Thanks to an abnormally rainy winter in Southern California, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is in the midst of a rare wildflower ‘super bloom’ resulting in miles of normally barren land awash with vibrant color. We made the trek to Anza-Borrego (which, despite its remote location, is convenient to both Los Angeles and San Diego) over the weekend. I thought I’d share some photos from the visit in this post, as well as some tips if you’re thinking about taking a road trip to Anza-Borrego to see the super bloom for yourself.
For starters, a super bloom is a term used to define an explosion of wildflowers that exceeds typical spring blooms. It may come as a surprise, but these deserts are normally home to wildflowers in the spring–just not nearly this many. You might find a scattering along the roadside in isolated locations, but the overwhelming look of the landscape remains drab and, well, “desert-y.”
This year, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park has come alive with vibrant greenery, poppies, Desert Lilies, Sand Verbena, Lupine, and Dune Evening Primrose. This diverse group of wildflowers has resulted in Anza-Borrego’s areas of peak wildflower bloom appearing like a veritable tapestry of color, coming alive in fields of yellow, purple, and white flowers. Let’s start with some tips for visiting Anza-Borrego during this super bloom…
Peak bloom for Anza-Borrego wildflowers is occurring right now, from mid-March until late March, and the bloom will likely last through early April.
At present, some of the most beautiful wildflower fields are right along the side of the road, making it really easy for tourists to see the flowers without a hike through hot conditions.
As such, finding the wildflower fields in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is simple. The best spot is along Henderson Canyon Road just outside of the town of Borrego Springs. On this map provided by the State Park, it’s location #2. We visited other locations on the map, but this was by far the best.
Another piece of advice we’d offer is to avoid both the Visitor Center and the Borrego Palm Canyon Campground. As the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park wildflower super bloom has been a regular fixture on Los Angeles and San Diego local news (I’ve seen multiple segments on it the last couple of weeks) and even made the national news, the park is currently overrun with visitors.
The result of this could be called a “parking catastrophe.” Both the Visitor Center and Campground close their parking at various times (BPC Campground is worse than the Visitor Center–it usually fills up by 8 a.m.), and it’s a real pain finding a spot.
In any case, these locations are not going to offer any information beyond that map I’ve linked to above, and they both charge for parking.
In addition to location #2, I’d also recommend #3. This is also easy to access alongside the road (no 4WD necessary), but it’s not nearly as good as location #2. Location #1 is not all that impressive, but the drive is pretty out there, and easy to access. (You’ll also see cool cactus along the way.) Locations #4 and #5 are both pretty, but access is difficult and I don’t think are worth the effort. Perhaps in the morning on a weekday they’d be easier. We did not try seeing #6 and #7, so you’re on your own with those.
Ultimately, #2 is the best bet, and is incredibly easy to find. No mile markers or anything are necessary…you will know you’re there when you see the flowers–it’s obvious. Other tips we’d offer would be bringing plenty of water and leaving pets at home.
Oh, and be sure to pack your patience. This has become a “thing” on Instagram, and not just with dorky photographers like me. Rather, it’s gone mainstream with “models” (those are most definitely air quotes) in the Los Angeles area. During our visit, we saw a team setting up a makeup station, multiple women wearing nothing but pasties, someone wearing butterfly wings, and a number of other oddities that I wouldn’t believe unless I saw them.
I have nothing against a good ole fashioned naked butterfly modeling photoshoot in the desert (wait–actually, yes, I do), but some of these people were also incredibly obnoxious, repeatedly shouting and just generally carrying on. Some of the behavior I witnessed was stuff I’ve seen in movies that I assumed was a caricature of modeling…but I guess not.
On the other hand, the number of other respectful photographers, painters, and just regular tourists far outweighed the obnoxious wannabe Instagram “celebrities,” so don’t let that dissuade you from visiting. It’s only marginally annoying, and if you walk far enough into the wildflower fields, you avoid all of this. (I’m mostly just sharing this because I found it so bizarre.)
Finally, some photography tips. I’ll start with a mistake I made: photographing the flowers exclusively with a wide angle lens. This does not convey the dense, flower-packed fields you’ll see with the naked eye. The wide angle does work well for combining up close photos of the wildflowers with dramatic desert and mountainous backdrops, such as with the photo above. For that and several other shots in this post, I also used focus stacking to achieve front-to-back sharpness in the image.
If you’re wondering how the Anza-Borrego wildflower super bloom occurred, it was basically a ‘perfect storm’ of ideal conditions. An uncharacteristically rainy fall and winter season ended California’s longstanding drought. Anza-Borrego, which is the largest state park in California, saw 7″ of rain during this season (more than a normal year!). The cold winter that followed locked more moisture into the ground, and now here we are with the flowers.
As mentioned, wildflower blooms are a normal occurrence in the desert. This normally occurs in March into early April, due to the annuals that grow in deserts.
These are short-lived wildflowers that, by design, appear for only a few, fleeting weeks rather than struggling to stay alive year-round in harsh desert conditions. The seeds lie dormant and only sprout when water washes the protective coating from their seeds.
Ideal spring bloom conditions in the deserts of the southwest occur when heavy rains come during late fall and are followed by El Nino weather patterns.
You might recall that last year, California’s Death Valley National Park, one of the hottest and driest places on Earth, saw a similar super bloom (read our Death Valley National Park Super Bloom Report from last year). Before that, the last super bloom in the region occurred in 2005.
This year’s super bloom at Anza-Borrego is far superior to what we saw at Death Valley last year. While that was really, really cool, the flower density at Anza-Borrego is greater, and there’s also more diversity in the types of flowers that are blooming.
The day after we visited Anza-Borrego, we made the trek up to Death Valley and found almost nothing in the way of wildflowers–just an average bloom there this year.
Ultimately, I would highly recommend making the drive out to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in the next couple of weeks if you live in the greater Los Angeles or San Diego areas. I’d even consider making the road trip from Central California. While I’m not a huge fan of Anza-Borrego as a whole, this super bloom is incredible, and a truly beautiful sight. We’ve been lucky to have two super blooms around here in as many years, but these are rare occurrences, and it could easily be another couple of decades before we get something like this again (and even that’s no guarantee).
If you’re planning a California road trip or vacation, check out my California category of posts for other things to see and do. If you enjoyed this post, please use the sharing buttons above to help spread the word via social media. I greatly appreciate it!
Have you been to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park? Did you see the super bloom there this year…or a past super bloom? What was your reaction to seeing it in person? Any tips for viewing the desert wildflowers of your own to add? Share your thoughts on this or anything else, or questions you have in the comments!