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The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum will re-open at 11 a.m. today. While the source of water loss is still unknown, water is flowing into, and collecting properly, in the Desert Museum’s reservoir. Food service will be limited to pre-packaged items for the remainder of the day. All other activities are back on the normal schedule. Thank you.

Wildflower Flourishes and Flops

MOHAVE DESERT

Flower display sites map Why is the Mohave Desert represented on this Sonoran Desert site? The flora of winter annual plants is nearly the same for both deserts, so much so that the two deserts cannot be separated floristically on the basis of annuals. The same weather conditions cause the spring wildflower blooms in both deserts; the main difference is that the window for the triggering rain occurs earlier in the fall in the higher, cooler Mohave Desert. However, the Mohave's flower displays are usually later than the Sonoran's because the colder winters slow growth of the seedlings. (See the "Predicting Wildflower Blooms" page.) Most of the images in this section are from three localities in the Mohave Desert:

D = Death Valley region
K = the Kelso Dunes
JT = Joshua Tree National Park and vicinity

Rainfall data are cited from two stations - Death Valley for the northern Mohave, and Twentynine Palms (on the north edge of Joshua Tree N.P.) for the southern Mohave. Complete rainfall tables for these two localities are at the end of this section.

A partial history of one spot - the sandy plain east of Twentynine Palms (just northeast of Joshua Tree National Park). The rainfall at Twentynine Palms for these four years was (in inches):
YEAR SEP OCT NOV DEC JAN FEB MAR SEASON TOTAL BLOOM QUALITY
1964 1.74 2.74 0.59 0.01 0.01 0 0.07 5.16 GREAT
1972 0 0.02 0.02 0.17 0 0 0 0.21 POOR
1977 3.41 0.28 0.09 0.01 0.78 0 0.14 4.71 GREAT
1998 3.96 0 0.17 0.33 ??? 1.25 0.82 6.53+ GOOD+


Below left: 1964, a very wet year.
Below right: 1972, after 3 years with almost no rain.
(The views are in different directions, so it is not the same mountain range in all four images.)

1964 flower display 1972 - severe drought
1977 - the rains return 1998 - weeds take over

Above left: 1977, the rains returned, but there is less diversity of flowers than in 1964.
Above right: 1998, another wet year, but instead of native wildflowers this area has been taken over by a pernicious exotic weed, Sahara mustard (Brassica tournefortii). (Some nearby areas had good flowers.) First discovered in the United States only in the 1930s, it has by now invaded most of the dry sandy areas of the Sonoran Desert, often to the nearly complete exclusion of native annuals. Such invasive alien species cause immeasurable damage to natural habitats.

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A MORE COMPLETE HISTORY OF MOHAVE BLOOMS

Twentynine Palms rainfall

YEAR SEP OCT NOV DEC JAN FEB MAR SEASON TOTAL BLOOM QUALITY
1964 1.74 2.74 0.59 0.01 0.01 0 0.07 5.16 GREAT

1964 flower displaySand flats east of Twentynine Palms in spring 1964. This was my first springtime trip to the desert, when I was in high school. Naturally I assumed that it looked like this every year. I didn't see another such display until 1973. If you hear about a great wildflower bloom, drop everything and go!

Twentynine Palms rainfall
YEAR SEP OCT NOV DEC JAN FEB MAR SEASON TOTAL BLOOM QUALITY
1965 0 0 0.83 0 0.01 0.03 0.29 1.16 POOR
1966 0 0 1.09 2.03 0.21 0.53 0.54 4.40 GOOD?
1967 0.06 0.19 0.12 0.38 0.08 0 0 0.83 POOR
1968 1.21 0 0.21 0.83 0 ??? 0.80 3.05+? FAIR?
1969 0 ??? 0 0.23 0.57 0 0.08 0.88+? POOR


Kelso Dunes 1969The Kelso Dunes. The small brown plants between the creosote bushes are drying skeleton weeds (Eriogonum sp.), the only annual that was common this year. Even to produce this small display the dunes there must have been more rain than at 29 Palms 100 miles to the south (but Death Valley 100 miles north also got less than an inch). Compare this scene with 1973.

Death Valley rainfall.

1970 0.22 0 0 0 0 0.45 0.31 0.98 POOR
1971 0 0 0.11 0.33 0 0.01 0 0.45 POOR


Death Valley 1971Near Saratoga Springs, south end of Death Valley. (Compare with 1973.)

