Anza-Borrego Wild Flowers

  A Bounty of Colors in an Otherwise Hostile Environment

Event Report 20170313

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The Experience

Part of the cycle of life in the desert is the spring bloom for the wild flowers.  Recent winter rains followed by a warming trend created the ideal circumstances for a so-called "super bloom".  The local flora was on display for all to see; and there were plenty that came.  We traveled to Borrego Springs on a Monday thinking we would avoid the crowds, but no such luck.  While not as crowded as it would have been on a weekend, there were plenty of flower viewers -- enough that our favorite restaurant had a multi-hour wait for a table and when we were finally seated, they were out of most dishes.

For this trip, we had several cameras along: an older Fuji X100T with a fixed 23mm (35mm equivalent) lens, my Sony A7RM2 with new 90mm macro lens and my Olympus EM-1 with a 12-40mm zoom lens.  These 3 cameras have wildly different capabilities and strengths.  The Fuji is compact and light, but years-old technology and only 12mp.  But, it produces great color rendition and has an APS-C sized sensor which creates a "crop factor" of 1.5.  The Olympus is relatively new (3 years) but is very high-tech and has one of the best image stabilization systems of any camera in existence today.  It has a 4/3 format chip which results in a crop factor of 2.0 (that is to say a 50mm lens "looks like" a 100mm lens in terms of field of view).  The Sony is the most current model and is a full-sized chip with a crop factor of 1.0 (that is no crop).  For these photos, the crop factor plays into the look and feel of the final image.  The higher crop factor cameras produce a deeper depth of field (DOF) than the no-crop Sony.  For close-up photos, like flowers, the shallow DOF produces a very narrow band of focus and sometimes actually works against you in obtaining a "good" photo.

The photos below are what we saw.

We approached Borrego Springs from the west on Montezuma Grade.  The grade has a view point that allows oversight of the entire Borrego Valley.  Note the while area at the center right of the photo above.  This is the so-called "Borrego Sink".  Rain in the valley flows towards the sink and then evaporates leaving the light colored silt.  The Santa Rosa mountains are the ridge at the left of the photo above.

We got to Borrego Springs around noon and decided to head to Carmelita's for lunch.  Nope.  Every other person in San Diego county was waiting there, so we decided to go see the sights and return in a few hours.  Steve spotted this church nearby, so we went to have a look.  The Fuji did a great job of rendering a bright blue sky.

Looking to the WNW from the church we could see the mountains above Palm Canyon in the distance.

The flowers were in bloom almost everywhere.  Note the black specks in the petals: these are dust flecks.

The blooms looked great in the bright sun.  The pollen has spilled onto the petals of the flower.

The pod on the left has not yet opened.

The blooms attract the insects as the flowers are dependent on the insects as their primary pollination vehicle.

The internal structure of the flowers in quite complex with each flower species having a different finely developed approach to procreation.  Note the pollen on the petals.

These blooms are on the creosote bush; the blooms are very small.

Nature seems to have all the blooming species on the same clock to leverage the insects.  Three species are blooming in the photo above.

This bloom was tiny, but has its own individual flower structure.

The structure of this large white flower looks like arms of an octopus.

There were plenty of the white blooms, some in dense patches of flowers.

Yet another unique center structure.

The dark specks are road dust.  There plenty of folks driving and walking stirring up clouds of dust.

The center structure looks like a tomato on a stick.

Tiny blooms with intricate structure.

The previous photo is one of the blooms on this bush.

The small hairs were not easily visible to my eye but are clearly visible in the high-resolution photos.

The northern ridge of the Santa Rosa Mountains is visible in the distance.  In some areas the flowers formed a dense mat of colors.

The sand verbena is a small plant with a small flower.

Up close, the verbena has a pleasing, but simple structure.

I found the pale purple color to be more interesting than the intense yellow of some of the blooms.

This flower also got the dust treatment.  This whole flower is about the size of a dime.

DOF is alway an issue when shooting up close, but the narrow band of the bloom that is in "critical focus" reveals the fine details of the complex structure of the flower.

These bright yellow flowers start out as red pods.  Note the immature bloom at the top left of the photo above.

The red center fades as the bloom matures.

By this stage, the red is completely gone.

We drove over to Henderson Canyon and were presented with a carpet of bright yellow blooms.  Our pants were coated with pollen as we brushed against the flowers.

The creek in Coyote Canyon empties into this area resulting in "excess" water and a nice bloom in the spring.

The fellow above brought his DJI drone to take photos from above.  A great idea -- basically I view a drone as a "tall tripod" and can provide an interesting view of an otherwise uninteresting location.

When viewed from closer to the ground, the flowers are a riot of color.

The remarkable thing about the desert is that anything grows at all.  This dry mud crust had enough moisture to support this young plant.

We finally made it to Carmelita's for lunch and they were able to seat us, but due to the huge lunch crowd, they were out of nearly every dish.  We did get fed and what we ate was good.  When we finished, we headed back toward San Diego up the Montezuma Grade.  As we gained altitude heading west, the harsh desert floor gave way to lush areas with dense stands of cactus.  Note the huge spines on this fellow.

Some cactus have large spines, some large.  This guy has both.

The wet winter provided sufficient moisture for  a nice coat of leaves on this ocotillo cactus.  The Santa Rosa Mountains are in the distance.

Ocotillo, cholla and desert wild flowers.

Looking east the density of the brush becomes apparent.

A parting view of the Borrego Valley.

I did not expect an many people as we encountered.  I did know that the place went crazy on the weekend, but given that it was a Monday, I somehow convinced myself that things would be OK.  Sadly, Carmelita's is one of our favorite Mexican restaurants and we got stiffed on our choice of dishes.  I guess that means that we'll have to return after the flower bloom abates.

Despite the potential for crowds, the blooms are worth seeing.  But, if you do elect to go, go very early in the morning as I heard the waitstaff at the restaurant saying that the police were going to close the road after a fixed number of people had entered the city.

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