Searching for Superbloom

Posted by on Apr 23, 2023 in Unmowed Blog | 2 comments

brittlebush anza borrego As I negotiated the crowded frenzy of LAX Arrivals after long delays, I was afraid that I’d missed it. After all, it was late April, and I thought of the California Superbloom as an event that happened and was over in a flash–kind of like the Superbowl–one Super Sunday and it’s done. I didn’t yet realize that of course the Superbloom is a season, a whole springtime stretching from February in the southern desert to June in the northern hills.

So I started in the desert, heading to Anza-Borrego State Park. The sandy plains and stony mountains are always starkly beautiful in their own way. But after years of drought, after the fires and the heat, this winter’s rains have called forth seeds and stirred roots that have been waiting for this, waiting for years.

It wasn’t just the hillsides, lit up with glowing half-moons of yellow brittlebush and sunflowers. Or the red hummingbird-bushes being visited by their namesakes. Even the cacti had burst into flower. Cactus flowers don’t seem real. The more wizened and gnarly and spiky the cactus, the more gorgeous the blooms. Imagine the gaudiest, hot pink, fake flowers you can, and then stick them all over a really mean-looking cactus.cactus beavertail

I saved the famous California poppies for the last day, the grand finale. I rose extra early and raced to the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve, supposed to be the best place for poppy-peeping in the galaxy. I wanted to see the sunrise light up the fields of gold, and berated myself for oversleeping so that the sun was well over the horizon when I arrived. I got out of the car, looked around and was crushed. No poppies. Not one.

There were many other lovely wildflowers, though, and birds chirping in the early morning light, and so I decided not to get back in the car and go searching for a better poppy-viewing site. I just couldn’t stand driving another inch on the California freeways. So I hiked up into the hills, and eventually came to the realization that poppies are one of those flowers that close up tight as a rolled-up umbrella when the sun goes down, and hide under the other plants. As the sun rose, the poppies unfurled their orange magnificence.

One individual California poppy is a pretty sight, a rich gold that almost sears your retina. Multiply one poppy by a trillion or so, and it’s no wonder the Poppy Reserve parking lot had a huge line of cars waiting for a spot by 9:30 in the morning. It’s overwhelming to the eyes, this great tide of wildflowers. You almost want to do something with it–paint it, or taste it, or caress it, or pull it around your shoulders like a multicolored quilt.

In spite of the crowds, I’m happy to say that I did not see a single person picking any flowers. I took a few (hundred) photographs, but the poppies really don’t photograph well–they almost always came out pale and overexposed. I saw some professionals shading them with white umbrellas to cut the glare and capture the colors.

But the other wildflowers deserve credit too. The crazy pink of sand verbena popping up out of hot dry dust. The delicate curls of purple desert heliotrope. The red flames of the ten-foot-tall, scrawny ocotillo. desert heliotrope

It’s always been there, all that potential beauty. It’s been hidden under the empty desert sand and the dry hills. Underground, waiting for rain. And it will be back. Not soon, perhaps, but someday.

Go see it.california poppy superbloom


  1. How glorious! And astonishing!!! What an experience. Thanks so much for sharing it, Anita.

  2. Breathtaking, even if it is a pale imitation of what you actually saw!

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