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Searching For The Super Bloom

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Posted: Friday, March 8, 2019 12:43 pm | Updated: 1:07 pm, Fri Mar 8, 2019.

We set out for Borrego Springs on a rainy Saturday morning. Borrego Springs is a town of some 3,500 fully surrounded by the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park – California’s largest state park. Borrego Springs achieved International Dark Sky Community status in 2009 (the first in the state). But that wasn’t why we were going. We were going in search of the super bloom.

I first heard about the concept of a desert super bloom back in 2017 when the California desert burst with blooms in a most spectacular way. At that time, we were planning our move to southern California and regretted missing this obviously amazing, but perhaps rare event, that stems (no pun intended) from a combination of drought, followed by significant rain.

The 2017 super bloom had been preceded by some five or so years of drought. Drought contributes to the amazing blooms by killing off non-native species and leaving the ground prepared for an explosion of California natives, the seeds of which can lie dormant on the desert floor for years prior to blooming. If a significant enough rain fall precedes the spring blooming time (in 2017, it was over 6 inches of rain), then a super bloom can occur.

Because of the relatively copious amount of rain this year in San Diego County, speculation started early about the possibility of a super bloom. Because the super bloom cannot be timed exactly but, was expected to occur sometime in early to Mid-March, I wanted to go on the early side to be sure not to miss it. And, if I arrived early, I could always make a day trip back - Borrego Springs itself is a relatively short, two-hour drive from Coronado.

Driving to Borrego Springs takes you up the mountains of San Diego County and, depending on which route you take, through the small town of Julian. Julian is crowded, but on this rainy and cold and, in Julian, sleety morning, made for a good stop for lunch. The drive after Julian descends into the lower elevations and turned brightly sunny and hot. Such a dramatic change from 15 minutes earlier!

We arrived in the mid-afternoon and immediately checked into our hotel, which kindly provided us with a photocopied map that indicated current bloom areas. There are also several websites (such as, www.parks.ca.gov/anzaborrego) that provide similar up-do-date information and recent photos that visitors have taken. Or, you can call the wildflower hotline at 760-767-4684.

The most impressive display of flowers that we saw was at the end of DiGiorgio Rd., at the mouth of Coyote Canyon, just north of Borrego Springs. If you park at the end of the paved part of the road, you can see the beginning of the bloom just outside the car on the east side of the road. A flat, dirt road that visitors can walk on continues to the east for about a half mile and the farther you go down the road, the more beautiful the display becomes. We saw plenty of desert lilies, sand verbena, ocotillo and desert sunflowers and lupine. What we hadn’t expected, though, was the amazing fragrance filling the air.

There is much more to see and do in and around Borrego Springs as well. First, there is wildlife. We saw a remarkable, large white lizard, hiding in the shade of a palm tree near the end of our wildflower walk. We also saw a coyote and a herd of big horn sheep. Additionally, the desert around Borrego Springs is sprinkled with giant, remarkable sculptures by artist Ricardo Breceda. They include creatures, such as a giant Scorpion and people picking grapes. Keep your eyes open because the rust-metal color sometimes makes them hard to distinguish from the landscape around.

There are horror stories from 2017 of there being no place to eat, stop and go traffic and generally over-run facilities in the relatively small town of Borrego Springs. But there are a number of campgrounds and hotels from the most modest all the way up to the full-service, historic La Case del Zorro. There are also a number of restaurants – but no fast food – and two grocery stores.

To avoid the crowds, it is recommended that visitors try to come during the week, rather than on the weekend. But if you must travel on the weekend, hit the road early – it is nice to be the first and almost only people walking among the wildflowers.

We got there a bit early, the peak hasn’t hit yet and the flowers along Henderson Canyon Road were just beginning to bloom, and park officials are suggesting that because of the late rain (it is still in the forecast this week), the bloom could be extended. So, even if you can’t make it out this month, keep your eyes on the websites and consider a later spring trip.

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