Wildflowers have started to sprout in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and a little planning will go a long way toward taking advantage of this year's highly anticipated super bloom.
Visitors likely will have only until the end of the month to behold a large field of yellow desert sunflowers or purple canterbury bells or sniff out a fragrant patch of spectacle pod.
Given the fleeting and fickle nature of wildflower blooms, we're offering a few tips to help visitors make the most of this year's promising spectacle.
To start, don't wait a few weeks to hunt for wildflowers. Following ample winter rains, the most lush desert spring in more than a decade could fade quickly under harsh winds, rising temperatures and ravenous caterpillars, according to park officials.
"This is probably the first big bloom in at least 12 years and maybe more like 20 years," said Sally Theriault, state park interpreter with the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
"I'll go out on a limb and say it'll last probably a week or two, but those caterpillars are a force of nature to be reckoned with for sure," she added.
If you're planning to drive two hours east from San Diego into the desert park, you'll probably want to head out early. Afternoon temperatures could break into the 90s this weekend, and desert rays are unforgiving. (It's essential to bring sunscreen and lots of water.)
Getting a prompt start also could help you beat the crowds. Anza-Borrego is California's biggest state park at 630,000 acres, stretching from the Riverside County line to the Mexican border in eastern San Diego County. But most people pack into the most accessible parts of the desert, and park officials are expecting huge flocks of visitors this spring.
"There's going to be a lot of visitors coming to the same area, so we would recommend coming midweek if possible," said Briana Puzzo, education manager for the Anza-Borrego Foundation, a nonprofit partner and fundraiser for the park.
A good place to start, especially if you've never been to the park, is the visitors center at the Borrego Palm Canyon Campground. You can pick up a free wildflower guide at this unique gift shop and information center, which also offers an outdoor garden with many of the region's plants marked with placards.
Also located at the park's main campground is the Borrego Palm Canyon trail, which offers a roughly 45-minute hike to an oasis. A number of different flowers already have been spotted on the trail, such as monkey flower, poppies and phacelia. Parking spots at the trailhead have been hard to come by after 11 a.m., according to officials.
Wildflowers often can be found along the side of the road or just a short hike from pull-offs.
Emerson writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.