Some people find it hard to believe that there can be an abundance of places to view wildflowers in the middle of the desert. Arizona’s Sonoran Desert would surely change their minds. After winter’s ample rain, this wildflower season has been particularly lovely. Wildflowers bloom March through May in the lower elevations. When it gets too warm in the Valley, you can head to the high country to see more.
Some common wildflowers
Brittlebush: This is a bright, showy yellow flower, perhaps due to the fact that it is a member of the sunflower family. Flowers grow from a shrub rather than a single stalk and require minimal water.
Desert lupine: Flowering stems range in color from blue to purple with a yellow center spot that changes to red when the plant has been pollinated. They are often seen growing amid the Mexican gold poppy.
Desert marigold: These yellow flowers have multiple, stacked layers with grayish leaves and stems. They attract butterflies but are toxic to livestock.
Firecracker penstemon: Tall stalks with bright orange-red flowers attract hummingbirds, butterflies and other pollinators. A favorite for xeriscape gardeners.
Indian paintbrush: The flower clusters on these plants can range from white to purplish-red. Abundant blooms can be found after good winter rainfall and may carpet an area for hundreds of feet.
Mexican gold poppy: A common wildflower, these grow in dense clusters and make slopes on the hillsides of mountain parks look like they are glowing. You can also spot these poppies flowering in front yards and road medians across the Valley.
Fortunately for us, we don’t have to venture far to see wildflowers. Natural areas all over the Valley are part of the Maricopa County Parks system. For a nominal fee of $6 per vehicle, visitors can spend the day in the park. Overnight camping is allowed for an additional fee. Some parks offer ranger-led programs incorporating a wildflower theme. For those who enjoy photography, all parks are participating in the “Go Wild for Flowers” program where visitors tag their wildflower photographs at #GoWildforFlowers/@GoWildforFlowers on Facebook or Twitter, which will share your photo(s). For a schedule of events and activities, visit maricopacountyparks.net.
If you live in the far East Valley, the Lost Dutchman State Park offers spectacular wildflower viewing from its many trails in the Superstition Mountains. The Native Plant Trail is located near the Visitor Center and features desert plants along a paved, quarter-mile trail. The Discovery Trail connects the campground with day-use areas. This trail features information signs, a wildlife pond, birdfeeders and a viewing bench. For those is good shape, there is the Siphon Draw Trail, which winds up into a canyon known as Siphon Draw. This is a very scenic hike and adventurous hikers can continue all the way to the Flatiron, an almost six-mile roundtrip that gets steep and difficult near the top. Daily entrance to the park is $7 per vehicle. Learn more at azstateparks.com/lost-Dutchman.
For Tucson residents, the Saguaro National Park surrounds you – literally. The park is divided into two districts: the Rincon Mountain District is east of Tucson and the Tucson Mountain District is located to the west. Combined, these two districts offer more than 165 miles of hiking trails. Hiking on the Signal Hill Trail (west district) just a quarter mile from the picnic area offers not only a great view from the top of Signal Hill, but the opportunity to view petroglyphs and Hohokam rock art that is more than 900 years old.
If you want to see an abundance of Sonoran Desert life without even leaving the car, try the Cactus Forest Drive (east district). This one-way, paved loop road runs through the heart of a saguaro cactus forest and provides breathtaking views of the desert landscape. Entrance to the park is $10 per vehicle, $5 for walk-ins or bicycles. Learn more at saguaronationalpark.com.
When the temperatures head upward and the wildflowers start waning in the lower desert, head north to escape the heat and see what’s blooming there. The Mogollon Rim, or “the Rim,” extends nearly 200 miles from southwest of Flagstaff to the White Mountains in eastern Arizona. Woods Canyon Lake (about 30 miles east of Payson) has a relatively level surrounding trail called the Rim Lakes Vista Trail that offers great views and rocky, sunny exposures for wildflowers. Wildflowers bloom here from May through October, with the best viewing in July and August. Hannagan Meadow Recreation Area on the eastern end of the Mogollon Rim offers the six-mile Hannagan Loop,trail that starts at Hannagan Meadow Lodge and follows a seasonal creek through marshy areas home to spectacular wildflowers. For more information on these spots and other hiking locations along the Mogollon Rim, visit fs.usda.gov.
Out on the wildflower trail, remember basic hiking safety: Bring water, wear sunscreen and a wide brimmed hat and watch out for desert wildlife of the snake variety that come out when the weather warms up – and enjoy the beauty our unique state has to offer!