Death Valley Wildflowers 2017

Desert Gold 2017
I’ve photographed over two dozen wildflower species in Death Valley National Park so far this month.  April should bring even more acreage and species on line, to deliver a well above average year in the park for wildflowers.

TBDThe quantity and diversity of wildflowers may not be the most interesting aspect however.  Last year’s superbloom delivered a bumper crop of seeds, which multiplied the rodent population, and that has resulted in more sidewinder rattlesnakes than I’ve seen in the park before.  I followed a couple of the tracks, but was not able to catch up with any of the snakes.

If you visit the park this spring, watch where you step!

 See more of my wildflower photos from Death Valley in my Album 3/21/17.

Death Valley Wildflowers 2017

Star Trails Over Desert Sunflowers

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Shell Creek Road Wildflowers

Shell Creek Road is a rural road running north – south
between CA – 58 and CA – 46, passing pastures and rolling hills that can feature wildflowers in late March through April. There are also agricultural fields which can have symmetric lines for photographs, as well as a large vineyard with both old and young vines. The old vines are probably the ones which yield the excellent the Shell Creek Vineyard reserve petite sirah produced by David Bruce Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Shell Creek Road can be a convenient detour to take when approaching Carrizo Plain National Monument from the north, or departing Carrizo Plain in the direction of Paso Robles. The wildflowers are more concentrated towards the southern 6 miles or so.


From Paso Robles at US-101, take CA-46 east 15.6 miles and turn right onto CA-41 West Centre street.  Go 2.8 miles and turn right onto Toby Way.  After 0.3 miles on Toby Way turn right onto San Juan Road.  After 4.5 miles turn right onto Shell Creek Road.  You’ll be on Shell Creek Road 10.7 miles, ending at CA-58.

To continue to Carrizo Plain National Monument, travel east on CA-58 24.2 miles, turn right on Soda Lake Road and travel 13.7 miles.

There’s a creek at the north end of the road which can flow over the road after a heavy rain, and this can close the road. When I last visited, there was a car in the creek, just downstream of where it had washed off of the road. Don’t underestimate how deep the water is, or how little force it might take to push your vehicle off the road!

For more information on the area, I cover Shell Creek Road on page 177 of my “Photographing California Vol. 2 South” landscape photography guidebook.

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California Wildflower Sites: Antelope Valley

The Mojave Desert in April

Goldfields and California poppies mix with Joshua trees in Antelope Valley

One of my favorite photography road trips ever was a tour of California wildflower sites in the spring, including Antelope Valley and the California State Poppy Reserve, Carrizo Plain National Monument, Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area in the +Los Padres National Forest, and the area covered by the annual Ridgecrest Wildflower Festival in the Eastern Sierra. I posted on my blog at the time some of my favorite photos from the Antelope Valley, but I have a little more time now to take a second pass and show you more of what I saw.

I’m considering taking that route again this year, so reviewing past trips and refreshing my memory on what to stop in on and check can be productive. I’ve also looked up the wildflower report at the California State Poppy Reserve, which posted this update on Saturday, April 2:

“The season appears to have ended early, as last month’s rains came too late to sustain the bloom that had barely started. The fields are mostly grasses now; only a handful of poppies are blooming alongside the trails. The beavertail cactus in front of the visitor center is blooming, which usually happens after the season has ended- a sign that an early summer is on the way.”

An early start to summer should not be entirely unexpected, given the record El Nino heat in the Pacific Ocean driving our weather pattern in recent months. It’s a shame though that it didn’t bring enough rain at the right time to deliver a bumper crop of wildflowers in the Antelope Valley. The Antelope Valley is large though, and there may be dispersed pockets where enough rain fell, perhaps with a northern exposure to minimize drying during the gap in winter storms in February. Much of the area is in the Mojave Desert ecosystem, where Joshua trees serve as gerat subjects, with or without wildflowers.

In any case, many other areas of Southern California desert are blooming with normal to above normal intensity, so if I decide to take the trip, the conditions in the Antelope Valley won’t make or break the outcome.

