Some people think of the desert around Las Vegas as a dry, drab place, but when it’s in bloom, it’s full of colorful surprises. If you’re driving to Las Vegas at this time of year, be on the lookout for desert wildflowers. During spring, the desert starts to show its colors. Take a look alongside the road and beyond. Those patches of purple, yellow, orange, and white are flowers. They’re both delicate and hardy, like most desert dwellers.Here’s the thing about desert wildflowers: they’re often tiny, so you have to be alert to see them. A few years back, I went on a caravan drive through Death Valley with some friends. The desert was absolutely covered in flowers. When we stopped the vehicles for lunch, one of my friends asked me, “Where are all the flowers you keep talking about?” She had driven right past fields of desert blooms and never seen a single one of them. I think she was expecting something the size of a rose. You’ll find a few big flowers, like the distinctive blossoms on beavertail, prickly pear, and hedgehog cacti, but many of the flowers are smaller than the dandelions in your yard.Rainfall during the winter determines the extent of the wildflowers. Plenty of rain equals plenty of flowers. Unfortunately, the invasive species that are creeping into the desert also thrive on plentiful rain. The grassy-looking stuff you see in the desert—the plants that look like the weeds in your yard—are indeed the same weeds. They’ve just managed to make it into the desert.If you’re driving to Las Vegas at this time of year, take a few minutes to check sites like DesertUSA, which posts a guide about what’s blooming and when. They also have a field guide to help you identify the flowers you see. Visitors coming to Las Vegas from Southern California can check the Mojave National Preserve’s website to find out what’s in bloom. The detour through the preserve is worth the extra time when the flowers are at their peak.I was out today to check out the wildflowers in Red Rock, and they’re pretty thin so far. According to reports on the DesertUSA site, Lake Mead and the Valley of Fire—which are at lower elevations—have more blooms. No matter how many or how few, desert wildflowers will bring out your inner photographer. When you see dainty flowers in the middle of such a harsh climate, you just have to take a picture.
All photographs courtesy of Terrisa Meeks