Twentynine Palms rainfall

1972 0 0.02 0.02 0.17 0 0 0 0.21 POOR

1972-1Two images from the Ord-Newberry-Rodman Mountains area southeast of Barstow, CA. The first one was taken in June; a May rain greened up the creosote bushes and caused some shrubs (desert senna, Senna armata) to flower, but no annuals responded.
1972-2

29 Palms drought 1972The sand plains east of Twentynine Palms shown earlier.

Twentynine Palms rainfall

1973 0 0.24 0.50 0 0.04 0.14 0.61 1.53 GREAT*

(*There must be some missing or incorrectly recorded rainfall data here!!)

Pleasant Valley from afar,1973Pleasant Valley flowers, 1973
Three scenes in Pleasant Valley, Joshua Tree National Park (it was a National Monument in 1973). The first shows that the wildflowers are patchy; the faint yellow in the bottom of the valley is a couple of square miles of desert coreopsis (Coreopsis bigelovii), shown closeup in the second image. The third image, a few miles from the second, is a field of fiddleneck (Amsinckia sp.). For every showy desert wildflower there are at least a dozen inconspicuous species.

Kelso Dunes in 1973Kelso area, 1973
Dune evening primrose (Oenothera deltoidea) in the Kelso Dunes and a field of desert dandelion (Malacothrix glabrata) on a nearby flat of more gravelly soil.

Death Valley rainfall

1973 0 1.09 0.50 0 0.34 1.00 0.57 3.50 GREAT

Saratoga Springs flowers 1973Closeup of flowers - WARNING - big file
Near Saratoga Springs, south end of Death Valley (compare with 1971.) Only the desert sunflower (Geraea canescens) shows in the vista, but the closeup (big file!) reveals several other species of annuals, especially violet caterpillar weed (Phacelia crenulata).

Death Valley flowers & snow - BIG FILEMore hillsides covered with desert sunflower in March. There is still snow on 11,000 foot Telescope Peak across the valley. The valley floor is below sea level -- the white covering there is salt.

Twentynine Palms rainfall

1974 0 0 0.15 0 1.03 0.48 0 1.66 FAIR
1975 0 0.44 0.13 0.10 0 0.02 0.20 0.89 POOR

Near the Providence MtsNear the Kelso dunes on a bajada of the Providence Mountains.

Twentynine Palms rainfall

1976 2.04 0.02 0.02 0.02 0 1.57 0.09 3.76 GOOD?
1977 3.41 0.28 0.09 0.01 0.78 0 0.14 4.71 GREAT

Daggett 1977
Daggett againNorth bajada of the Newberry Mountains southeast of Barstow, CA. The conspicuous yellow sun cups (Camissonia brevipes) conceals the more muted violet caterpillar weed.

29 Palms 1977Sand flats east of Twentynine Palms, CA.

Twentynine Palms rainfall

1978 0.05 0 0 0.58 2.07 0.91 0.89 4.50 GOOD+

Nopah Mts 1978Nopah Mountains in the Death Valley region. The lavender flowers are Phacelia fremontii.

Desert candlesNorthwestern Mohave Desert near China Lake, CA. Desert candle (Caulanthus inflatus) is one of the few annuals that does not also occur in the Sonoran Desert.

Coreopsis & t-stormA field of desert coreopsis near China Lake with an approaching thunderstorm - a rare Mohave event.

Sunflower panoramaAn extensive , dense field of desert sunflowers near Barstow, CA. This patch was about four miles wide and three feet tall, growing on normally barren desert pavement (notice the few creosote bushes protruding above the flowers). Click here for a really big image.

Twentynine Palms rainfall

1979 0.06 0.31 1.37 0.28 1.12 0.65 0.78 4.57 GOOD?

Edwards AFBJoshua tree forest on Edwards Air Force Base. No evidence of annuals here.

JTNPSome annuals bloomed near Joshua Tree National Monument (now N. Park).