So while I have my photos handy, here are a few more photos from the Antelope Valley area on that prior trip, and I’ll sprinkle a few across my various social media accounts as well.

The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve often starts its wildflower reports in mid-March to keep visitors updated on the conditions as they peak at some point through April. The area celebrates the annual bloom at the California Poppy Festival.  This year the 25th California Poppy Festival will be held April 16-17, 2016.

For more information, I cover the Antelope Valley California State Poppy Reserve and other sites to visit on an April California wildflower tour on page 184 of my new 320-page guidebook, Photographing California Vol. 2 – South (shown to the right).

Road to Nowhere

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Figueroa Mountain Wildflowers Are Blooming Now

Los Padres National Forest, Los Olivos

Along Figueroa Mountain Road (April 6, 2011)

If you missed the Death Valley “super bloom”, don’t worry, many other areas in the state bloom next. Along California’s Central Coast, Figueroa Mountain can be a great place to see wildflowers in April. Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area is located north of Santa Barbara, above the Santa Ynez Valley and the town of Los Olivos. Helen Tarbet of the Los Padres National Forest sent out her first Figueroa Mountain wildflower update of 2016 to email subscribers on March 22, which she has graciously given me permission to include below. If you want to receive her future updates, contact her at the email address at the end of her report. I’m including photos from my past visits to illustrate some of the wildflowers you might see.

Los Padres National Forest
Figueroa Mountain Wildflower Update – First Update of the 2016 Season
March 22, 2016

Greetings and happy spring! Welcome to the 2016 wildflower season! Unlike the past few drought stricken years, the wildflowers started blooming later, which is normal for them on a year where they have received sufficient rain. Once they started blooming, they are certainly going strong. Let’s start our update, shall we?

UntitledStarting at the first cattle guard, buttercups, milk maids, blue dicks, fiesta flowers, fiddlenecks, Johnny jump-ups and popcorn flowers are actively in bloom. Chinese houses and hummingbird sage are just now getting started. As one makes the turn along the second bend, on the left, a few small pink owl’s clovers can be seen among the tall grass. Along the rock formation on the right, look for blue dicks and about twenty yards further, still on the right, one will find some shooting stars, starting to go to seed, along with, Johnny jump-ups, fiddlenecks and lomatium. Another 25 yards down the road will bring you to a slope on the left where some miniature lupine, sky lupine and buttercups are beginning to bloom. As one continues under the tree canopy, one will find sky lupine, Johnny jump-ups, fillaree, buttercups, lomatium, popcorn flowers, fiesta flowers and blue dicks showing off their lovely hues of yellows and purples.

Grass MountainAs you continue up the hill, California poppies are blooming throughout the mountain. In fact, look to your left and see the stunning orange patch work on Grass Mountain. Grass Mountain has not put on such a show in quite a few years. Right before you get to the rusty gate, look on the ground to the right and find tiny cream cups in bloom, along with some fillaree.

Other wildflowers to look for as you continue your uphill climb include, buttercups, goldfields, coreopsis, shooting stars, ceanothus, California poppies, Mexican elderberry, blue dicks, fillaree, royal lupine, lomatium, fiddlenecks, beautiful pink prickly phlox on the serpentine rock formation on the right and lovely orange wall flowers just beyond that. Also, you will see strikingly beautiful Catalina mariposa lilies in the open grassy fields and wild canyon peas in some shaded areas.

Chocolate LilyAt Vista Point (large gravel turnout about 11.4 miles from the bottom), exquisite chocolate lilies are in bloom, be careful not to step on them, as they are not that tall this year and the grass tends to cover them. Also look for shooting stars, goldfields and fillaree. In the serpentine area across the road, you’ll see California poppies, buttercups, blue dicks, goldfields, coreopsis, popcorn flowers, lomatium, globe gillias and golden yarrow.

In the field to the right, before Tunnell Ranch Road, look for shooting stars, bush lupine, sky lupine, buttercups, lomatium, blue dicks, and lovely wallflowers.

