Desert Flowers Go Wild This Year

Sand dunes carpeted in purple blooms. Golden-flowered plants three times their usual size. It adds up to the most spectacular wildflower season in years in California deserts. And it's happening now.

Credit El Nino. Heavy rains last fall got some flowers going as early as November (instead of February), and the latest deluges have kept them blooming big. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence," said Tina Townsend, park planner at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

At Death Valley National Park, naturalist Charlie Callagan said desert gold plants, usually topping out at a foot, are towering up to 3 feet, bursting with scores of buds rather than the usual two to four. Last month was the park's second wettest February since record-keeping began in 1911--nearly 2 inches.

Rangers expect the blooms to peak at the usual time, mid-March to early April, but caution that a heat wave, drying winds or a hard freeze could snuff them out.

Campgrounds are expected to fill quickly at Death Valley, where sites are first come, first serve; for park information, call (760) 786-2331. Anza-Borrego has reserved campsites (call [800] 444-PARK), and also allows roadside camping; for information, call (760) 767-5311.

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