Color My World: Where To See Wildflowers in Arizona This Spring

Winter? What winter?

What the calendar says and what it feels like when we step outdoors are not the same. Winter in the desert is just spring waiting to happen. What the calendar says and what it feels like are not the same.

Desert Botanical Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Desert Botanical Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Given how we only dipped into the 30s twice, and we got into the 80s five times in January alone, calling this most recent season “winter” is highly questionable.

Unfortunately, to go along with the mild temperatures, this winter has been nearly bone dry. It’s safe to say that as wildflower seasons go, 2018 will not be a superbloom year.

The recent flurry of late storms could still brighten the season, but we’ll likely have to accept the fact that flowers will be spotty this spring. Think details rather than the big picture. If the hillsides are not awash in blooms, enjoy small clumps pooling around the base of a saguaro. Savor the color wherever you find it. Go out with low expectations and hope to be delighted.

Desert Botanical Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Desert Botanical Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But do go out. That’s the important thing. Because while most of the country shivers through freezing days and bleak gray skies, we hike in shorts, embracing balmy afternoons and endless sunshine. That’s always time well spent. Any flowers you find are a sweet bonus.

Here are some ideas to make the most of the 2018 wildflower season.

Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix

The Desert Botanical Garden is a living, breathing outdoor museum and can almost always be relied on for a vivid display of Arizona wildflowers. When winter rains falter, they drag out their secret weapon—a hose—and pick up the slack. The Harriet K. Maxwell Desert Wildflower Loop Trail circles past beds overflowing with poppies, penstemon, owl clover, bee bush, desert milkweed, and more.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Extra color will be dancing at the garden during the popular Spring Butterfly Exhibit, February 24-May 13. Enjoy hundreds of specimens such as painted ladies, zebra longwings, and giant swallowtails going about their butterfly business. Be sure to check out the new pupae added each week to the emergence chamber in the caterpillar nursery.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum Thompson

This is Arizona’s oldest and largest botanical garden, a 323-acre state park created to study drought-tolerant plants from around the world.

Their flowers also get some extra love with a water hose when needed. The park sits in the shadow of Picketpost Mountain south of Superior. Guided walks, classes, and demonstrations are offered weekly.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

The park just north of Tucson near Oro Valley has expanded its popular concert series. Music in the Mountains shows take place the first and third Saturdays of each month from January through April. The afternoon performances are held at the main trailhead. Feel free to bring a chair and snacks.

Concert times vary through the season so check the website for times and bands. Shows are free with admission to the park.

And be sure to arrive early enough to hike beforehand. Most years the Sutherland Trail offers the best collection of wildflowers, a nice medley of cream cups, poppies, lupines, penstemon, and desert chicory. The short Nature Trail can also feature some nice color.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park

Visitors traveling along I-10 in southern Arizona can’t miss the prominent 1,500-foot peak of Picacho Peak State Park.

Enjoy the view as you hike the trails that wind up the peak and, often in the spring you’ll overlook a sea of Mexican gold poppies, brittlebush, lupines, globe mellows, and numerous other wildflowers. The park and surrounding area are known for its unique geological significance, outstanding and varied desert growth, and historical importance.

Worth Pondering…

The Amen of nature is always a flower.

—Oliver Wendell Holmes

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