Twentynine Palms rainfall

1980 0 0 0 0.25 0.83 2.45 1.08 4.61 POOR?
1981 1.65 0.03 0 0 0.84 0.12 1.12 3.76 FAIR?
1982 0.10 0 0.05 0 0.82 0 0.34 1.31 POOR
1983 0.53 0 0.51 2.46 0.50 0.88 2.40 7.28 GOOD?
1984 1.22 1.23 0.20 0.90 0 0 0 3.55 GOOD?
1985 0 0 0.62 1.08 0.33 0.08 0 2.11 POOR?
1986 0.91 0 0.42 0.36 0.29 0.65 0.21 2.84 FAIR?
1987 0 0.39 0.15 0.58 0.03 0.23 0.16 1.54 POOR
1988 0.72 0.92 1.07 0.99 0.47 0.67 0.16 5.00 GOOD?
1989 0 0 0 0.04 0.81 0 0.70 1.55 POOR
1990 0.01 0 0 0.47 0.02 0.06 0.05 0.61 POOR
1991 0.09 0.13 0 0 0.55 0.41 1.23 2.41 POOR
1992 0.76 0.07 0 1.06 0.23 2.23 2.03 6.38 FAIR?
1993 0 0.30 0 0.87 2.63 0.95 0.14 4.89 FAIR?
1994 0 0.04 0.25 0.24 0.15 0.47 0.83 1.98 POOR
1995 0.20 0 0.16 0.88 2.13 0.86 0.29 4.52 POOR?
1996 0.13 0 0 0 0.05f 0.30 0.12 0.60 POOR
1997 0 0.03 0.25 0.06 0.51 0.01 ??? 0.86 POOR
1998 3.96 0 0.17 0.33 ??? 1.25 0.82 6.53 GOOD+

Kelso Dunes wash 1998More Kelso wash 1998 Though 1998 was one of the wettest years ever, the Kelso Dunes (background) had almost no flowers. But there were patches nearby; this wash channel was carpeted with pale yellow scale-bud (Anisocoma acaulis) and bright yellow Eriophyllum wallacei. The red flowers are Indian paintbrush (Castilleja chromosa), a perennial parasite.
This spring produced stupendous wildflower displays from central Baja California all the way north to Death Valley. Why this area flopped is a mystery.

Newberry Mts 1998The Newberry Mountains and adjacent ranges southeast of Barstow, CA were almost completely carpted with sun cups. Many other wildflowers were present but their colors were mostly swamped by the sea of yellow. Click here to see some of the other species in a huge (500K) image.

Carpet of sunflowers near NeedlesAlong Interstate 40 between Barstow and Needles, CA on the border between the Sonoran and Mohave deserts. This blanket of desert sunflowers was 10 miles wide and 40 miles long.

Antelope Valley poppies The Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles made a great show.

Death Valley purple & yellowDeath Valley sunflowers
Death Valley in yellowDeath Valley dune flowers

The above four images from the Death Valley region contributed by Ron Fridlind reveal a widespread, spectacular bloom as occurs very rarely.


Ingram-suncups & phacelia in DVIngram-more suncups
Ingram-Death V sunflowersThese three images contributed by Stephen Ingram are also from Death Valley.


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Here are the full rainfall tables for two Mohave Desert sites

WINTER RAINFALL DATA, DEATH VALLEY

YEAR SEP OCT NOV DEC JAN FEB MAR SEASON TOTAL BLOOM QUALITY
1964 1.47 0.33 0.23 0 0 0 0.03 2.06 ?
1965 0 0 0.29 0 0.01 0.07 0.55 0.92 POOR
1966 0 0 1.09 2.03 0.21 0.53 0.54 4.40 GREAT?
1967 0.06 0.19 0.12 0.38 0.08 0 0 0.83 POOR
1968 1.21 0 0.21 0.83 0 1.16 0.80 4.21 GOOD?
1969 0 0.05 0 0.23 0.57 0 0.08 0.93 FAIR?
1970 0.22 0 0 0 0 0.45 0.31 0.98 POOR
1971 0 0 0.11 0.33 0 0.01 0 0.45 POOR
1972 0 0.02 0.02 0.17 0 0 0 0.21 POOR
1973 0 1.09 0.50 0 0.34 1.00 0.57 3.50 GREAT
1974 0 0 0.15 0 1.03 0 0.48 1.66 POOR
1975 0 0.44 0.13 0.10 0 0.02 0.20 0.89 POOR
1976 2.04 0.02 0.02 0.02 0 1.57 0.09 3.76 GOOD?
1977 3.41 0.28 0.09 0.01 0.78 0 0.14 4.71 GOOD?
1978 0.05 0 0 0.58 2.07 0.91 0.89 4.50 GREAT
1979 0.06 0.31 1.37 0.28 1.12 0.65 0.78 4.57 GREAT?
1980 0 0 0 0.25 0.83 2.45 1.08 4.61 GOOD?
1981 1.65 0.03 0 0 0.84 0.12 1.12 3.76 FAIR?
1982 0.10 0 0.05 0 0.82 0 0.34 1.31 POOR
1983 0.53 0 0.51 2.46 0.50 0.88 2.40 7.28 GREAT?
1984 1.22 1.23 0.20 0.90 0 0 0 3.55 GOOD?
1985 0 0 0.62 1.08 0.33 0.08 0 2.11 POOR?
1986 0.91 0 0.42 0.36 0.29 0.65 0.21 2.84 FAIR?
1987 0 0.39 0.15 0.58 0.03 0.23 0.16 1.54 POOR
1988 0.72 0.92 1.07 0.99 0.47 0.67 0.16 5.00 GOOD?
1989 0 0 0 0.04 0.81 0 0.70 1.55 POOR
1990 0.01 0 0 0.47 0.02 0.06 0.05 0.61 POOR
1991 0.09 0.13 0 0 0.55 0.41 1.23 2.41 POOR
1992 0.76 0.07 0 1.06 0.23 2.23 2.03 6.38 GOOD?
1993 0 0.30 0 0.87 2.63 0.95 0.14 4.89 POOR?
1994 0 0.04 0.25 0.24 0.15 0.47 0.83 1.98 POOR
1995 0.20 0 0.16 0.88 2.59 0.17 0.31 4.31 FAIR?
1996 0 0.04 0 0.07 0 0.33 0.15 0.59 POOR
1997 0 0.42 0 0.11 0 0.01 0 0.54 POOR
1998 1.48 0 0.11 0.52 0.09 2.31 0.74 5.25 GREAT
MEAN 2.93

