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Saturday, January 7, 2017

HOPING FOR GREAT DESERT BLOOM --San Diego Union Tribune




ERNIE COWAN Outdoors

HOPING FOR GREAT DESERT BLOOM


Whispers of hope are becoming shouts of expectation as recent rains have drenched San Diego’s deserts,
 promising a spectacular spring wildflower display.

It’s something that desert lovers look forward to every year, but the combination of rainfall, mild temperatures and the lack of high winds is something that nature only delivers about every seven to 10 years.

With nearly 2 inches of rain recorded throughout Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in December, and more on the way, the most important part of the equation is in place. A few more showers through January will support the ample growth of spring plants already underway and if temperatures remain mild to avoid searing the delicate flowers, and if high winds don’t shred the blossoms, it could be a banner color year.

There are some spring wildflowers every year, but the past five years of drought has limited plant growth. At best, spring displays have been more like small gardens scattered around the desert rather than vast fields of color.

The last good year was 2010, so hopes are high for this year.

“Although only nature knows for sure what the wildflowers in Anza-Borrego will be like this year, this season is showing all the signs of a good bloom. Maybe even a great bloom,” said Paige Rogowski, executive director of the Anza-Borrego Foundation. “We’ve had the rain, now we wait to see if we get the right mix of sunshine and warmth.”

If that does happen, look for the first color to arrive in mid- to late February and continue into April.

The lower elevations around Borrego Springs will be the first to bloom and then color will move to
 higher elevations as the season continues.A good wildflower year is important to both the state park and the community of Borrego Springs. Visitor numbers skyrocket when there are lots of flowers, and restaurants and lodging can be filled to capacity.

A vast spring wildflower bloom offers something for everyone, including those who prefer to enjoy the beauty from the comfort of their vehicle, or those who would rather explore more remote areas on foot.

Rogowski said Henderson Canyon Road and the north end of DiGiorgio Road where the pavement
 ends are often prime wildflower viewing locations. Fields of purple sand verbena dotted with yellow desert sunflowers offer a colorful contrast along Henderson Road, while dune primrose and verbena can carpet the dunes at the end of DiGiorgio Road.

The more remote areas often providing dense spring displays include Hawk Canyon, Plum Canyon, Little Blair Valley and Little Surprise Canyon. Frequently the drive into Borrego Springs along Montezuma Grade is a riot of color with red ocotillo blossoms, clusters of yellow brittle bush, magenta beavertail
 cactus or delicate white flowers of fish hook cactus greeting visitors at the peak of the bloom.

Hikers into such places as Borrego Palm Canyon can explore native palm groves and see species of wildflowers found nowhere else in the park. A bonus might also be the sighting of a herd of bighorn sheep.

An abundant bloom also produces other things of interest that show how nature reacts to lots of rain. With a carpet of spring plants, sphinx moths lay eggs that soon hatch into large, green caterpillars. While colorful and interesting, they also devour the tender growth of wildflowers.

The caterpillars also provide food for migrating Swainson’s hawks that pass through the desert from about mid-February until mid-April. A good spring bloom means more food for the hawks.

Rogowski said park visitors can keep track of the spring bloom in several ways. At the foundation website, theabf.org, click on the “Explore Anza­
Borrego” tab and then “Wildflowers” for the latest information. You can also sign up for email updates on the same page.

The state park also maintains a Wildflower Hotline. Call (760) 767-4684 for the latest bloom information as the season progresses.

Visitors can also stop at the State Park Store in the mall on Palm Canyon Drive or at the park visitor center for the latest bloom information, maps or wildflower
 guidebooks. Don’t be surprised if you see your desert-loving friends doing rain dances in the next few weeks, with high hopes of creating a memorable wildflower season.