Prospective Southwestern Wildflower Expedition

This is one of two alternate threads. I am thinking ahead to next spring and wildflower season. I am contemplating making a wildflower expedition – likely only one of the two described in this pair of threads.

One of the regions I am contemplating is the Southwest, that is, Arizona, New Mexico, and the Canyonlands portions of Colorado and Utah; but that area is too large. I need to pick a small area within this region. My criteria are: duration of 7–10 days; I want to spend more time walking and hiking than driving; and I want to maximize the number of species of wildflowers encountered. Not being familiar with the area, I am looking for advice as to the best times (week and month) and locations to accomplish this.


I would probably wait and see what the winter precipitation patterns were like before you made specific plans. It’s only November and things can be very variable here.

New Mexico is best in April to June, depending on latitude and elevation. I think Northern Arizona and Southern Utah are about the same, based on my time there this year. Photos: late April in eastern NM (sumac & rubberweed) and mid June on Navajo Nation (lilies) and Southern Utah (beardtongue)


The question then is, how do I interpret them? How do I translate the winter precipitation into when and where the wildflowers will be? That’s not a familiar area to me, so I was hoping for advice from people who know about it.

A couple things to consider.

Amount of winter precipitation: last winter the north rim of the Grand Canyon was closed until June because it snowed so much.

Timing of winter precipitation: rain and snow in November and December allow early spring annuals to germinate and grow in January and February and they can start to flower as early as late February in the low desert. That can be hard to track, but snowfall totals at ski areas throughout the region (Brian Head, Tucson, Ski Apache, Sandia Peak, Purgatory) should give you an idea of where the moisture is. Last summer was a really good year for Yuccas in central New Mexico, so this year probably won’t have as many of that group.

In the high (~1200 m, 4000 ft) desert around Las Cruces, the best wildflower season tends to be late July to August … if the summer rains arrive. This year was too dry, and the late-summer bloom was poor. On the other hand, in the Gila Mountains thunderstorms started in June, and judging by posts on iNat (eg, @andrewtree) there was a passable wildflower season in some areas.

One way to suss this out might be to identify a few regions you’d might like to visit, then look for the number of botanical posts in those regions put up between various dates. Some people (not me) are good a constructing query strings to do that kind of thing efficiently.

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Meanwhile, my house in Albuquerque received 1/2 the average annual precipitation between early August and mid September, which was too late for most wild plants, but great for sunflowers and roses.

I think the Cruces area is also good if you can catch the poppies and creosote in spring, no? Summer allows for more flexibility to visit the higher parts of the Gila and Organs.

It was a bit thin around Cruces for darned near everything this year, Elliot. Creosote bloomed sporadically, a bush here and there, but personally I didn’t see any poppies.

That sounds like a good plan, now that I have the previous explanations about rainfall (it would be mighty disappointing to go where there were a lot of wildflower posts in recent years, only to find that the year I went was a bad year). I also have another factor to consider. One of the trees that I would really like to add to my tree life list is the Knowlton hophornbeam, endemic to only a few tiny areas of the Southwest. Thankfully, Wikipedia provides a fine-scale range map:
By correlating the green dots on this map with the corresponding green dots on Google Maps, I was able to get some specific place-names. Wherever the good wildflower area(s) turn out to be, I expect that at least one of these dots will be in or fairly near one.