WINTER RAINFALL DATA, TWENTYNINE PALMS CA
YEAR SEP OCT NOV DEC JAN FEB MAR SEASON TOTAL BLOOM QUALITY
1964 1.74 2.74 0.59 0.01 0.01 0 0.07 5.16 GREAT
1965 0 0 0.83 0 0.01 0.03 0.29 1.16 POOR
1966 0 0 1.09 2.03 0.21 0.53 0.54 4.40 GOOD?
1967 0.06 0.19 0.12 0.38 0.08 0 0 0.83 POOR
1968 1.21 0 0.21 0.83 0 ??? 0.80 3.05 FAIR?
1969 0 ??? 0 0.23 0.57 0 0.08 0.88 POOR
1970 0.22 0 0 0 0 0.45 0.31 0.98 POOR
1971 0 0 0.11 0.33 0 0.01 0 0.45 POOR
1972 0 0.02 0.02 0.17 0 0 0 0.21 POOR
1973 0 0.24 0.50 0 0.04 0.14 0.61 1.53 GREAT
1974 0 0 0.15 0 1.03 0.48 0 1.66 FAIR
1975 0 0.44 0.13 0.10 0 0.02 0.20 0.89 POOR
1976 2.04 0.02 0.02 0.02 0 1.57 0.09 3.76 GOOD?
1977 3.41 0.28 0.09 0.01 0.78 0 0.14 4.71 GREAT
1978 0.05 0 0 0.58 2.07 0.91 0.89 4.50 GOOD+
1979 0.06 0.31 1.37 0.28 1.12 0.65 0.78 4.57 GOOD?
1980 0 0 0 0.25 0.83 2.45 1.08 4.61 POOR?
1981 1.65 0.03 0 0 0.84 0.12 1.12 3.76 FAIR?
1982 0.10 0 0.05 0 0.82 0 0.34 1.31 POOR
1983 0.53 0 0.51 2.46 0.50 0.88 2.40 7.28 GOOD?
1984 1.22 1.23 0.20 0.90 0 0 0 3.55 GOOD?
1985 0 0 0.62 1.08 0.33 0.08 0 2.11 POOR?
1986 0.91 0 0.42 0.36 0.29 0.65 0.21 2.84 FAIR?
1987 0 0.39 0.15 0.58 0.03 0.23 0.16 1.54 POOR
1988 0.72 0.92 1.07 0.99 0.47 0.67 0.16 5.00 GOOD?
1989 0 0 0 0.04 0.81 0 0.70 1.55 POOR
1990 0.01 0 0 0.47 0.02 0.06 0.05 0.61 POOR
1991 0.09 0.13 0 0 0.55 0.41 1.23 2.41 POOR
1992 0.76 0.07 0 1.06 0.23 2.23 2.03 6.38 FAIR?
1993 0 0.30 0 0.87 2.63 0.95 0.14 4.89 FAIR?
1994 0 0.04 0.25 0.24 0.15 0.47 0.83 1.98 POOR
1995 0.20 0 0.16 0.88 2.13 0.86 0.29 4.52 POOR?
1996 0.13 0 0 0 0.05f 0.30 0.12 0.60 POOR
1997 0 0.03 0.25 0.06 0.51 0.01 z 0.86 POOR
1998 3.96 0 0.17 0.33 z 1.25 0.82 6.53 GOOD+
MEAN 2.89