Quick trip to see the Arizona superbloom

My friend Justin and I just got back from a crazy, wonderful whirlwind trip to Arizona. Our goal was to see as many plants in flower as we could, and we lucked out: Arizona is definitely having a superbloom this year. We were amazed by the sheer number of wildflowers on hillsides, in the flats, and right along the road: brittlebush, poppies, lupine, desert marigold, owl’s clover, phacelia, fiddleneck, desert chicory, bluedicks, and especially globemallow in all shades from white to purple. It was a feast for the eyes the likes of which I hadn’t seen before.

While my typical instinct is to take as many photos as I can, I gave myself permission to relax and focus on enjoying the moment instead of trying to frantically document it. This resulted in far fewer photos to share than usual, but in a higher level of personal satisfaction. I can tell you this: It’s an extraordinary experience feeling the desert wind in your hair while you look out over a seemingly endless expanse of wildflowers.

Here’s a first batch of photos from our trip. I’ll have a few more drops next week.

Saguaro Lake east of Phoenix

We must have seen tens of thousands of desert globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) in peak bloom, not just the typical orange form above...

...but white, pink, salmon, all the way to lavender-purple

Justin and I also saw some very special cacti in habitat:

Echinomastus erectocentrus var. acunensis is very rare and critically endangered. Seeing it in flower was beyond special.

Echinocactus horizonthalonius var. nicholii (bottom center) is only known from four locations. It grows in a harsh environment, as you can see here.

Justin and I did a lot of poking around on dirt roads and trails and found ourselves in some pretty spectacular places—often without anyone else around:

Old mining road in the Waterman Mountains, slowly crumbling away

This road/trail gave me quite a cardio workout

Agave simplex

Echinocereus nicholii

View from the top

Sometimes you find marvelous sights when you least expect it:

Desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata)

Desert globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)

Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) and Coulter’s lupine (Lupinus sparsiflorus)

Agave chrysantha

Some cacti grow exposed on rocks, others prefer open grasslands, others don’t care

The most spectacular display of wildflowers we saw was at Peridot Mesa on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, about 110 miles east of Phoenix. We stopped at the Recreation & Wildlife Office in Peridot to buy our $10.40 recreation pass and were given a map of where to go. Without it, we would have missed the right turnoff.

The slopes of the collapsed caldera were painted orange from zillions of golden poppies (Eschscholzia californica).

Another prominent addition to the mix was purple owl’s clover (Castilleja exserta), a hemiparasite that taps into the roots of other plants for nutrients.

Of course there was lupine as well (Lupinus sparsiflorus). It seems to grow just about anywhere.

Saguaros were few and far between on Peridot Mesa, but I came across a fully leafed-out ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) in a sea of wildflowers:

A few more curious sights:

Desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) emerging from a patch of manzanita (Arctostaphylos pringlei) in the chapparal east of Superior, AZ. This is a combination I’d never seen before.

This saguaro has 78 arms and has been dubbed Shiva, after the many-armed Hindu god. Somehow its hormonal balance causes it to branch at an abnormal rate, but it’s healthy otherwise.

Saguaro going for a ride on a truck: a very Arizona thing

While shopping was not a focus of this trip, we did stop for a visit with Jeff Moore and might have walked away with some cacti.

Jeff Moore unpotting an Echinocereus × neomexicanus

Anticipating just such scenario, I’d brought a mostly empty suitcase and some packing materials so our purchases could fly home with us safely:

For those of you who like maps as much as I do, here’s our rough itinerary:

More photos from Arizona coming soon.

© Gerhard Bock, 2023. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.


  1. Wow! I'm glad you flew the first leg of your trip - and that you took time to enjoy your time away. All garden bloggers could learn a lesson in that vein. Your flowers, even if fewer than usual (for you), are wonderful as always.

    1. We rented a pickup truck so we were able to go on dirt roads I wouldn't feel comfortable taking a sedan on. We saw so many wonderful things, I feel happy.

  2. What a great trip! The ocotillo looks so fluffed out, I love it.

    1. Many ocotillos looked super pumped, others were already dropping their leaves, others yet were completely bare. In general, the degree of "greenness" varied greatly from area to area. But the areas that had gotten sufficient water were LUSH.

  3. I am SO jealous! What a trip! I don't think this display of so many wildflowers will ever happen again! In my 42 years here we have never had so much winter rain. And It shows in home gardens and in the beautiful desert! Everything here is full of buds and blooms! Glad you saw Jeff of Arid Adaptations too! I bought some of his plants recently at the Central AZ Cactus Show and Sale at the DBG.

    1. Wow, the most winter rain you've seen in 42 years! No wonder there were so many wildflowers. I'm glad we got to see at least some of the superbloom.

  4. That Shiva is something special! What a great trip, and I'm glad there was a little shopping.

  5. Wonderful you were able to experience the desert in full flower!

  6. Fantastic trip. You really covered a lot of ground. Love that huge Saguaro, Shiva. Your forward thinking re: empty suitcase, paid off.

  7. Even driving south on the 5 was an event, with the hills blanketed in orange and blue against a very lush, green backdrop. A rare spring, for sure!


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