You know it’s the real deal when you have to employ traffic cops in a tiny southeastern California desert town to stem the massive flow of wildflower seekers. If the cops weren’t there, I think there would’ve been utter chaos in Borrego Springs located inside Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

Hard to imagine that this is the second time in three years a Super Bloom has occurred. The bloom in the spring of 2017 was something to behold in this region of the Colorado Desert, but 2019 was just as good, if not better than 2017.

It was mid-March, and I knew it was going to be a long day, and even a longer drive. I guided several kayak trips at the Channel Islands National Park, got off the Island Packer ferry at 6 p.m. From there, it was all about being in the desert for a glorious sunrise. My map app on my phone took me from Highway 101 South, to Highway 134 East, to the 210 East, to the 57 South, to the 71 South, to the 91 East, to the 15 South, to the 79 Southeast, to the S2 and finally the S22, but at least there was no traffic.

I threw my sleeping pad and sleeping bag in the back of my truck, stretched out in the cool desert air and fell asleep to the creek flowing out of Palm Canyon. At 6 a.m. I was up and driving out to Coyote Canyon. I took Di Giorgio until it dead ends and spills into the flood plain of Coyote Canyon. In the first light of a desert dawn there were thick patches of dune evening primrose. Better yet, there was lots of the pink morph variety. As I crept along, there were clusters of purple sand verbena. The best though was when I found my first desert bouquet of verbena, primrose and the tall, spindly desert sunflower all blooming together.

What’s interesting about Coyote Canyon is the ever-so-slight fluctuation of elevation, maybe only a few feet and then a transition occurs, and different wildflowers appear. The broad, sweeping canyon transformed into the best concentration of Arizona lupine I’ve ever seen. Mixed in with the lupine was chicory and dense clusters of desert dandelions. Hovering above were looping ocotillo. Amongst the granite rock piles bracing the canyon walls were huge swaths of gold poppies and brittlebush.

I treat photographing desert wildflowers like a surf session at Rincon. Get up early and try to make certain I’m the first one there. From 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. I virtually had Coyote Canyon to myself. After 8 a.m., cars, people and noise fills in, but the good thing about the desert is you can wander the arid landscape and make like Moses did for 40 days and 40 nights. Most folks just stay near their cars. I wandered off until I couldn’t see or hear any cars. That’s when I saw my first desert dweller, a horned lizard and better yet, a greater roadrunner loping between cholla cactus and desert dandelions.

Eventually the midday sun became too much, the light too harsh. By late afternoon I headed for the Borrego Badlands, arguably one of the best, most unique landscapes in all of California. The overlook at Fonts Point never disappoints. As the sun drops behind the mountains more detail pops across the barren “desertscape” and all I could do was take more pictures or simply fall into a trance gazing out over the horizon to the Mexican border. It was a great way to end a full day in the desert.

I slept that night in Coyote Canyon, and as if on cue a pack of coyotes yelped and howled over who knows what, further up the canyon. Early the next morning, before the sun rose above the Santa Rosa Mountains, I lit out for more photos. After I had my fill, I laid down in the sand, leaning on one elbow and watched the shadows retreat across the desert, the tallest mountains glowing above a desert painted in purples, yellows, golds and whites, all the while wondering how long it would be before the next Super Bloom brightens the desert.    

Adventure and travel writer Chuck Graham lives in Carpinteria and contributes his writing and photography to publications far and wide. For more wildlife photos, visit chuckgrahamphoto.com or follow Graham on Instagram at @chuckgrahamphoto.

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