The California & Southwest Super Bloom

In this spiraling whirlwind of national news, I tend to retreat to my garden and quietly ponder the world as I pull weeds and prep ground covers, roses, and raspberry bushes for the great Spring bloom. Crocuses, tulips, and daffodils sprout from bulbs in the damp, cold ground as I work. I find solace in the silence and the solidarity of the moment, as well as in the new growth of the abundant renewal of our Earth. I think to myself, “At least there is something that I have control of in this world, and it is how beautiful the garden may be this year.”

With the Spring Equinox and Easter now behind us, it feels like warm days and blossoms are just around the corner. (However, as I type this post, a blizzard is paralyzing the Eastern plains of Colorado and I-70 has shut down from Airport Rd. to Kansas.) I sit inside our home on this cool, Spring evening, and think of my journey through California and the Southwest’s super bloom last year. I can still feel the warmth of the sun and the brush of foliage on my calves as I hiked through fields of flowers, climbed coastal cliffs, and deciphered the desert’s magnificent beauty.

In early to mid-March, Southern California blossoms with orange and yellow, painting hillsides with blankets of brightness, and vibrant green fields act as the supportive picture frame. This explosion of color is called “Super Bloom,” and it is a celebrated event of nature annually by the locals. Some years are more brilliant than others, and 2017 was blinding with color as California leapt out of a five year drought, causing the kind of bloom that happens once in a decade. Many residents drive hours in traffic to find the best hikes and sights with the flowers blowing in the breeze. Along the path, wild flowers grow on the vines that cascade over highway fences in a wide velvet purple, masking the polluted metropolis with purity. The hills surrounding the Los Angeles area explode with orange poppies and the desert rose opens up with a bright red or deep pink. Angeles National Forest contains inland swimming holes with refreshing mini-waterfalls that become surrounded by a rainbow of wild flowers. Cacti and typically sparse bushes pop a tiny yellow flower in the sandy landscape of Joshua Tree National Park and the surrounding desert, brightening hikes into the month of April. The prickly pear finds its vibrant pinkish red blossom or deep yellow bloom along the dry, rocky flats in the Southwestern climate that makes its way to and beyond the Southern Nevada border. And in the lowest point of the United States, housed in Death Valley National Park, yellow blooms slash the sand dunes of their monotonous beige.
Poppy Fields near LA, 2017 | Photo Credit: Tiffanie Byron.
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Desert near Phoenix, AZ, 2017 | Photo Credit: Karen Blanzy

Just a little North, in the countryside West of the Sierra Mountains, trees don fruit instead of flowers, with bunches of oranges and lemons weighing down limbs. Olive tree branches blow gently in the wind. Almond and pistachio fields dominate areas, and strawberry fields spring to life in the many shades of red, with pickers working hard in the fields to satisfy hungry buyers. Early April will still see some snow in the higher elevations of the Sierras, and King’s Canyon and Sequoia National Parks are still monitoring plows. But soon the snow melt flows down the mountains, helping the rivers and creeks to feel full for a month or so before water restrictions begin once more in this normally arid space.

Wine country can awaken as early as late February, but late March through early April is when the horticulture of the industry is at peak production. Countryside drives bring budding green vines across fields that have brought fame to the California winemaker. Wildflowers seem to be blooming in every corner of every field as your car rolls up and over the lush, green pastures. Outside of the harvest festivals in autumn, many locals will tell you that the best wine festivals in Napa and Sonoma occur in the Spring as the region wakes up from the sleepy winter.

Circle back to the coast near San Francisco and you will see succulents such as ice plant with striking pink and purple blooms growing in the sand along the cliffs. The salt spray from the waves crashing on the rugged rocks brings a humid, lush environment, drenched with fog and mist most days. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area provides multiple options for dog friendly hikes and beach play, but bring your hoodie and umbrella, as San Fran’s constant temp is 55 degrees with always a chance of rain. The coastal cliffs cascade into the crashing waves below as you wind your way South on Hwy 1 along the Pacific Ocean, from Monterrey to Santa Monica. This section takes time, as it is one of the most stunning and isolating stretches of a California road trip. Between Big Sur and Los Obisbo, the only option is to keep going, as side streets to take you inland are rare. The curves are tight, hugging the cliffs, calling for a slower speed, and the scenery beckons you to calm and stay a minute. Many camp in state parks or stay at a hostel that’s in a lighthouse along the route. However you choose to experience this portion of the adventure, it is demanding of your time and attention. On one trip, we chose to stay in Santa Barbara with a boat charter booked to the Channel Islands National Park. We sailed through the thick marine layer, out to breathtaking hikes in the middle of the Pacific.

Channel Islands National Park and spots along Hwy. 1
The highway runs directly by the Santa Monica Pier, and consequently, the old end of Route 66, the iconic American road trip highway from the past. It then continues down to San Clemente, La Jolla, and eventually San Diego; that section of Hwy 1 (and that section only, people get pissy about this fact) is what is referred to as the Pacific Coast Highway, AKA the PCH.
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The multiple national and state parks, campgrounds, and viewpoints along the route give you plenty of profile picture worthy selfie options or landscape photos for this year’s holiday card. From the desert, to fruit trees, to the mountains, to the coast, a California Spring is one that will ignite your imagination. Twitter fills with tips about the latest blooms to have been spotted, typically using the #superbloom tag. I just did a quick search on this year’s tips, and it seems that Canyon View Reserve and Carrizo Plain National Monument are this weekend’s beauties. The tradition continues, even if it isn’t as explosive in blooms this year. If you go, enjoy, and please take a picture to send to me, if for no other reason than to make me green with envy for your adventure. I shall now return to my crisp, slowly awakening Colorado garden.

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