More PoppiesAbout a quarter mile beyond, on the infamous poppy hillside, magnificent California poppies are showing off. It doesn’t look as though they are peaking yet, as there is still quite a bit of new growth and a multitude of buds that have yet to open. While the fabulous, deep orange is breathtaking, the entire hillside is not covered as in years past. It is still gorgeous and very worth visiting, be prepared to see a number of bare areas. The bush lupine, on the other hand, are absolutely incredible this year. Their sweet, lovely aroma fills the air as these beauties are found in great abundance throughout this entire area. Phacaelia is also in bloom here. Sky lupine are blooming as well, however, there are few in comparison to other years.

Lupine and PoppiesAs we continue on Figueroa Mountain Road, between Figueroa campground and the Davy Brown trailhead, look on the right and find California poppies, bush lupine, fiddlenecks, sky lupine, globe gillias, phacaelia, and popcorn. Beyond the Davy Brown trailhead, look for lovely displays of shooting stars, ceanothus, lomatium, fillaree, California poppies and buttercups. Just a little ways further, where you see a big dirt turnout on the left, look in the adjacent field and discover a multitude of beautiful chocolate lilies.

Just as you pass the gate going up to Ranger Peak, look to your right and see whimsical baby blue eyes peeking through the lush green grass. From Ranger Peak to Cachuma Saddle, bush poppies and bush lupine are splendidly abundant. Other flowers to look for within this stretch include, California poppies, phacaelia, red Indian paintbrush, sticky leaf monkey flowers, purple nightshade, ceanothus, fiddleneck, golden yarrow, clematis, globe gillias, wild canyon peas, wild cucumber and Mexican elderberry. Approximately halfway through this stretch, on the far right, notice a very impressive hillside carpeted in beautiful California poppies.

Woodpeckers in SpringSunset Valley is really starting to put on a show! Bush poppies and prickly phlox are certainly beginning to make their presence known throughout this area. Other beauties to look for include, the smaller yellow/orange variety of California poppies, popcorn flowers, Nuttles Larkspur, scarlet buglers, wild canyon peas, milk thistle, chia, Mexican elderberry, purple nightshade, morning glories, blue dicks, miners lettuce, golden yarrow, globe gillias, phacaelias, blue dicks Chinese houses, clematis, wild canyon peas and fillaree. If you look high on the hillsides, along Sunset Valley, heading towards, Davy Brown and Nira, look at the gorgeous patches of yellow, courtesy of the small yellow variety of California poppies.

Happy Canyon is also beautiful. As one turns onto Happy Canyon, look for yellow California poppies, purple nightshade, wild canyon peas, golden yarrow, clematis, wild cucumber, bush poppies, royal lupine, blue dicks, vetch, morning glories, bush lupine, fiesta flowers, prickly phlox, blue dicks, fiddleneck, bush poppies, coreopsis and charming Catalina mariposa lilies. Continuing down the hill, prickly phlox, lomatium, mustard, cactus flowers, morning glories, Mexican elderberry, Johnny jump-ups, popcorn flowers and fillaree can also be seen along with some royal lupine, bush lupine and bush poppies.

That’s all for this update. Look for our next wildflower update in two weeks. Until then, happy viewing! For more information, please contact Helen Tarbet by e-mail at


Here’s my description of Figueroa Mountain Road Recreation Area on page 218 of my “Photographing California – South” guidebook, illustrated with a few extra photos:

Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area, Los Padres National Forest

Home to an annual wildflower bloom each spring, Figueroa Mountain provides a variety of species at various elevations, diversifying your opportunities and extending the wildflower season. The U.S. Forest Service often provides updates on the timing and progress of the wildflowers as they emerge in the February through April time frame, so if you have the opportunity, check their Web site for current conditions.

Photo advice: A selection of lenses will help you capture a variety of perspectives on the flowers. California poppies are one of the most common species of wildflower here, and they don’t open until they have warmed
up in the sun, so it’s not necessary to rush up here for sunrise.


Getting there: From US-101 take CA-154 East, San Marcos Pass
Road, 3.0 miles, turn left on Figueroa Mountain Road.

