeks early, we start turning our sights not just on enjoying the holidays, but also on getting excited about our images for next spring during the wildflower blooms!

Three resources we use frequently this time of year to help us visualize when and where the flowers might appear include:

  1. NOAA’s El Nino Forecast: (www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/enso_advisory/index.shtml)  Published in the second week of each month, this free report forecasts weather patterns based on various models.  According to their reports, Arizona moved out of the drier La Nina forecast in May and the onset of the wetter El Nino looked promising…until August when it dissipated!   Now forecasters suggest we’ll stay in a “Neutral” pattern, so we’ll likely be not too wet, but not too dry, in the months to come.
  2. The Farmer’s Almanac – Long Range Weather Forecast /7-Southwest Region:  (www.farmersalmanac.com/long-range-weather-forecast/southwest-us) Surprisingly accurate (even though they predicted drier conditions during December 12-15th…), this resource provides weather prediction in 3-day increments.  You’re able to see two-months worth of information, but if you sign up for a free account, they will show you their crystal ball for four-months ahead instead.  (I signed up earlier this year, and I’ve yet to receive a spammy-like email from them after doing so.) Their reports forecast sporadic moisture now through March which seems to match what we’d expect in the Neutral weather pattern NOAA’s predicting.
  3. Rainlog.org:  (rainlog.org)  This free website provides the actual amount of rain collected in specific areas across Arizona.  Using the Date Range or Monthly Report options, we see that November was much drier than December for most of the state but there are a few wildflower hot-spots that have seen solid rainfall in both months.  For example, the Gold Canyon area near the Superstition Mountains saw roughly an inch of rain in November, and has already seen a half-inch in December.  That could mean a good start for the flowers in places like Lost Dutchman State Park (location #31 in our Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers book), Silly Mountain (#32), Peralta Trail (#33), Hewitt Canyon (#34), and the Apache Trail (#48).

So what will happen come next February?  Only Mother Nature will tell when the Mexican gold poppies, lupine, and all the other beautiful blooms arrive next spring!  Keep in mind that the annuals are more picky when its comes to precipitation; so even if we don’t get the perfect mix of rain, warmth, and light for the poppies, the less-demanding perennials like brittlebush, desert globemallow, palo verde trees, and all the cacti are loving every minute of this rain too!

Wishing you all a “picture-perfect” holiday season and a very Happy New Year in 2013!  And whatever you do, please keep doing the Rain Dance!

The Apache Trail has roadside, poppy, lupine, creamcup, Rock Echeveria, penstemon, and brittle bush but no carpets of flowers. The strawberry hedgehog is starting. Tonto National Monument is poor for flowers but there are carpets of Goldfield flowers just past on the right FR 83 & J Bar road. they are burning off but with a rain this weekend may come back. Chances are if areas that were blooming like Silver King and Peridot get rain we could see a second bloom in a few weeks.

Rock Echeveria

Cream Cups

Roosevelt Lake, Gold field
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