Friday, August 21, 2020

Coyote Canyon Flower Fields

Coyote Canyon flower fields
1.2 miles round trip, no elevation gain (variable distance)
Difficulty: Easy
Access: Paved road to trailhead, no entrance fee required

After rainy winters, California's Anza Borrego Desert State Park delivers one of the most spectacular desert wildflower shows in the United States. The flower fields at the mouth of Coyote Canyon, just miles from Borrego Springs, is one of the most easily accessed spots to appreciate spring blooms and rare superblooms. An easy, flat walk along an unpaved road accesses a stretch of desert exploding with desert sunflower, sand verbena, and desert evening primrose when the conditions are right. Off-trail wandering through the flower fields gives opportunities for a couple hours of exploration here during good flower conditions. Just two hours from San Diego, the spring flower blooms here are one of the more wonderous natural sights of North America, something everyone should add to their bucket list.

Timing is critical for this hike, as these flower fields are simply a creosote-dotted patch of desert for most of the year and on dry years may not see much of a bloom at all, even during spring. But whenever there is plentiful rainfall in the autumn or winter over this corner of the Sonoran desert, you can expect an impressive wildflower show in Anza Borrego during February and March. Check wildflower updates from Desert USA or the Anza Borrego Desert Natural History Association to get an idea of wildflower conditions before visiting.

The Coyote Canyon flower fields are easily accessed from Borrego Springs, the town at the heart of Anza Borrego Desert State Park. I visited with my mother in February during a previous superbloom; from Christmas Circle in Borrego Springs, we followed Palm Canyon Drive east briefly and then turned left onto DiGiorgio Road heading north. After passing through grove upon grove of citrus, we parked along DiGiorgio Road where the pavement ended at the boundary of Anza Borrego Desert State Park. 

After parking along the road where the pavement ended, we followed an unmarked dirt road due east into the middle of the desert landscape. During peak wildflower times, there will likely be volunteers or park employees nearby to point out where to go.

The dirt road led east towards the wash of Coyote Canyon. When we came, the expanse of desert to the north of this dirt road had turned into a colorful field of desert wildflowers. The contrast between the barren, brown surrounding mountains and the intensely colorful blooms of the desert floor were striking.

Desert sunflower and sand verbena flooming in Coyote Canyon
There's not much a defined hike here. The dirt road leads east until eventually reaching a wash; the road marks the boundary of the state park, so at points we were hiking with flower fields to our left and neatly maintained citrus groves to our right. After reaching this point, we decided to wander out into the flower fields, making a random walk through the superbloom before returning to the trailhead.

Snowy San Ysidro Mountain rises above desert sunflower, evening primrose, and sand verbena
In late February, the blooms in the Coyote Canyon flower fields were dominated by the yellow desert sunflower, purple sand verbena, and white-pink desert evening primrose, which I thought was a particularly beautiful flower. More common flowers like lupine also dotted the fields in the places. The blooms change with season, so if you come earlier or later during a superbloom you may find different sets of wildflowers blooming.

The flower fields were made especially scenic by the backdrop of desert mountains that in February were capped with snow. Coyote Peak bound the canyon to the east, while Indianhead and snowy San Ysidro Mountain rose across the canyon. Whale Peak, far to the south of Borrego Valley, also sported some summit snow.

Lupine and desert evening primrose
While the flowers were the main draw, the superblooms also drew wildlife: hummingbirds flitted around the flower fields, feasting on this cornucopia of nectar during the short duration of this superbloom.

Hummingbird amidst the desert evening primrose
We enjoyed the flowers immensely: my mom had especially hoped to see a superbloom in the California desert and was happy to finally catch it. Of course, such blooms don't occur annually, so you'll need some luck and flexibility to be able to arrive at the right time to catch it. If you do come during a good bloom period, you'll probably find blooms of many other wildflowers and desert plants as well: cactus and ocotillo blooms are especially attractive and can be seen from the road as you drive throughout the park. Additionally, we found many more good roadside blooms, including huge patches of sand verbena, blooming along the Borrego-Salton Seaway. Blooms shift seasonally; check out the resources at the top of the post to figure out the best places to visit to see these remarkable flowers.

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