The floor of Death Valley won’t be carpeted with flowers, but other parts of the Mojave Desert could be in for a colorful spring.
Much of Southern Nevada, southeastern California and southwestern Utah have seen above-average precipitation this winter, setting the stage for an impressive wildflower bloom in some places.
“This could be a banner year,” said Jim Andre, who tracks desert flora as director of the University of California’s Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Center.
He predicts an especially good display at Zion National Park in Utah and Joshua Tree National Park in California.
Closer to Las Vegas, bloom chasers can expect to find plenty of annuals popping up around Red Rock Canyon, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Valley of Fire State Park, the Nye County town of Beatty and parts of Mojave National Preserve in California, Andre said.
“It’s an above-average year (for rainfall) across the Mojave,” he said. “I noticed that areas in eastern Clark County, such as Overton, have received about half their annual rainfall in the past month.”
Lake Mead spokeswoman Christie Vanover said the bloom is already getting started in the southern half of the 1.5 million-acre park, where purple lupine flowers now paint parts of Willow Beach. The lupine will be joined in a week or two by Ajo lilies, which bloom white in sandy areas from Cottonwood Cove to Katherine Landing.
Of course, any forecast this early in the year is subject to change. Andre said more rainfall in the coming weeks could boost the bloom or a freeze could zap some of the budding plants.
In most desert locations, the floral display is likely to peak between late March and late April. At higher elevations, the bloom will probably wait until May.
Andre expects a spectacular crop this year at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, 265 miles southwest of Las Vegas. The area has already received several inches more rain than usual, he said, and “that right there is a guarantee of an explosion.”
By contrast, officials in Death Valley aren’t predicting much of a show this year.
According to its website, the national park 100 miles west of Las Vegas didn’t get enough rain in December and January to fuel another “superbloom” like ones that carpeted the usually barren valley with yellow blossoms in 2016 and 2005.
“We expect to see some wildflowers blooming in the lower elevations, but they will be sparse,” the website says. “It would be very unlikely at this point to see a 2019 spring superbloom.”
That may come as a relief to some park employees. The 2016 bloom drew record crowds to the park, filling the campgrounds and lining the park’s main roads with cars in areas where the flowers were the thickest.
More than 209,000 people visited Death Valley that March alone, the highest one-month total in the park’s history.
Andre said this year’s bloom came early to parts of California’s Coachella Valley, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and elsewhere in the southern Mojave, where rains in October and mild temperatures in November and December produced a springtime display in the middle of winter.
“It’s a very interesting year in that respect,” he said.
Follow those flowers
The website for Death Valley National Park provides periodic wildflower updates and other helpful information about desert plants.
DesertUSA.com posts bloom reports from across the Southwest on its site.