Springtime officially has arrived and that means a seasonal treat for travelers in the Southland--our annual extravaganza of wildflowers.
California's native plants already have started blossoming in the lower Colorado Desert, and the colorful show will spread to the higher Mojave desert areas into May.
Rain, sun and wind affect the yearly blooming cycle, so it isn't easy to predict the time and place of the most dazzling displays. However, a number of individuals and organizations are ready to help you find and enjoy the wildflowers.
In San Diego County's vast Anza-Borrego Desert State Park you can even hire a guide for a personal wildflower tour.
Naturalists Pat Flanagan and Paul Johnson will come along in your car or you can jump into the Jeep of Dick Linkroum for half- or full-day outings. Wear comfortable shoes because they'll be taking you on short hikes to see the flowers close up.
Pat Flanagan's Rent-a-Naturalist service costs $15 per hour with a four-hour minimum. Call her at (619) 765-1066 or write 685 Wells Fargo Trail, Julian 92036.
Guides a Carload
Paul Johnson, a former park ranger, guides a carload for $60 on half-day tours, $100 for eight hours. Call Borrego Wildflower Tours, (619) 767-51179, or write P.O. Box 1555, Borrego Springs 92004.
You'll get off the main roads in Dick Linkroum's specially equipped Jeep on an all-day excursion that costs $90 per couple, or $40 per person for four passengers. Contact 4-Wheel Drive Desert Tours, (619) 767-5707, or P.O. 511, Borrego Springs 92004.
To look for wildflowers on your own in the 600,000-acre Anza-Borrego park, pick up a 25-cent brochure that directs you to areas currently in blossom. Get a copy at the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce or park visitor center west of town.
Be sure to inquire about the ranger-led walks and talks on weekends. Next Sunday you can join the annual Desert Gardens Walk that begins at Culp Valley Campground off county road S22. Call the park at (619) 767-5311 for details and directions.
This time of year wildflowers of the Colorado Desert also extend north of Anza-Borrego into the Palm Springs area. A popular spot to view them is the Living Desert, a nature reserve off Portola Avenue in Palm Desert.
Paths lead visitors to a sand dune and other garden areas seeded with wildflowers. You can buy some to take home during the reserve's fund-raising native plant sale on April 6. Entry to the Living Desert is $3, free for ages 16 and under. Daily hours are 9 to 5 through June 15. Phone (619) 346-5694.
Off South Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs you'll enjoy the blooming desert plants in Moorten's Botanical Garden.
Nearly 2,000 native plants are on display, and you can pick up a free map to locate other wildflowers in the Coachella Valley. Garden hours are 9 to 5 daily. Admission $1.50, children 50 cents. You also can call (619) 327-6555 for wildflower information.
A Favorite Destination
Spanning both the low Colorado and high Mojave deserts, Joshua Tree National Monument is a another favorite destination for wildflower fans. Park rangers report that this is an outstanding year to see Joshua trees as well as yuccas in beautiful bloom.
Stop by the visitor center (open daily 8 to 5) near Twentynine Palms and the rangers will mark a park map where wildflowers are in their full glory. Also ask for the schedule of flower walks and driving tours offered weekends during April. Call (619) 367-7511.
On the way to Joshua Tree stop by the Hi-Desert Museum in Yucca Valley to see a display of wildflowers identified by name. Hours are 1 to 5 Wednesday through Sunday; admission free.
In Barstow an updated bulletin from the Bureau of Land Management will point out high desert areas with wildflowers in blossom. Get a copy at the BLM's Barstow Way Station on Barstow Road weekdays from 8 to 4:30 or up the street at the Mojave River Valley Museum from 11 to 4 on weekends. Call (619) 256-3591.
During the first three weekends in May, botanist Mitch Beauchamp will guide wildflower fanciers on one-day trips to Ord Mountain south of Barstow. You'll travel in four-wheel-drive vehicles with lunch and beverages provided.
Cost is $37.50 per person; children 9 and older are welcome. Reserve a place by phoning Desert Trails, (619) 256-3430, or writing P.O. Box 1923, Barstow 92311.
North of Los Angeles the Antelope Valley hosts a large variety of wildflowers, including the California poppy. A special state park dedicated to the preservation of our Golden State flower opens during April when the poppies are at their best.
You can visit the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve 15 miles west of Lancaster from 9 to 4 weekends, 10 to 3 weekdays. Entry costs $2 per car. Phone (805) 942-0662.
To help visitors find their way to other localities where wildflowers are in bloom, a Wildflower Center will be open daily in Lancaster from April 6-28. It's in the Sage Pavilion at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds. Hours are 9 to 4.
Besides guide maps and flower displays, the center features films about wildflowers and has seeds for sale. Phone (805) 945-5077. Also pick up a list of area restaurants and lodgings or call Lancaster's chamber of commerce, (805) 948-4518.
In Kern County beyond the Tehachapi Mountains, Arvin holds its annual Wildflower Festival April 27-28. Proceeds from the event buy California poppy seed that is spread by airplane to restore 45 acres of the wildflower lost to a dust storm in 1977. Call (805) 854-2265 or 854-5824 for the festival program.
South of Los Angeles, the mountain town of Julian stages its Wildflower Show May 11-19. Local arts and crafts accompany the wildflowers gathered for display in the town hall. Get details from Julian's chamber of commerce, (619) 765-1857.
Whenever and wherever you decide to go in search of wildflowers, remember to call ahead to check that Mother Nature has kept her promise to provide another floral fantasy this season.