Every year, wildflower lovers look forward to the spring and summer blooms with great anticipation. The seasonal renewal of life offers fragile patterns of color spread over the deserts and the forests of Gila County.
Usually, the window of opportunity can be brief, and in some years the right factors don't come together at all, leaving the desert void of the seasonal color the blooms bring.
Every year, the right components have to come together to create conditions for a good bloom, the formula for fantastic flowers can be tricky. The main ingredient is rain. Without it, the buds simply do not have the ability to produce. Below are several areas if the conditions are right where you can find amazing color.
Rim Lakes Wildflower Viewing
The Mogollon Rim marks the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau and is thousands of feet high in some areas. The average elevation of the rim is about 7000 feet and the area is known for its ponderosa pine forests that form the largest stands of this tree in the United States. The lakes of the Rim Lakes area were created by damming small canyons that drain northward from the Mogollon Rim. Although modest in size, the lakes occupy a lovely forested setting. Woods Canyon Lake is the most popular and easily accessed. A general store and several campgrounds are near the lake. This area offers several easy nearly level trails for wildflower viewing; see Rim Lakes Map (PDF, 103 KB).
There is a short nature trail near the Rocky Point Picnic Ground and a trail that goes around Woods Canyon Lake. The Rim Lake Vista Trail (Trail 622) offers great views and lots of rocky sunny exposures for wildflower habitat. This trail is 3.5 miles long and easily accessed from several points. July and August are the best months for wildflower viewing because summer rains freshen up the vegetation, but you will find some wildflowers anytime from late May to early October. From Payson, Arizona, go east on Arizona Highway 260 for 30 miles to Rim Road (Forest Road 300, which is located across from the Rim Visitor Center). From Heber, Arizona, follow Arizona Highway 260 west for 26 miles to Rim Road. This road is the main access to the Rim Lakes area. To reach Woods Canyon Lake, travel about 5 miles west on Forest Road 300, and then travel about 1 mile north on Forest Road 105.
Peridot Mesa Wildflower Viewing
Located on the San Carlos Reservation, Peridot Mesa can be breathtaking with wildflower color in a boom year – but those depend on regular and generous winter rains, so its always best to watch for wildflower posts or contact the San Carlos Apache Recreation & Wildlife Department to verify whether wildflower color is worth the drive this year. The weekday office phone number is 928-475-2343.
In those boom years, though, hills of Peridot Mesa can be carpeted with more than 1,000 acres of gold poppies and other wildflowers starting in late February and continuing through March, sometimes into April – depending on soil moisture.
Peridot Mesa is famous among pro photographers and bloom chasers, see photos:
Mainly known for a visual overload of Mexican gold poppies, you should also watch for bluedicks, lupine, globemallow and owl’s clover within the south-facing caldera basin below Peridot Mesa. With the cooler temperatures, the poppies began closing up quite early (about 2 hours before ‘sunset). So the best time to view is mid morning to early afternoon if you want to see and photograph them in spring splendor.
DIRECTIONS: from Phoenix or points west, take U.S. 60 east to Globe, then continue east on U.S. 70 to the reservation. Just past mile marker 268, turn left on a dirt road marked by a cattle guard framed by two white H-shaped poles. Drive a half-mile and you should start seeing flowers along the road and sweeping down hillsides.
CALL AHEAD: the $10 tribal day-use permit is required, buy yours at convenience stores in Globe or at the Bashas’ on the reservation -- or at the San Carlos Recreation & Wildlife Office in Peridot. And again, we suggest a call before you plan your visit, to ask for a report on flower color at Peridot Mesa. 928-475-2343 www.sancarlosapache.com/Permits_Information.htm.
Roosevelt Lake Wildflower Viewing
A nice long day trip along the SR 88 Apache Trail can also yield some wildflower results. The historic road takes you 40 miles on an adventure path from Tortilla Flats, past Canyon Lake, Apache Lake and finally reaching the Roosevelt Dam and Theodore Roosevelt Lake. Along the way the desert reveals it's beauty with ample places to stop for a break, or spend the night camping.
Another road that yields some great color is route 288 from the east end of Roosevelt Lake and follow it up into the mountains. This is a fabulous day trip, as the road quickly rises from the Sonoran Desert floor up into the pines.
Tonto National Monument Wildflower Viewing
Tonto National Monument is a wonderful place for viewing the showy spring wildflowers. In a good year, the hillsides are covered with gold poppies. Blooms of purple lupine, red firecracker penstemon, and white desert chicory along with many other species are scattered among and above the gold.
Though some flowers were of use, the Salado people looked forward to harvesting the fruit and plant parts. The desert was their grocery store, and each plant a shelf of foods, medicines, and other items supplementing their cultivated crops. They also had to compete with the many animal species relying on the same plants for their food. A bountiful flowering season meant a bountiful harvest for both animals and humans. Spring is not the only time for wildflowers in the desert, just the most abundant. Many cacti bloom at their appointed time during the year. The bright pink blooms of the hedgehog arrive in March and April, while Arizona's state flower, the white saguaro blossom, opens in May and June. The agave family of plants, including yuccas, bloom from late spring through the summer months. These and other perennial plants continue to live from year to year with their blooms not as dependent on the timing of the rain. Discover these amazing perennial flowers and take a tour of the Tonto National Monument Ruin.
Young, Arizona Wildflower Viewing
Young is located in northeastern Gila County at 34°6′42″N 110°55′45″W (34.111688, -110.929208), along Arizona State Route 288 (which becomes Gila County 512 to the north). SR 288 is paved within and north of the town, totaling about 10 miles (16 km) of pavement, but there is no fully paved road connecting Young with other highways. Young is small ranching community tucked way back in time. Life is a lot simpler here as things are more relaxed and not so rushed here. It wasn't until the mid 90's that cell service was introduced. But it is quite possibly one of the most beautiful places on the planet when you are looking for wild sunflowers.
The rolling hills come alive commonly blooming during summer and a portion of fall, with the middle of summer as the peak season. As far as your eye can see you will find these breathtaking beauties perched with their heads towards the Arizona Sun soaking it all in. Take a drive to Young and see them on display. While there, visit the Pleasant Valley Museum and discover the history of the Pleasant Valley War between the feuding Tewksbury's and Graham's - thought to be one of the bloodiest family feuds in Western history. Also don't forget Young is home to Bruzzi Vineyards, so taste some wine and grab some gourmet pizza during your stay.
For more great outdoor adventures throughout the county visit www.discovergilacounty.com