March 2023 — Arizona has received a glorious deluge of rain and snow this winter, and the rivers, streams and lakes are flowing fast and filling up quickly. Yay!
As if in celebration of this divine gift of a long drink for a thirsty land, many parts of the desert are now ablaze in shades of yellow as Arizona’s wild Mexican gold poppies pop their heads out of the ground and point their smiling faces towards the sun.
But where is the best place to see wildflowers — especially poppies! — in Arizona this spring?
We had a roundabout opportunity to see the poppies when special friends of ours invited us to their winter digs in Apache Junction which is home to Lost Dutchman State Park, a gorgeous spot known for its springtime wildflower display.
The official reason for our visit was to get some troubleshooting help on our Onan 4000 gas generator which has been giving us all kinds of grief since our first night in the trailer last year.
So, what better way to make our sour generator “lemons” into sweet wildflower “lemonade” than to get the machine repaired and upgraded and then go play in the flowers?! (We’ll share the details about the generator, its repair and upgrade in another post).
But first, we had to get there — and on our way we saw the remnants of the recent March blizzard that had buried parts of northern Arizona in several feet of snow!
As we drove into Apache Junction, the roads were still wet from yet another dose of life-giving rain, and the Superstitions rose up under stormy skies in the distance.
At a stop light in the middle of town, at the intersection of Meridian and Brown, we glanced to the right and our jaws dropped at the sight of a vast field of yellow and orange daisies. We quickly parked and jumped out of the truck to take pics.
What was this place and how did these flowers get here?
It turned out that this huge field is owned by a local farmer who works his land with vintage 1960s tractors and farm equipment. He planted this field of daisies and it attracts visitors from far and wide every spring when the field erupts in vibrant color.
As gorgeous as that field was, we wanted to see true wildflowers. So, as soon as the generator repair was completed, we did a hike in Lost Dutchman State Park. Unfortunately, the famous yellow poppies weren’t blooming where we hiked.
We did find one small collection of poppies, though, and it was lovely. But it wasn’t quite what we had in mind.
Even so, the Superstitions are glorious, and we got some satisfying pics of chain-link cholla cactus against the rugged mountain backdrop. But we were still in search of desert gold!
Here’s a book about finding and photographing Arizona wildflowers that we just love:
We decided to take a drive on the Bush Highway, one of Central Arizona’s most scenic drives (blog post HERE).
The Bush Highway winds up and down and around the steep, rugged and gorgeous Sonoran Desert terrain, passing by lovely Saguaro Lake on its way.
We turned off at the Butcher Jones Recreation Area where there’s a small beach, and as cold and forbidding as the stormy and snowy mountain passes had been on our way here, this place was teeming with summertime beach activity.
People in bathing suits were drifting around on stand-up paddle boards and kayaks, and families were gathered around coolers on beach blankets and in camp chairs.
It was Spring Break and everyone was whooping it up!!
But we were still on the hunt for massive blooms of poppies. Down at our feet we saw a beautiful bouquet of flowers poking up out of the gravel and sand.
Another pocket of poppies was in full glory near the shore of the lake.
All of this was fantastic, and the excitement of the Spring Breakers was contagious, but we still weren’t seeing the poppy photo ops we’d hoped for.
We got back in the truck and drove another few miles north on the Bush Highway.
Suddenly, there it was, all around us, about halfway between the lake and US-87.
The hillsides on either side of the highway were bursting with color, blanketed in vivid yellow poppies!
On either side of the road as far as the eye could see, drivers had parked their cars on the dirt shoulder and people were getting out for a closer look at the spectacle.
Everyone was grinning, cell phone or camera in hand, and excited exclamations and comments filled the air. We all stared at the magnificent scenery in awe.
“I’ve never seen anything like this!”
“Can you believe it?”
Even though these poppies aren’t the kind that Dorothy walked through in the Wizard of Oz, I kept thinking of that refrain, “Poppies…poppies…poppies!”
We tip-toed between the flowers and found a dirt wash we could walk and were soon immersed in pretty yellow poppies.
We’ve only seen vast fields of wildflowers where the flowers go on far into the distance a few times, by the side of I-40 in North Carolina (blog posts HERE), by a forest road near Cody Wyoming (see HERE) and at Cedar Breaks in Utah (HERE).
But this display was the biggest and boldest we’d ever seen. Fields of gold…and popping poppies!
We thought that these were Arizona poppies. After all, they were blooming in Arizona! But Arizona poppies bloom in July and this was mid-March.
Once we were back in our trailer that evening, we poked around online and discovered that these stunning flowers were Mexican Gold Poppies a subspecies of poppy closely related to the California Poppy (which is California’s state flower!).
Back in 1816, German physician and naturalist Johann Friedrich Eschscholtz (1793 – 1831) discovered the poppy genus in the San Francisco area.
Poppies love dry desert soil and they bloom profusely when they get a long drink during the wintertime. They are sun worshippers too, opening up in bright sunlight and closing their petals tightly when the skies are overcast or gray (and at dawn and dusk which makes them hard to capture in a photo with a sunrise or sunset!).
On the fringes of the rolling hills of brilliant yellow, we found a few poppies standing side by side with other flowers.
And, of course, in other places in the desert, especially along the highways, we found lots of other beautiful wildflowers too.
If you visit the Sonoran Desert between late February and early April, you can catch these delightful flowers brightening up the landscape. These pics were taken just a few days ago on March 17, 2023, so if you are there now, be sure to take a drive to see this extraordinary display.
There are wild horses roaming in the area too, another special treat!
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More info about these poppies:
- Where the poppies are! – Interactive Google Maps
- California Poppy Species – Escholtzia Californica – General description of these poppies
- Mexican Gold Poppies – Escholtzia Californica Mexicana – The poppies in this part of Arizona
- California Poppies – Eschscholzia Californica Californica – The California state flower
- Johann Escholtz – Voyaged around the world twice documenting flora and fauna, cataloged poppies in 1816, and died at age 37!
Other blog posts featuring wildflowers:
- Cedar Breaks Wildflowers + Stunning Brian Head Overlook
- Black Hills Back Country Byway – Spring Flowers in Arizona!
- Wildflowers in Wyoming – Spring Showers Bring Spectacular July Flowers!!
- Montana Road Trip – Wildflowers, Bison, a Mission Church + Good Eats!
- Waterton Lakes Nat’l Park – Starry Skies, the Milky Way & Wildflowers
- Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina) – Wildflowers Everywhere!
- Hurricane Creek Wildflowers – Enterprise OR
- Hunting Spring Wildflowers in Arizona
More blog posts from this part of Arizona:
- Rainbows and Wild Horses in the Arizona Desert!
- Fall Colors and Wildlife on the Sonoran Desert Rivers in Arizona
- Arizona’s Stunning Apache Trail Scenic Drive
- A Majestic Scenic Drive in Arizona – The Bush Highway
- Hunting Spring Wildflowers in Arizona
- Wild Horses of the Salt River in Phoenix
- Phoenix on the Wing – Waterbirds of Arizona!
- Saguaro Lake – On the Waterfront in Phoenix
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