Depending on the winter rainfall, each spring the deserts in Southern California explode with life and color with beautiful wildflower displays. It's surprising how little rain is needed for this to happen. This year the display is wonderful!
The Joshua Tree National Park is presently a canvas of nature's artwork. The blooms started in the lower elevations with yellow flowers and then slowly crawled into the higher elevations. Yellow, purple, white, red-orange. Absolutely breath-taking. Of course the cactus are involved as well, bursting with magenta, yellow, and purple flowers. The ocotillo, which normally look like spiny, towering sticks, develops dark green leaves and red-orange flowers that the hummingbirds love.
The wildflowers are presently so abundant, a visitor to the desert might think the flowers had been purposefully planted along the roadways. Not true. This is nature at her finest moment. Seeds collect beneath the sand and lie dormant until the rains come. If the rains are heavy and the road floods, these seeds collect at the roadside.
But the present season is nothing compared to the 2005 season. Heavy rainfall from summer 2004 through winter 2005 created one of the best wildflower seasons in 100 years, with flowers and plants blooming that had not been seen in a century...according to records. We visited Death Valley National Park in the spring of 2004 and decided to go back in spring 2005. The difference was amazing. Hillsides were covered with flowers. It looked more like pastureland than desert.
I've uploaded a good selection of photos here of Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Black Canyon in the Mojave Wildlife Preserve, and some miscellaneous shots: Wildflowers - Southern California Desert
The California Wildflower Hotline (818-768-3533) is updated every Thursday from March through May on more than 90 sites to visit, including the best locations to view wildflowers.
I'd also like to recommend some field guides to take with you when you go. These will help you identify what you are looking at:
Mojave Desert Wildflowers by Jon Mark Stewart
Mojave Desert Wildflowers by Pam MacKay
Mockel's Desert Flower Notebook by Henry R. Mockel and Beverly Mockel
If you are visiting a National Park, it's always a good idea to stop at the visitor center to see what books they might have for their area. And don't forget to take lots of pictures, too.