Rain-fed wildflowers have been sprouting from California’s desert sands after not growing for years — producing a spectacular display that has drawn record crowds and traffic jams to tiny towns such as Borrego Springs.
An estimated 150,000 people in the past month have converged on this town of about 3,500, roughly 85 miles northeast of San Diego, for the “super bloom.”
Wildflowers are springing up in different landscapes across the state and the western United States thanks to a wet winter. In the Antelope Valley, an arid plateau northeast of Los Angeles, blazing orange poppies are lighting up the ground.
But a “super bloom” is a term for when a mass amount of desert plants bloom at one time. In California, that happens about once in a decade in a given area. It has been occurring less frequently with the drought. Last year, the right amount of rainfall and warm temperatures produced carpets of flowers in Death Valley.
So far this year, the natural show has been concentrated in the 640,000-acre Anza-Borrego Desert State Park that’s next to Borrego Springs.
It is expected to roll along through May, with different species blooming at different elevations and in different areas of the park. Anza-Borrego is California’s largest state park with hundreds of species of plants, including desert lilies, blazing stars and the flaming tall, spiny Ocotillo.
Deputies were brought in to handle the traffic jams as Borrego Springs saw its population triple in a single day.
On one weekend in mid-March, motorists were stuck in traffic for five hours, restaurants ran out of food and some visitors relieved themselves in the fields. Officials have since set up an army of portable toilets, and eateries have stocked up. The craze has been dubbed “Flowergeddon.”
Locals call those who view the tiny wildflowers from their cars “flower peepers.” Thousands of others have left their vehicles to traipse across the desert and analyze the array of delicate yellow, orange, purple and magenta blooms up close in the park. Many carting cameras have taken care to step around the plants.
Wildflower enthusiasts worldwide track the blooms online and arrive for rare sightings such as this year’s Bigelow’s monkeyflower, some of which have grown eight inches tall. The National Park Service has even pitched in with a 24-hour wildflower hotline to find the best spots at the state park.
“We’ve seen everything from people in normal hiking attire to people in designer flip-flops to women in sundresses and strappy heels hike out there to get their picture. When I saw that, I thought, ‘Oh, no. Please don’t go out there with those shoes on,’ ” said Linda Haddock, head of the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce.
The blooms are attracting hungry sphinx moth caterpillars that munch through acres. The caterpillars in turn are attracting droves of Swainson’s hawks on their annual 6,000-mile migration from Argentina.
“It’s an amazing burst in the cycle of life in the desert that has come because of a freakish event like a super bloom,” Haddock said. “It’s exciting. This is going to be so huge for our economy.”
Desert super blooms always draw crowds, but this year’s display has been especially stunning, experts say. The region received 6½ inches of rain from December to February, followed by almost two weeks of 90-degree temperatures, setting the conditions for the super bloom. Five years of drought made the seeds ready to pop.
Sandra Reel and her husband drove hundreds of miles out of their way when they heard about the super bloom.
“It is absolutely phenomenal to see this many blooming desert plants all at the same time,” she said. “I think it’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”