Arizona Road Trip!

Sometimes you just have to get in the car and go. That’s the way I felt as I watched report after report get posted on the desert wildflower sites that I monitor. The poppies are peaking NOW!

That’s the thing about wildflowers. They wait for no one. So if you want to see them at their best, you have to view them on their terms. And in southern Arizona, it was time.

When you’re planning a trip from Seattle to the Mexican border, you have to decide between a really, really, long drive and flying. The costs are probably not that far apart for a single person, so it becomes a trade-off between driving hours vs. what you can take with you. As I was planning to take my photo gear as well as camping gear on this trip, I decided to drive. Besides, I had the time.

So off I went. It turns out that you can get from Seattle to the Phoenix area in two days without too much pain, so by the third day I had set up camp and was shooting in the Tonto National Forest. This forest is huge at almost 3 million acres, and is the largest national forest in Arizona. And it also happens to have a lot of wildflowers.

Desert Marigold, Tonto National Forest, Arizona

A desert marigold blooms in the Tonto National Forest, Arizona.

I began my shoot at the Tonto National Monument, which showcases the Salado-style cliff dwellings and artifacts from this Native American culture that lived in this Upper Sonoran ecosystem 700 years ago. And, of course, I got my National Parks Passport stamped! But mainly I was here for the wildflowers.

There are all sorts of wildflowers blooming in the desert in the spring, but the one I was after was the Mexican Gold Poppy. This bright orange flower is known to dominate entire hillsides in the desert Southwest, creating a beautiful carpet of color. And it didn’t take me long to find some, right along the side of the road.

Glowing Poppies, Tonto National Forest, Arizona

Mexican Gold Poppies glow in the afternoon sunlight, in Tonto National Forest, Arizona.

I spent the entire day shooting in the national forest, driving the entire loop from my campsite on US Highway 60, north along the Apache Trail (Hwy 188), back west on Hwy 88 and conveniently arriving in Apache Junction just in time for a BBQ dinner at Filly’s Roadhouse. Yes, I did have a tent set up at a dry camp out on Hwy 60, but that’s not the point. The point is that there was live music and BBQ to be had in Apache Junction, so that’s where I was. I eventually did make it back to the campsite in time for bed.

White Easterbonnets, Tonto National Forest, Arizona

A pair of White Easterbonnets blooms in the Tonto National Forest, Arizona.

The next day I decided to investigate this spot on the San Carlos Apache Reservation that was supposed to be loaded with poppies. First you have to buy a $10 permit that allows you to hike, photograph, and otherwise visit the reservation, so I went to the tribal office and took care of that. The clerk told me exactly where I needed to go to get photographs, so I headed straight for the poppy covered hill. And they were magnificent!

Poppies and Lupine, San Carlos Apache Reservation, Arizona

Mexican Gold Poppies and Lupine grow on the rez, in San Carlos Apache Reservation, Arizona.

I spent the entire morning shooting on this one hill before looping around the reservation and having a tasty lunch at a cafe in the little town of San Carlos. And they even had Wi-fi! I saw some interesting hills on this loop, but couldn’t figure out how to get to them without going across private property, so I decided I had enough poppies for one day. In my travels, I did come across plenty more wildflowers, including the interestingly named Bluedicks. Hey, I don’t name ’em, I just photograph ’em. We’re still talking about wildflowers, in case you got confused.

Bluedicks, San Carlos Apache Reservation, Arizona

Bluedicks bloom on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, Arizona.

Poppies on a Rock, San Carlos Apache Reservation, Arizona

Mexican Gold Poppies appear to be growing out of a rock, on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, Arizona.

Finally, I headed on to my next destination, the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument (and another stamp in my passport!) and finally to Picacho Peak State Park, my campsite for the evening. As I moved further south, the landscape became drier and more dominated by cactus, so I changed my focus a bit from wildflowers to cactus. And that’s the perfect way to end this story, with a promise of cactus images next week!

Wildflowers, Tonto National Forest, Arizona

Purple wildflowers bloom in the Tonto National Forest, Arizona.

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2 Responses to “Arizona Road Trip!”

  1. Carmen Clemente says:

    Beautiful and informative as always, Ed. I lived in Arizona for while and never heard of Tonto or Casa Grande, shame!
    Bluedicks… those flowers are called wild for a reason, I suppose. 馃槈