First off, note that my presentation announced earlier has been moved to the following month for reasons beyond my control. I hope that causes no one grief!

One of the joys of living in Southern California is getting to experience springtime a few months earlier than most other parts of the country. Typically spring in the deserts starts around the second week of February, and peaks in early March. Some years the displays of flowers are simply astounding, others are just marginal – it depends on the amount and timing of the rain, as well as the arrival of warm sunny days. The ideal case is a healthy dose of rain in the late fall, followed by more rain throughout January and February, and finally a week or two of warm sunny weather. This year we’ve been lucky to have a lot of rain over the past two months thanks to the El Niño weather pattern. Unfortunately we didn’t see much rain last fall, and furthermore, the weather has been surprisingly cool the last few weeks. In short, the wildflowers have had a late start, being as much as 2-3 weeks behind ‘schedule’ in most areas. The last two weekends I’ve been following a few of my favorite nearby desert wildflower locations, searching for those miraculous fields of colorful flowers.

My first trip to Death Valley didn’t turn up any flowers quite yet, but I’m hopeful that in the next week or two my scouting efforts will be rewarded with some rare views. In any case, I spent the evening at my favorite set of dunes, followed by a morning on the Badwater salt flats where I was treated to an incredible sight – 5 inches of crystal clear super saturated salt water with marvelous salt forms.

“Infinity” ~ Death Valley, CA
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 16-35mm mkII, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, 0.8 sec


“Sandscape” ~ Death Valley, CA
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 70-200mm, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, f/14, 0.5 sec

This past weekend I made a quick trip to Anza-Borrego State Park to check up on the wildflowers. It was a mixed experience. The fields of colorful sand verbena that used to carpet the valley floor around Borrego Springs may likely be a thing of the past – an invasive mustard species from the Sahara has just about taken over the entire valley. These quick growing plants out compete the natives for both water and sunlight. I would have taken an image to show the destruction, but it was simply too depressing. You can find further information on this terrible weed here: sahara mustard. Of course, the mustard isn’t the only invasive weed threatening our native species, but one of many. If we don’t act now, and be more careful of non-native species in the future, we may very well lose these spectacular and fragile ecosystems forever.

Anyhow, it wasn’t all depressing – the Desert Lilies (Hesperocallis undulata) were out in astounding numbers. I found this lovely specimen situated just right on one of the rocky hillsides catching the last rays of sunlight. The following day I returned to the same flower, and was amazed to see the foremost flower had already noticeably withered, while the other two were closed. Over the course of the half hour before sunset the other two flowers opened up – I could almost watch them move it went so fast! In my cursory search I wasn’t able to find much information on the blooming habits of these flowers, but I’ve seen them open and in bloom at predawn, post sunset, and midday, so I’m not sure why this one opened it’s petals so quickly just before sundown.

desert lily

“The Desert Lily” ~ Anza-Borrego SP, CA
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 16-35mm mkII, handheld
Exposure: iso 400, f/16, 1/80th
Notes: I found this flower just in time to catch it before the sun sank below the mountains. I needed to use a separate exposure taken later to bring a little density back into the blown out sky.

Meanwhile the cool and shady slot canyons in the badlands offered a nice respite from the sun. While not as spectacular and colorful as the canyons in Utah and Arizona, they still have a wonderful character. For this particular image I clambered up above the canyon floor to get a top down perspective on the sensual curves of the mudstone canyon.

slot canyon in anza borrego

“Mudslot” ~ Anza-Borrego SP, CA
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 16-35mm mkII, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, f/18, 1 sec

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2 Comments to “Spring Transformation”

  1. Laurie says:

    “Sandscape” is wonderful and “The Desert Lily”… WOW! Hard to imagine that flowers THAT stunning would grow out in the middle of a desert! Nice work!!

  2. Those are all beautiful Floris!

    I agree, the mustard situation is depressing!