The winter of 2016-17 has proven to be the wettest on record in parts of Northern California, and even if the storms weren't as epic in Southern California, there was still far more rain than usual. As a result, the Mojave Desert has been turning different colors: yellow, golden, orange, red, white, blue, purple, pink and more.
These colors are provided by a myriad of wildflowers, both annuals and perennials. Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote that "The Earth laughs in flowers." It could also be said that "When it rains, the desert says thanks with flowers."
The blossoming started a couple of months ago at lower elevations, in places like Death Valley, and have been moving upslope as the weeks go by. Goldfields, Gilias, Buckwheats, Paintbrushes, Mariposa Lilies, Coreopsis and scores of other wildflowers have been blooming, eager to use this year's bounty of moisture to replenish their seed banks.
From a desert plant's perspective, that is the most significant aspect of wet year: a chance not only to grow, but more importantly, to flower profusely and successfully make seed to ensure future generations.
Even when wildflowers do produce abundant seed, the odds are stacked against these little pods, each containing the genetic material for a new plant. Desert creatures of all kinds, from birds and kangaroo rats to ants and other invertebrates consume the nutrient-rich seeds. Those seeds that do escape being consumed join the soil seed bank, and may wait there for decades (some wildflower seeds may stay viable for 100-150 years!) before the exact right combination of moisture, soil and air temperature cause them to germinate.
So years like this one provide a vital chance for all kinds of desert plants to bloom and make more seeds, and give us a chance to enjoy the unlikely sight of beautiful flowers in normally austere and arid landscapes.
To see some of these displays, simply head east on Highway 58 down into the Mojave Desert, and then perhaps turn north and take Highway 14 to Red Rock Canyon State Park, or continue to Jawbone Canyon, or keep going to the El Paso Mountains, which are located on the east side of Highway 14. This bleak but beautiful desert range was once home to a number of mining ventures, but is now mostly deserted. Tehachapi resident Doug Donckels, an avid hiker and climber, took most of the photos on this page in the Black Mountain area of the El Pasos. Actually exploring in the El Pasos requires driving on dirt roads, but most are fairly well graded.
Life is frequently tough in the desert, especially for plants. But when the skies are generous with rain as they have been in the past six months, desert flora responds with a flourish of growth and an eruption of color. It never lasts long, so see it while you can.
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.