So here I am at Anza Borrego’s Super Bloom, an event the locals say they haven’t seen in close to thirty years. In fact, here in tiny Borrego Springs, they are calling it Flowergeddon. Restaurants are running out of food, the traffic has been bumper to bumper and nobody was quite prepared for how many people would come to see the desert in bloom. So far, I’ve been able to work around the crowds by getting up early and by taking a tour that got me off-road. Let me pause here to recommend that, especially when you go to National Parks or wilderness areas, always spring for a tour with a local outfitter. I do it because I travel solo and hiking alone in the wilderness is never a smart idea. But local hiking tours will also get you out to the most spectacular sights that you might miss if you were trying to bumble around on your own. I’ve taken hiking tours from Yellowstone to Moab with never a bad experience.

I signed up for the wildflower tour with California Overland Desert Excursions. I had hoped our guide would be a Georgia O’Keeffe type: made spare and severe by the desert but with a great love and appreciation of overlooked desert flowers. O’Keeffe painted her flowers so large precisely because flowers, especially the desert variety, are so difficult to see. Even in this super bloom, it’s almost impossible to capture the totality of the bloom. An area will look as if it is covered with a sage green haze and, only when you get up close, do you realize you are looking at millions of flowers each with only a tiny point of color. With the harsh desert sun, you have to circle a flower or a plant searching for just the right angle where the intensity of the color to reveals itself.

These flowers were tiny but intensely colored. One reason why O’Keeffe chose to paint them so large. So we would really see them.

As I said, I was hoping for Georgia O’Keeffe. Until I met our guide Michael. Then I realized we were headed out into the desert with the second coming of Edward Abbey. Desert aficionados will know Abbey from Desert Solitaire, his brilliant mediation on his year as a park ranger at Arches National Park. Or they might have read, The Monkey Wrench Gang, which kind of paved the way for eco-terrorism in defense of desert lands. Curmudgeonly, opinionated, and a passionate advocate for saving our deserts, Abbey is controversial even in Moab where I met several people who had known him.

I would say Michael was more a Desert Solitaire Abbey than a Monkey Wrench Abbey. Because he had his opinions. Especially about all those rusty metal sculptures of horses, dinosaurs and cowboys that eccentric millionaire commissioned and installed over a large area of Borrego Springs. He’s against them. First, he’s a bit of an aesthete and he thinks they are just bad art. And secondly, he believes they detract from the beauty of the desert. He tells of one woman he knows who always had an unbroken view from her home across a desert meadow to the mountains. Suddenly one day, she had a large rusty metal bird in her sightline. I won’t say Michael would take a monkey wrench to any of the sculptures. But, when asked where a specific one is, he said he “tries as hard as possible to forget its location.”

Our fearless leader, Edward Abbey…er Michael.

Yes, Michael was definitely a Desert Solitaire Abbey. Although the hikes we took were short and easy, Michael did keep exhorting us to look at the flowers from different angles, to get down on the ground and see them from a new perspective. It was a kinder, gentler version of Abbey’s famous pronouncement on how to view the desert:

You can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamn contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbrush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail, you’ll see something, maybe.

Thankfully, Michael brought us back without too much bleeding, sufficiently hydrated and with a sighting of some rare Desert Five Spots under our belts. I’m hooking up with California Overland again tonight for their Sunset to Stars Experience. We’ll see if they can do for Anza’s famous dark skies what Michael did for its flowers.

More flowers from my day’s excursion:

The first impression of the bloom is that it is yellow because the Desert Sunflowers, Poppies and Desert Marigolds are so widespread. But when you look closely, you see all the other colored flowers intertwined.

Desert Chicory in bloom. Rafinesquia neomexicana.

The flowers were beautifully scented with a light sweet and not cloying fragrance. Beavertail Cactus. Opuntia basilaris.

Brown-Eyed Evening Primrose. Chylismia claviformis.

Desert Gold Poppy.

One of the interesting things Michael pointed out: a Desert Romance, a barrel cactus surrounded by Desert Sunflowers.

The rare Desert Five Spot. We saw dozens of them.

Jimson Weed closed in the heat. If you know your Georgia O’Keeffe, you’ll know what this looks like opened.

One of the locals just hangin’ out.

Pictures coming to Flickr when I can get them uploaded through this slow Internet.

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