Borrego Springs, CA
At its heart, Westcoaster is an attractions blog, posting about interesting places and things to see, visit, or experience. Two years ago, we wrote an update about the super bloom happening in Borrego Springs, a typically rare event of extraordinarily bountiful and spectacular blossoms brought forth by the right combination of significant rainfall occurring early enough during the winter before when flowers typically burst forth.
Normally a super bloom comes along once every decade around these parts. It requires a significant amount of rainfall during the winter months followed by warm weather to open up the buds en masse. In Southern California, winters aren’t particularly damp, and until the past couple of years, the state had been in an extended drought, depriving any flowers of the water they need to blossom. However, just two years after the last, another super bloom has spread across the landscape. So if you missed this display of nature’s floral festivities in 2017, you have a second chance!
I headed out to the desert last weekend to check out the flowers. Borrego Springs is a place I’ve visited several times before. I originally learned about it from friends who had gone out to photograph those fantastical metal sculptures that are littered throughout miles of public land. But it turns out that it’s a great place to catch super blooms, and this year, the flowers have once again painted the normally arid, sandy, brown landscape with brilliant strokes of purples and yellows and swaths of green.
Borrego Springs is located 2-1/2 to 3 hours from Los Angeles and Orange County, and though it can be done in a single day as an extended day trip, I would recommend staying overnight to allow for stargazing and an early start the second day and a chance to check out more sites. Around this time of the year, though, lodging is booked up pretty fully, so check hotels and motels in advance.
Prior to setting out, I consulted the wildflower update page from the Anza Borrego Desert Natural History Association. That and the Desert USA site have pretty good monitors on wildflower bloom status day by day, providing descriptions and maps of where the blooms occur. While blossoms first started sprouting a few weeks ago, we are currently in the prime of the wildflower bloom, with tens of thousands of sunflowers, lupines, poppies, and more illuminating the desert in saturation.
Most visitors will reach Borrego Springs by way of highway S22 from the west, and the the overlook of the sprawling desert landscape below from the Anza Borrego mountains reveals a verdant green that has taken over a landscape that normally resembles Tatooine more than it does a lush nature’s wonderland. Even upon arrival on the desert floor, the fields and hillsides are awash in vegetation—a stark contrast to the barren sand, rocks, and dust that will blanket the terrain in just a few short months.
The wonderful thing about visiting Borrego during this time is the ability to see the diversity of the desert. We normally think about this arid scenery as a harsh and lifeless place—somewhere to drive past or fly over. But look in the details, and one will encounter plenty of life. It just requires a sharp eye and ideal timing.
The super bloom offers the chance to see the magic that lies dormant in the desert through much of the year. On my trip last weekend, it was amazing to see just how many different types of plants and flowers there were, some with just small differences from each other. The colors they yielded were absolutely gorgeous, with whites, yellows, and purples dotting the green landscape. And with a new macro lens I recently purchased, it was also a chance to really focus on the details of the plantlife.
The flourishing life wasn’t restricted to the plant kingdom. We witnessed part of the huge current migration of painted lady butterflies as well, with a plethora of the monarch cousins whipping through the roads as we drove from place to place (and many, unfortunately, falling victim to automobile grilles and bumpers and windshields… sorry guys…). Closer to the ground, caterpillars could be found occasional munching on the blooms, taking advantage of the sudden abundant food source. Meanwhile, though perilous looking, it was also fascinating to see carpenter ants foraging about, venturing outdoors in the temperate weather.
We visited four different sites during our time in Borrego Springs last Saturday. The largest concentration of blooms was located at the end of DiGiorgio Road, offering desert sunflowers and purple sand verbena, plus some desert lilies. This was also the most crowded area, with plenty of floral admirers enjoying the cool temperatures and marvelous blooms.
Just south of the main DiGiorgio Road site, along the same road, there was also a patch of yellow desert daisies offering a vibrant contrast to the partly cloudy blue skies. Here too, there were plenty of people enjoying the scenery, getting photos, and just having fun.
After lunch, we headed east, out of town, along the Borrego Salton Seaway portion of highway S22. Around mile markers 31 and 35, there were two sites of wildflowers that offered more lupines and lilies and purple sand verbena. The second site offered some rockier terrain, with some mini-hikes available to scramblers. Here, we saw desert cacti, most of which had not yet bloomed, in addition to some of the aforementioned species.
What’s really cool about the super bloom is its evolving nature. Practically each brings about a different set of varieties of blossoms. Last week, for example, barrel and ocotillo cacti prevalent in the area were largely dormant, but based on the latest reports, they’ve started flowering this weekend. And as early patches fade away, other patches come into place, offering diversity in the pastoral vistas promulgating in the desert.
Our trip only explored the blooms in and just north of town and to the northeast. There were also wildflowers in Hellhole Canyon and Palm Canyon inside Anza Borrego State Park that we did not have time to see, plus blooms southeast of town along Borrego Springs Road. Depending on how much time one spends admiring nature, checking out the super bloom in Borrego Springs could be a full day or full weekend excursion.
It goes without saying, though, that if you do make your way out there, please be respectful of the desert landscape, and don’t trample or ruin flower fields in your quest “for the ‘Gram” or to show off how amazing everything is. It may seem like there are flowers for miles—and there are—but the ecosystem out in the desert is still delicate, and it should be well treated.
This year’s super bloom in Borrego is expected to extend into at least early April, so you still have several more weeks to make arrangements. Some flowers close in the afternoon sun, so getting there early is recommended—even though that does mean a very early wake time on most likely the weekend for most Southern California denizens. Catch the show while you can though. Even though we’ve been fortunate enough to get two in three years, there’s no telling when the next super bloom will be. And once it’s gone, there will be only pictures and memories to fall back on.
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.