Some people LOVE the desert. They enjoy the heat, and they find exquisite beauty in the desert. I do not.
As a pasty, white redhead, I was built biologically to live in rainy pastures in Ireland. Instead, my parents raised me in the Mojave desert in Las Vegas, Nevada. I spent my childhood avoiding sunstroke in 118 degree heat.
As for the landscape, I find the desert to be brown, dusty, desolate, and full of prickly bits that will maim you. Yet, I watched in confusion for years as fascinated tourists spent ridiculous amounts of time photographing any random, ugly cactus in their path. I didn’t get it. I rendered my final verdict on the desert by making my home in a Southern California beach town. Near water. Lots of water.
In 2016, for the first time, I felt a spark of hope that I could find some measure of joy in the desert, or at least stop loathing it. I had heard about a rare phenomenon called the desert super bloom. Apparently, the desert can spring to life and start sprouting flowers. The bloom lasts only for a few weeks, and I was not quick enough to see it last year.
Luckily, Southern California suffered through a horrible winter this year. We had rain at the beach. Several days of it! I even had to find my umbrella. We soldiered on, and, as a reward, the desert has come alive with flowers.
The experts predict that California may not see another super bloom for at least a decade. Last weekend, my husband and I drove to the Anza Borrego Desert State Park to investigate.
Much to our surprise, we were the only people who had this idea. No, just kidding. In recent weeks, thousands of people have been streaming into the parks in Joshua Tree, Death Valley, and Anza Borrego. They have been overwhelming park resources and the small towns that support them, and we queued up in traffic to join the party.
My old nemesis, the desert, greeted me with a pleasant surprise as soon as we neared the Anza Borrego Visitor Center. I have seen many a cactus in my time, but never an absurdly tall, scraggly cactus with flowers growing out the top. There was a vast field of these crazy cacti, the Ocotillo, and I shouted out in delight until my husband pulled the car over for pictures.
So far, so good. We crawled behind a long line of traffic entering the Park. We ditched the crowd by taking the 3-mile Borrego Palm Canyon hike near the visitor center. We arrived at the trailhead after 4:00 PM. The hot sun began its long evening descent, and cooling shadows filled the canyon. The vibrant colors of the desert floor came to life. We marveled at the abundance of flowers and the palm tree oasis at the end of the trail.
I read a draft of this post to my husband, and he was truly shocked and appalled that there was no mention of the croaking frogs at this point in the story. I really don’t see what frogs have to do with desert flowers, but his disappointment in me was palpable. Sooooo, here is a picture of him attempting to catch some loud frogs at the palm tree oasis.
After the hike, we drove a short distance to the flower fields on Henderson Canyon Road. I read that this site was a traffic nightmare of bloom seekers, but we arrived minutes before sunset. There were no crowds. The cars had disappeared. We shared the flowers with only a few other lucky people.
The super bloom is withering away as a I type. The flowers are quickly dying. Scorching heat and brown hillsides soon will resume their rightful place in the desert landscape. For one brief moment in time, though, my heart found a home in the desert.
In the picture below, I was filled with awe at the green hillsides, desert flowers, and the majesty of my surroundings. Maybe this version of the desert and I will meet again in another decade or so. In the meantime, I never will be dismissive of the desert again. I now know the beauty that lies dormant, just waiting for the right time to emerge.