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!
Never miss a post — it’s free!
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
Our most recent posts:
- Granite Dells at Watson Lake near Prescott AZ – SPECTACULAR! 05/25/23
- Lynx Lake, Arizona – Great RV Camping Near Prescott! 05/17/23
- How to Fix a Car or Truck Key Fob in Minutes! 05/04/23
- RV Keyless Entry Door Lock Problems? Try this quick fix! 04/28/23
- Fossil Creek Waterfall – A Pretty Hike to a Scenic Cascade 04/14/23
More of our Latest Posts are in the MENU.
New to this site? Visit RVers Start Here to find where we keep all the good stuff and check out our GEAR STORE!!
<-Previous || Next->
Wow, just WOW! I’m only a recreational photographer, but I can imagine your excitement and Mark’s when you hit the Poppy Bonanza. Gorgeous pics, Emily! Of course, my favorite is the last one of Buddy regally surveying his kingdom. 😊
Mary, you would be in heaven with your camera in this setting! “Poppy Bonanza” is the perfect term. It was astonishing. Buddy was in his element for sure, finding shady places to rest and keep an eye on us while we wandered up and down the dirt washes looking for the best angles. What an experience!
I am not full time yet, but I wanted to go to Slab City in the Salton Sea first before going to Quartzsite to winter (in both areas) before moving north as the USA gets warmer in each zone. Wanted to stick with high altitude deserts. I wanted to leave Oregon and Washington off my list. Is there something you need to learn or tell yourself when you go full time over coming back to a sticks and bricks house? Any advice? What was the biggest culture shock going fulltime? A fulltime friend of mine said that his biggest shock was that he had to tell himself that was his home and that there is no “end” to the vacation, and he needed to not treat it like he’s camping but keep to normal house routines and not burn yourself out. I will probably be full full full time in the next couple years after selling home. I just keep thinking I am not going to consider it home and try to be in vacation mode.
I’ve written quite a bit about full-timing and there’s an index of article links HERE on a page titled “RV Lifestyle Tips — Costs, Repairs, Workamping, Living Off the Grid & More.” Under the heading “Going Full-time” you’ll find our thoughts on making the transition from a conventional lifestyle to full-timing as well as lots of general tips for living on the road.
Halfway down that same index page, look under the heading, “Living the Dream.” There’s you’ll find articles expressing our thoughts about what it takes to be a full-time traveler, the joys and pitfalls, and the things we found were important in our development as travelers. Like everything, there’s a learning curve.
Lastly, near the bottom of the page under the heading, “Reflections on our lives as full-time travelers,” you’ll find some of our thoughts as we looked back at our years of traveling as well as our annual travel summaries that we wrote each year for a while.
In general, you do have to look at your rig as your home because that’s what it is. It requires maintenance and TLC and that takes time away from sightseeing or whatever your passion is that makes you want to live in an RV full-time. Ordinary chores are also an intrusion into your normal mode of being footloose and fancy free — dumping and refilling the tanks (if you boondock a lot), getting propane and gas, laundry, grocery shopping, figuring out where to stay, for how long, and getting there. So, while the lifestyle resembles a vacation in some ways, it is also a plain old regular day-to-day lifestyle that includes lots of things that aren’t exciting.
The biggest mistake most people make at first — us included — is to try to see too much in too short a time. You can’t see it all in a year or two. That first year or two is an adjustment period where you spend at least 6 months saying repeatedly, “I can’t believe I’m doing this!” promptly followed by, “How the heck do I do this?” Eventually you settle down a little but are still moving fast. Finally, a few years into the experience, you find a pace and pattern that works and makes you happy and doens’t burn you out. If you can persuade yourself to take it slowly at first you’ll be happier and you’ll avoid burnout.
You’ve got lots of time in the next few years to think it all through, practice on shorter trips, and do some soul searching about why in the world you want to go give up the comforts of hearth and home to go full-time in the first place. If you know exactly why you’re doing it — what your dream is, in detail — then you can fulfill it much more easily.
Good luck and have fun!
Thanks for sharing your wonderful pictures of the desert in bloom. All of this moisture is such a blessing! We have a cabin below the rim and it has been very dry for at least 20 years. We are celebrating the snow and rain that we have received. Our backyard is full of daisies right now and I am harvesting the seeds to give to friends to get their crop started for next year (read, throw seeds on the ground, scratch the soil, wait for winter rains.) This has been a miraculous winter!
It really has been miraculous, Liz. The rain and snow are such a great blessing and the desert is responding with pure joy. I love your idea of harvesting your daisy seeds for friends. That display of daisies in Apache Junction was stunning. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have that right out your window! Thanks for reading and enjoy the spring!!
