Any new person arriving in California has dreamt of palm trees and all-year-round sunshine. But if you believe in this picture that travel agencies sell you, your hopes may soon fade away, especially if you arrive in the winter. Indeed, some of them can be extremely wet, with days of heavy rain during which you would rather stay at home and not put a single toe outside, out of fear that you may end up swimming instead of walking.
I am pretty sure you spent every morning of January and February opening your weather app and praying for a small sun ray to gently warm up your skin. Half the time, you would be disappointed at first, then frustration will grow up until, on the third day, you would become truly infuriated towards your poor, innoncent smartphone. I know how you feel, as it happened to me as well when I arrived, back in November 2016.
However, since then, I have learned a way to somehow appreciate those pouring days.
First of all, don’t worry: the sunny days will come back soon enough and there will be a long period of time when you are going to complain about the heat. In between winter and summer, everything that you endured will become rewarding.
As you most probably know by now, Los Angeles has a semiarid climate and, east of it, there is a huge dersert area called the Mojave Desert. This means that rain is extremely important for the region’s flora and biodiversity. When we experience dry winters, the nature suffers a lot and drought often hits the state in the early months of the year. Yet, when the amount of water is high enough, we clearly witness the rebirth of this very nature after suffocating summer and fall periods. One of the phenomena that best translate this is called the “super bloom”. Usually, it happens every 5 to 10 years, but the last one only dates back to 2017 and, this year again, all the conditions are met.
So, what is a “super bloom”?
It’s a phenomenon that occurs during spring, when there literally is an explosion of wildflowers in the Californian deserts. So, instead of the arid, sand-like ground that you usually find in those places, it turns into a palette full of colors that sunbeams delicately shade. The fragrances that arise from those fields are as delightful as the scene before your eyes.
Unfortunately, this phenomenon is ephemeral, and you only have a few weeks to observe it. Thus, you have to pick the time you would go really carefully: late enough so that most of the flowers are open, but before the voracious caterpillars eat them all.
Where to observe the wildflowers?
Actually, there are plenty of places where you can see amazing blooms: from the beaches around Malibu to the San Gabriel mountains, every single place around Los Angeles will be covered in a burst of colors.
The most stunning places are of course the deserts, as they usually don’t bear a lot of vegetation. You can thus imagine how fragile they can be, so be always mindful to not step outside the official trails and resist the temptation to pick up or trample the flowers. And remember that you can take pictures of the wildflowers, but just don’t take them in the wildflowers. This is a really serious matter, to the point that Lake Elsinore had to close its access to the public last weekend (see this article), so please be extremely respectful of the wonder that surrounds you.
To show you respected this simple “Leave No Trace” principle and spread the word around you, you can use the hashtag #nowildflowerswereharmed when posting your pictures on Instagram 🙂
Here is a non-exhaustive list of the best desert places to see the 2019 super bloom:
1. Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve
Less than 1h30 away from Pasadena, this reserve is located on the west boundary of the Mojave Desert and is well-known for its Californian poppy fields that cover the surrounding hills of a yellow-orange palette. In case you are not yet convinced that you should remain on official trails, know that rattlesnakes are known to hang out there. Note that there is a lot of tourists that come there and, along with Lake Elsinore, it is most probably the least quiet place to observe wildflowers.
2. Death Valley National Park
Unfortunately, according to Death Valley NP website, 2019 won’t see a super bloom as in other parts of the State. The conditions for this desert to cover up with wildflowers are even stricter than other places in Southern California, and the first rains arrived too late in the winter. If you go there this spring, you will still be able to observe some wildflowers, but nothing as breathtaking as the 2016 super bloom.
3. Anza Borrego Desert State Park
This less-known desert is located east of San Diego and is about a 3h-drive from Pasadena. This year’s super bloom is expected to be even more exceptional than the 2017! Just like the Poppy Reserve, Anza Borrego attracts thousands of tourists when such a phenomenon occurs. Fortunately, the park is way bigger and if you put on your hiking boots and get away from the Visitor Center, you will be able to find some peaceful places to observe impressive displays of native desert plants.
4. Joshua Tree National Park
This park is a must-see all year round, but when tinted in yellow and purple, it will be love at first sight. If you are lucky enough to find a spot in a campground, you can ally wildflower- and star-gazing in a single day! Joshua trees attract a considerable number of tourists year-long, so everything is already set up to avoid overflows.
5. Indian Canyons
These canyons are located near Palm Springs and, oddly enough, they aren’t famous for their blooms. Actually, they are this kind of gem that remains unknown from most tourists, yet they offer splendid landscapes made of waterfalls, palm trees and oases. If you can picture this paradise on earth, imagine now what it can be when flowers are spreading their rich colors and delicate fragrance on the surrounding hills.
6. Lake Elsinore
Walker Canyon has been invaded by tourists over the past two weekends, who came to admire its hills, which literally burst into colorful carpets of wildflowers. Though it is probably the most impressive bloom of southern California, Lake Elsinore authorities had to close the access last Sunday because things got completely out of control. Indeed, people who came there had in mind that they would leave the place with the most instagramable picture they would ever post on the social media, and did not hesitate to get off the trails, trample the flowers and lay down onto these fragile plants, jeopardizing not only this super bloom, but also those to come. We don’t know yet how authorities will handle this “poppy nightmare” for the next weekends and though you will be missing something, I would suggest to avoid the area. If you plan to go there anyways, make sure to follow the “leave no trace” principle and to not harm any native plants.