5 Tips for New Flower Watchers

by Jess Kung

It’s been a long winter full of storms, darkness and bad news. But after the rain comes flowers and it’s hitting peak bloom this March.

California is experiencing another super bloom. The winter’s heavy rain causes dormant desert wildflowers to grow explosively, to the delight the masses. The bloom in early 2017, fresh off the drought, was visible from space.

Anza Borrego State Park during the 2017 super bloom.

Anza Borrego State Park during the 2017 super bloom.

What most people are excited about, of course, is the prospect of leaving civilization behind and taking some time with nature’s beauty and grabbing a few pics for Instagram along the way.

There are lots of resources that can tell you about where the best spots are — the OC Register has a particularly thorough guide. Where you might go will depend on what you have time for and where you’re coming from, but there are a few things you should keep in mind, especially if you’re dropping in on a more secluded site.


  1. Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints (on the trail)

Yes, even if other people have already trampled a new path down.

Yes, even if other people have already trampled a new path down.

This one should probably be obvious, but people haven’t been great about this. City dwellers and suburbanites love the romance of getting out into nature, but sometimes widespread excitement over a natural landmark or event leads to a place getting loved to death.

Especially for those who want to get a good picture, it can be tempting to go off-trail. But y'all are trampling the flowers! Don’t pick them, either. Thousands, possibly tens of thousands of people will be going through some of these parks. If we want to keep going back, we have to leave them as untouched as possible.

2. Know the limits of your phone

At least the camera still works .

At least the camera still works .

Places in the desert (Joshua Tree, Anza Borrego) warn you that there probably won’t be any cell signal. Print or write down your directions and maps, or at least download the map so you can use it offline. If you want to listen to music, download the songs you want.

Even if you aren’t going super far from city lights and cell towers, make sure you know the forecast. Pay attention if there are signs for a radio channel with up-to-date information.

3. Pictures are good, but being in the present is better

These flowers were so small in real life, this picture is way more impressive.

These flowers were so small in real life, this picture is way more impressive.

There’s no shame in wanting to come away from your trip with cool pictures, but remember that these parks are more than a backdrop. Go exploring around roads and trails, take in the smells and sounds or find the young bugs that will eventually eat all the flowers.

Just know that this phenomenon is only supposed to happen once every 8-10 years so take pictures while they last. (But with climate change, who knows!)

4. It’s hard to avoid crowds, but it’s probably worth the trade-off

Scouting on Instagram can help you figure out both how picturesque the place will be, and also how crowded.

Scouting on Instagram can help you figure out both how picturesque the place will be, and also how crowded.

It’s nigh impossible to feel alone out there when there’s so much hype, so if you really want to get away from the crowds, you need to sacrifice something. You could go somewhere inconveniently out of the way. You could skip work and school to go on a weekday. You could wake up to get to the park as early as possible.

Check out the park’s geotags on Instagram and look at the “most recent” posts. It’s a good way to check how pretty it is, but if you’re seeing a lot of posts within hours of each other, a gazillion people are just out of frame, fighting their way out of an unpaved parking lot.

5. Don’t be afraid to talk to guides and park rangers

5ranger.png

When I went to Anza Borrego, my first stop was the visitors center. After stumbling around not sure what was going on, I swallowed my pride and fear of human interaction and went to the information desk. A nice woman gave me a map of the area with that day’s best blooms highlighted.

They know what you’re looking for and they can probably point you to a good spot with the most up to date information. They’ve probably helped hundreds of people with limited outdoors experience to find their bearings.

While we’re at it, try to be considerate of the local population as much as you can. Patronize their businesses, don’t park like an asshole. Respect the area, both man and nature, so that they can continue to be healthy in the years to come.