Brings back great memories as we just spent two weeks at Lost Dutchman State Park mid-February. While no flowers were out yet, The Superstition Mountains were and are phenomenal! I have been following your travels for years, and now pinch myself daily that I am living the Canadian Snowbird dream of RV’ing the Southwest during the winters! A little frost on the truck this morning in Camp Verde, but it is so gorgeous here! Can’t wait for Monument Valley next week and Moab in April! Thanks again for your blog and giving me inspiration for what is possible! Stay safe!
What a heartwarming note, Leonard. You put a big smile on my face! Thank you so much for following our blog all these years, and a big congratulations to you for fulfilling your snowbird dream of living in beautiful Canada in the summertime and spending winters in your RV in the American Southwest. There is so much to see in every corner of our world, and this year all of Arizona is “verde” — green, green, green! Enjoy Monument Valley and Moab, and happy trails!
Breathtaking! We are planning a trip to AZ April 11th. Thoughts about if they’ll continue to have fields of flowers or will it be over? Also, any tips/suggestions on where to photograph the wild horses near Salt River? I love your blog!
Your best bet for seeing the wild horses is to drive on the Bush Highway and stop at each of the day use areas and poke around. Our best encounter was at the Phon D Sutton day use area (blog post here). The whole Bush Highway as well as Usery Pass Road is a gorgeous area, so even if you don’t see any wild horses it will be time well spent. Sometimes you’ll see cars pulled over on the side of the road with people staring out into the desert and there’s a good chance they’re watching the horses! It’s a hit-or-miss thing, though. We heard of a TV camera crew flying in to photograph them and they were nowhere to be found!
That’s beautiful! I love wildflowers! Have you ever seen the bluebonnets in Texas? That’s a sight to behold, also.
Yes, we’ve seen and LOVED the bluebonnets in Texas hill country, and we have fabulous printed pics of us surrounded by them. But that was a few years before we ran off in an RV and before digital photography too! We’ve gotta get back there with our trailer someday!
Beautiful flowers! Your first pic of Hwy 87 looks more like where we are!
Oh no! Well, once Spring comes your way it will be beautiful, I’m sure!!
As gorgeous as these pictures are I can only imagine how beautiful they looked in person! I’ve been really busy with various things and haven’t taken the time to read your last few posts. I sure am glad I was able to read and see this one!
It’s wonderful to hear from you, Janet! These flowers were absolutely stunning in person, and it was impossible to capture the size and scale of it all. Everywhere you looked there was a carpet of yellow going all the way to the horizon. I’m so glad you had the time to enjoy this post. Thanks for reading!
Sorry about the dumb questions, but did you all do any fossil hunting in AZ? If so is there a good place or level of the rock where the fossils reside in (when AZ used to be part of the ocean millions of years ago)?
We have not done any fossil hunting in AZ, Gary, but there are lots of fossils out there, I’m sure! Let us know what you find!!
Was the petrified forest you all went to a few years back in the open air and could people take their own piece if they wanted to or was it like Glass Beach in Fort Bragg where they not like people to take anything?
Petrified Forest National ParkPetrified Forest National Park RV Trip – Magic in Jasper Forest is a formal Park run by the National Park Service and they have strict rules prohibiting the removal of anything from any of their land. It is really worth visiting, however the only way to take home a piece of petrified wood is to buy a piece at the gift shop at the south end of the Park. That shop sells small marble sized pieces and huge trunks and slabs as well.
Sounds awesome. So I have a love for the high desert, high planes, and the low desert in winter which is why I love places like AZ, WY, CO, NM, NV, ID, MT, ND, SD, UT. I plan to keep myself on the western states because of the most BLM land is located in the states I listed. Are there any other states that have a very beautiful high desert that you would recommend? It’s still a bit out going 100% full time for me, but I plan to move north in the summer and south in the winter. Any boondocking places east that are sort of desert like?
I think you’ve got all the high desert states covered, Gary! Those are all beautiful states. You have a good plan to move with the seasons. Boondocking is very difficult in all the other states because there’s very little Federal land and what little there is the land management agencies don’t allow dispersed camping. You’ll have a wonderful time, and hopefully you can do a bunch of shorter trips between now and your launch date!
I’m so glad y’all were able to find those glorious hills of poppies! Just spectacular! The smaller patches were nice too but I can only imagine your breath being snatched out of your chest when you saw them in the masses like that!
That was exactly the feeling, Janet! Our jaws dropped to the ground and we were speechless. Wandering up and down the washes between them and looking out across those fields of gold was extraordinary!!