Spring Wildflower Viewing in the Western Mojave
To the casual observer, the Western Mojave Desert may appear to be a barren and lifeless wasteland. However, below the surface, a vast seedbank of annual wildflower seeds lay dormant waiting for just the right weather conditions to germinate and paint the desert in a riot of color. In the Mojave, most of the region's sparse precipitation falls during the winter months. If the winter is warm and moist, especially during the months of February and March, annual wildflower seeds will germinate and flower within 5 to 6 weeks. When this happens, the best time to view wildflowers at 1,500 to 3,000 feet above sea level is from mid-March to mid-April. Due to variations in temperature caused by increasing altitude, peak wildflower viewing will advance upslope at a rate of roughly 1,000 feet every 2 weeks. By the time May arrives, the brilliant yellow, orange, vermillion, white and blue carpets of the lower desert will begin to fade in the growing heat of the advancing Mojave summer.
On the Public Lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management are a number of excellent wildflower viewing areas. This information along with the BLM's Desert Access Guide Series will give you a few starting points to begin to explore these sites.
What You Can See: In most years, the south facing slopes of Short Canyon provide some of the best wildlfower viewing in the eastern Sierra region.
On your drive into the trailhead you will pass through an area rich in flowering shrubs such as Bladder-Pod, Brittle bush, Desert alyssum, Fremont dalea, Spiny hop-sage, Mojave aster and Goldenhead. Most of these shrub species bloom from April to June.
Even during dry years the 1-mile long trail into the canyon will show off a wide diversity of wildflower species from mid-March to the end of April.
In good years, during the peak of the blooming season, the south facing slopes of the canyon begin to break into color by early March with the bright yellows from California poppy and coreopsis.
One of the more unusual plants common to Short Canyon is the nolina (Nolina parryi var. wolfii). Every 7 to 10 years, just the right weather conditions occur to support the dramatic flowering of this, a relative of the yucca. The inflorescence on some of these plants can be 2 feet wide and up to 5 feet tall! Look for these flowering plants in the upper canyon from April through May.
Area Description: Short Canyon has been set aside as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern by the BLM to protect its spectacular botanical resources, and has been adopted by the Ridgecrest Garden Club as a special management site. Nearly 300 species of plants have been described in this canyon, some of which are special status species. From the trailhead parking lot, the 1-mile long hiking trail provides access to the area. Elevations range from 3,500 - 4,000 feet above sea level in the canyon bottom.
Getting There: From the intersection of US 395 and SH 14, travel north for 1-mile to the Brown Road exit and follow the signs for Short Canyon all the way to the parking lot at the boundary of the Owens Peak Wilderness. Site is accessible with a 2-wheel drive vehicle. Use the Ridgecrest Desert Access Guide and the Short Canyon Recreation Opportunity Guide.
What You Can See: In good years during the peak of the blooming season, the south facing slopes of the lower canyon begin to break into color by early March with the bright yellows from California poppy and coreopsis. The canyon supports a diversity of flowering shrubs, which usually reach their peak bloom in mid-April to mid-May. The upper canyon supports a mix of mojave and sierran species and usually has good diversity even during dryer years above 4,000 feet.
Area Description: A spectacular east slope canyon in the Sierra Nevada Mountains with over 4-miles of riparian habitat. This canyon is partially within the Owens Peak Wilderness and the Sand Canyon Area of Critical Environmental Concern. A trailhead parking lot and hiking trail provide access to the area. Elevations range from 3,500 - 4,000 feet above sea level in the canyon bottom.
Getting There: From the intersection of US 395 and SH 14, travel north approximately 4 1/2-miles to the Brown Road exit and head west toward the large gravel pit at the mouth of the canyon. The access road will take a sharp left turn to the south at the gate to the gravel pit and then enter the canyon. Follow the road all the way to the parking lot at the boundary of the Owens Peak Wilderness. Site is accessible with a 2-wheel drive vehicle. Use the Ridgecrest Desert Access Guide and the Sand Canyon Recreation Opportunity Guide.
DESERT TORTOISE NATURAL AREA
What You Can See: Flowering shrubs from April to June. In wet years, coreopsis, goldfields, absinkia, phacelia, evening primrose, astragalus, desert dandelion and Fremont pincushion.
Area Description: While this area was set aside to protect the desert tortoise, the over 2-miles of winding trail provide a great way to view wildflowers, the tortoises favorite food. The site is managed cooperatively between the BLM and the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee. The natural area has a 2-mile long hiking trail, interpretive kiosk, restrooms and an on-site naturalist from March-May each year. Elevation 2,000 feet above sea level.
Getting There: From the east end of California City, take the Mojave-Randsburg Road northeast for approximately 5-miles to the signed entrance to the Desert Tortoise Natural Area. Site can be reached with a standard 2- wheel drive vehicle. Use the Cuddeback Desert Access Guide and the Desert Tortoise Natural Area Recreation Opportunity Guide.
What You Can See: During April and May, the Panamint Daisy (Enceliopsis covillei), an endemic species found only in the Panamint Mountains, produces its 4"-5" wide yellow daisy-like flowers. This spectacular flower can be found growing on the dry rocky walls of Surprise and Jail canyons. The Panamint Daisy is a special status plant and protected by California State law.
Area Description: This narrow slot canyon in the Panamint Mountains has a perennial stream and over 6.0 miles of lush riparian habitat. Access is by foot from a small parking lot at Chris Wicht Camp. No trails or other facilities provided. Elevation 2,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level. Best place to view Panamint Daisy is in the lower canyon between 2,000 and 3,000 feet above sea level.
Getting There: From the old mining town of Ballarat in the Panamint Valley, travel north on the Indian Ranch Road for approximately 1-mile to the Surprise Canyon Road, BLM route P71. Follow this Inyo County maintained dirt road for a distance of 4.0 miles to Chris Wicht Camp. Park at the end of the road. You will need a high clearance 2-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive vehicle. Use the Darwin Hills Desert Access Guide.
MOTOR VEHICLE TOURS
You don't have to hike to begin to enjoy spring wildflowers in and around Ridgecrest. In wet years, the following motor tours can be spectacular from early March to mid- April. You can see vast carpets of blooming coreopsis, goldfields, absinkia, phacelia, evening primrose, astragalus, and desert dandelion.
U.S. Highway 395
Kramer Junction to Ridgecrest
State Highway 14
Jawbone Canyon to Ridgecrest
State Highway 178
SR 14 to Walker Pass
Jawbone Canyon to Kelso Valley
Jawbone Station to Highway 178