y friends and I were at the ranger’s station at Anza-Borrego State Park. National press reports of a “super bloom” had swelled the California desert with hordes of tourists eager to see the array of wildflowers.
Over the winter, the desolate landscape received a remarkable six inches of rain in areas bone-dry for up to two decades. Long dormant seeds sprouted in a cacophony of colors and vibrancy. My friends and I were awestruck.
But the woman speaking to the ranger ahead of us was clearly not impressed.
“I’ve been reading all about this super bloom. A friend was here last weekend and told me all about the specular flowers. But I don’t see any. They must be all gone!”
My friends and I looked at each other in disbelief. How could she not see the splendor around her?
One reason. To discover this splendor, you had to really look.
No more than a few inches high, desert sand verbena and purple lupine surged upward with bouquets of satin flowers. And the deep violet of the indigo bush and the bright orange-red ocotillo launched a display attracting pollinators far and wide. They all were a wonder.
Large shrubs of daisies scattered the hillsides, coloring the landscape butter yellow. And tucked in-between rocks, the beavertail cactus bloomed with striking fuchsia flowers. Every variety was a study in beauty and diversity.
We left the ranger’s station and drove to a trailhead that leads into an oasis-laden canyon. It would be a six-mile hike, but we hoped well worth it.
As we headed into the mountains, species we hadn’t yet encountered grew in their climate niche. Prickly teddy bear cholla cactus stood tall with outstretched appendages that at a distance looked like a furry mammal. Barrel cactus sprouted red and orange flowers as delicate as crepe paper.
The hike was slow going, only because one or the other friend was stooped near the ground and shouting, “Hey, check this one out!” You needed a keen eye to spot them all.
Up the trail, we saw a palm grove. And when we reached its trees, a stream magically appeared. It was the oasis. As she wet her bandana and cooled her face, a friend spotted a kind of watercress growing in the ripples. Above, we recognized the distinctive leaf of a sycamore tree. We had entered yet another microclimate.
A few more steps up the canyon revealed a small waterfall with maidenhair ferns. Were we really seeing ferns growing in a desert? We reached out to caress their feathered ridges and feel the mist off the falls.
While there was still light, we reluctantly trekked back to the car. Hungry, we stopped by a roadside stand and picked up some fruit.
There, a young man in a sports car pulled over and approached us. “Hey, do you know where the flowers are? There’s supposed to be a bunch of them here somewhere.”
My friends and I looked at each other yet again, smiled, and simply replied with a shrug.