The Hills Are Alive in the Sonoran Desert

During these times of sheltering in place, when the weather turns nice we are bound to get the urge to take part in an outdoor activity. Luckily, in Maricopa County (Phoenix and surrounds) the weather has been perfect.

Wildflowers generally bloom this time of year and because of the rather abundant winter rains, we were hoping they would be putting on quite a show. We wanted to share the hiking activity with my brother-in-law and his friend and naturally we needed to observe appropriate social distancing.

We decided to visit an area we thought would not be too crowded even though it is beautiful. The plan was that each couple would drive separately and meet up at Lake Pleasant near Wickenburg, AZ.

Once at the parking area, we used the amenities, reviewed the maps and headed out on the Cottonwood Trail.

This is a view of the lake from the parking area.

The Cottonwood Trail was in a direction opposite that of the lake and thus there we only encountered a few other hikers.

Almost immediately, we found a beautiful hedgehog cactus (chinocereus Engelmannii). The colors seem almost too intense to be real like those in an overpriced tropical drink!

Pink and purple were the dominant colors of the day. The hills were covered with owl’s clover (Castilleja exserta ssp. exserta).

They found footing in and around rocks and in what appeared to be inhospitable spaces.

Some patches were so dense that the entire hillside was pink!

The combination of the flowers, green bushes and towering saguaro cacti (Carnegiea gigantea) highlighted the natural beauty of the desert.

There were also ample displays of orange globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua).

Anecdote: We had a Maricopa County Park pass which allows for an entire car to enter the parks (including Lake Pleasant) on the one pass. Since we drove separately and although we totalled only four in our “group,” we inquired as to whether under the circumstances, we would be allowed to enter under the one pass. The attendant thought for a moment and said: “How about a Coronavirus discount?”… and waived us along.

Everyone is doing the best they can!

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Wild West Weeds

Desert weeds along the roadside

Prior to moving to the North Phoenix area of the Sonoran Desert, I never thought about having a problem with weeds in such an arid region. After all, it is the desert with little water so there shouldn’t be a lot of weeds.

Desert weeds along the roadside


It turns out that desert plants, which naturally includes weeds, are pretty resilient. Winter rains from the end of December through February provide enough showers to enable the weeds to germinate; the more water, the more weeds.

Desert weeds along the roadside

This field at the end of our street has many, many weeds and among them are some very pretty willdflowers such as the orange Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) in the foreground of the photo below.

Desert weeds along the roadside

Globe Mallows grow well along the roadsides and in open fields and have a color range from light to dark orange. Once in a while one can discover a rare pink Globe Mallow or an even more rare red variety.

Desert weeds along the roadside

The Globe Mallow in the photograph above adds variety in the desert weed landscape of silver, greens and yellows.

Triangle Leaf Bursage (Ambrosia deltoidea) is an abundant weed found in many open spaces.

Desert weeds along the roadside

In fields that are left untended for a number of years, a tree may take hold. This appears to be a Mesquite of some variety.

Desert weeds along the roadside

Yes wildflowers are pretty, but weeds can be more than a nuisance. As weeds dry out, they create a fire hazard. When the temperatures rise to above the ninety degree threshold and the rains become more scarce, spent wildflowers and weeds become tinder.

Desert weeds along the roadside

It is recommended that there is a defensible space around homes to help avoid fire spreading to dwellings. There was more to know about the desert ecosystem and weeds than I ever imagined prior to my residency in Arizona. originally published this post

See more JBRish gardening and desert gardening posts here HERE