This is a narrow mountain road and your drive on it may take you 15 miles or more and increase in elevation 3000 feet. It is not recommended for large vehicles or trailers.

Time required: You’ll probably need 2 – 3 hours or more to
navigate the road and have some time for photography.
Nearby location: Also in the spring, the oak-laden hills and pastures in the first mile or two of Figueroa Mountain Road may offer wildflowers such as wild mustard.
Santa Ynez Valley, California Central Coast

Lower Figueroa Mountain Road, Los Olivos

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Shoot Wildflowers in the California Desert?

Anza Borrego State Park, California

How would you like to join me for a photowalk in March… capturing images of wildflowers, narrow, winding slot canyons, eroded badlands, cracked earth on a dry lake bed, a palm oasis or two, and more. We’ll practice landscape photography, macro photography, and night photography including star trails and light painting.

No commitment necessary yet, I’m just checking for interest so I can get a sense of group size to finalize logistics and negotiate rates. I’d propose starting in Anza Borrego for a weekend, and you can see 64 sample photos in the album above. The trip can also be easily extended to Joshua Tree National Park and the Salton Sea area (perhaps the Imperial Sand Dunes are as well) if some participants want a more comprehensive expedition worth flying in for. The nearest airports are in Palm Springs, Sand Diego, and the Los Angeles area. If there’s sufficient interest, I’ll announce more details and prices in the next few working days.

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Figueroa Mountain Wildflower Report: April 6, 2011

Figueroa Mountain was less impressive than I expected. Although here are many species blooming, the biggest patches are several of poppies and one small one of lupine in a recently burned area. For now at least, Figueroa Mountain is more of a flower portrait than a flower landscape destination. It’s probably worth visiting if you’re in the area, but with gas currently over $4.00 it may not be as attractive to visit if a long drive is required.

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Antelope Valley Wildflower Report 2011

Antelope Valley Poppy, originally uploaded by Jeffrey Sullivan.

Like many place in California the wildflowers aren’t as prolific as last year, but it’s far form a poor season. You’ll have to hunt for the best patches, but here’s a sampling of what I found in the Antelope Valley area over the past couple of days.

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Carrizo Plain Wildflowers Spring 2011

Tidy Tips at Sunrise, originally uploaded by Jeffrey Sullivan.

Here’s a quick photographic tour of conditions at Carrizo Plain a couple of days ago. Opinions on this year’s bloom range from normal to “past peak” to “slow and coming,” and all three may be true in places. Whatever the high level summary you want to assign, you’ll work harder to find less compared to last year, but you can still find some great patches to work with if you put in the time and miles.

Note the new sharing options that will allow you to share this report with your friends on Facebook, etc!

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Shell Creek Road Wildflowers

Shell Creek Road, originally uploaded by Jeffrey Sullivan.

Here’s a quick update on wildflowers this year. The ample rains we’ve received can be critical for wildflower growth, but in too much quantity or at the wrong times, they also result in a bumper crop of grass, which seems to crowd out the wildflowers. Let’s give it a couple more weeks before we declare this a normal to weak year in this area. For now the color tends to be sporadic and modest, favoring photography of a plant or bloom instead of landscape-scope carpets.

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Don’t Tread On Me

Don’t Tread On Me, originally uploaded by Jeff Sullivan.

I was on my way down from shooting a sunset on Monitor Pass in when I came across a rattlesnake in the road. I rarely see rattlesnakes in the Sierra Nevada, but they’re vital to helping control rodent populations and reducing the risk of bubonic plague and hantavirus, so I helped ths one off the road. Sadly, it was injured, perhaps by some ignorant motorist who would prefer a slow, painful death from black plague? I’ve never had a rattlesnake strike at me or act offensive in any way.

Instead, they warn me of their presence, and move in the opposite direction at the earliest convenience. They’re shy, reclusive creatures and avoid us whenever possible. I always feel priveleged at having seen one.

“I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids—She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance.—She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage.—As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and even when those weapons are shewn and extended for her defense, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal:—Conscious of this, she never wounds till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her.—Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America?”
– Benjamin Franklin

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