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Enthusiasts anticipate wildflower season
Phoenix - A carpet of Mexican gold poppies and blue-hued lupines bloomed Monday at Picacho Peak State Park, trumpeting the start of Arizona's spring wildflower season.
"It's a good indicator that this will be an excellent year," said Ellen Bilbrey, a spokeswoman for Arizona State Parks.
"Once people see they're starting to bloom, they're going to come in droves," she added.
In other good years, cars have backed up on Interstate 10 as enthusiasts flocked to savor wildflowers blanketing patches of desert from late February to mid-March.
Picacho Peak benefited from weekend rain and warmer temperatures. While Bilbrey said it's still too early to say if the favorable conditions will persist long enough to produce a widespread floral phenomenon, others are more optimistic.
The Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department predicts the best flower season in years.
"We had rain when we needed it," said David Urbinato, a department spokesman. "That's when these beautiful species germinate."
Rick Gibson, a wildflower expert and director of the Pinal County Cooperative Extension, said that while there's been enough rain to create a bumper crop of flowers, only time will tell whether this will be a good year.
"I don't know if it will be spectacular," Gibson said. "It's just going to be touch and go. We'll see what weather systems we have coming up."
The best places to spot wildflowers are gently sloping hillsides with northern exposure, which keeps germinating wildflowers out of direct sunlight and allows water to accumulate. A warm midday is the prime time for viewing, Bilbrey said, because the flowers close up in the cool evening air.
Blooms can happen almost anywhere in the southern part of the state until temperatures heat up, turning hillsides near Superior red with ocotillo blossoms and giving the desert near Yuma a lavender tint from purple mat.
Picacho Peak, along Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson, is a popular destination for those looking for desert wildflowers. In 1998, an estimated 150,000 people dropped by during a major bloom, causing traffic to back up along the interstate.
The Arizona State Parks encourages visitors to call ahead to check on which parks have wildflowers blooming. The agency also has added a "Ranger Cam" to its Web site so people can see where the most stunning displays are before they travel.
Other popular spots to view wildflowers include Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Superior and Saguaro National Park outside of Tucson. When conditions are right, Phoenix residents can see wildflowers at South Mountain Park and Dreamy Draw Park in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.
Urbinato, the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department spokesman, said desert wildflowers are a reminder that the Sonoran desert is a vibrant ecosystem.
"Out-of-towners associate the desert with brown," Urbinato said. "It's striking to see the blues, golds and purples."