Saturday, August 22, 2020

Devils Slide Flower Fields

Sand verbena and desert evening primrose bloom near Devils Slide
1 mile round trip, 80 feet elevation gain (variable length)
Difficulty: Easy
Access: Sandy 4WD only road to trailhead, no entrance fee required

Every couple of years, winter rains will deliver desert wildflower superblooms in California's Anza Borrego Desert State Park. Many visitors to the park during such superblooms will head to easily accessible flower fields such as the ones at Coyote Canyon in Borrego Valley; visitors looking for more far-flung flower fields might try visiting the landscape of Devils Slide in nearby Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area instead. While the presence of off-road vehicles throughout this area may be jarring to some, the slightly secluded flower fields at Devils Slide are away from the more popular off-road vehicles in the park, making it an enjoyable spot to marvel at vast blooms of wildflowers in the desert. This area does require a 4WD vehicle to reach, as the access road crosses sandy terrain unsuitable for a sedan. As there's no defined trail here, you could easily spend hours to half a day exploring and enjoying the wildflowers.

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 Devils Slide flower fields are a short drive away 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 Borrego Springs Road south to its junction with Highway 78. We then followed Highway 78 east to the Ocotillo Wells Ranger Station; we turned left here and drove most of the way up to the ranger station, then turned right onto the sandy, unimproved Quarry Road. We followed Quarry Road to the northeast through a wash for a mile and a half and then turned right onto the Shell Reef Expressway, which we then drove east for another mile and a half to a parking area on the left side of the road. Arriving during wildflower season, there was a temporary sign at the trailhead indicating that we were in the right place to see the wildflowers at Devils Slide; check the above resources or contact the park beforehand to check whether flowers are blooming before coming.

From the parking area, a short walk along a sand Jeep path took us over a saddle in a set of low sand hills and brought us down on the other side to a sweeping plain of wildflowers in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. Desert evening primrose and desert sunflower were the primary flowers here, with some sand verbena mixed in. 

Desert sunflower and desert evening primrose
Desert evening primrose
Desert sunflower
The blooms stretched out onto a wide plain to the north. The Borrego Badlands were visible in the distance at the foot of the Santa Rosa Mountains.

Flower fields in superbloom
We wandered around this flower field for almost two hours in the late afternoon, watching the lighting change on this landscape. We had very little company- we shared this vast expanse of desert wildflowers with just one other visitor. We returned to our car as the sun set.

Sunset at Devils Slide
The superblooms at Anza Borrego Desert State Park are legendary; as the park continues to become more popular during such blooms in the future, Devils Slide will be a good alternative to the increasingly crowded flower fields at Coyote Canyon. Just make sure you rent a 4WD vehicle to get here- which is something you should do anyway if you're visiting this park to be able to explore the many desert 4WD roads!

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