After several years of the worst drought on record, California deserts are in bloom — and wildflowers are exploding across the harsh landscapes.
Hundreds of species of wildflowers typically blanket California deserts between March and July — from Joshua Tree and Death Valley in the south to Carrizo Plain National Monument on the central coast. But the bloom is largely dependent on rainfall. And during the worst of the California drought, blossoms were sparse.
In 2015, California finally got heavy rainfall again, leading to the “super bloom” of 2016, which was especially spectacular in Death Valley National Park. Wildflowers carpeted the barren desert terrain, attracting hordes of tourists seeking a glimpse of the blooms.
And as you can see in the satellite images below, 2017 brought another super bloom in central and northern California. Below is an image of millions of wildflowers just north of Los Padres National Forest, outside Santa Barbara, in peak bloom on March 27.
Here’s the same area in December, before the heavy rains and spring flowers, captured by Planet Labs, a satellite imagery company:
In California, super blooms — when wildflowers bloom suddenly in the millions — happen roughly once a decade. Last year, wildflowers overtook Death Valley for the first time in 10 years, but reports indicate that the bloom will be pretty much nonexistent there this year.
Linda Slater, a park ranger at Death Valley National Park, told Popular Science in March, “There are almost no flowers in Death Valley this year.” Rather, the super bloom has been largely concentrated in central California around Los Padres National Forest and further south in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. (Most of the wildflowers in Los Padres pictured above are now gone — the life cycle of a desert wildflower is a few weeks at most.)
The full extent of this year’s super bloom in California won’t be clear until peak bloom hits places like Lassen Volcanic National Park in the northern part of the state. But the good news is there’s still plenty of time to plan a trip: Peak bloom is expected there in June or July, after all the snow there has thawed.
And if you do decide to visit, don’t walk on the flowers! Park rangers have already begun to close off trails in areas of peak bloom because of too many visitors’ trampling feet.