The unprecedented weather of the past five years in California – four years of record drought, followed by a winter of record rain – has stressed the state’s roadways, dams and other infrastructure and hinted at a more chaotic climate to come. If there’s any silver lining, though, to that unpredictability, it’s sprouting in sand and soil all around us.
Wildflower season this year has been particularly colorful, and experts such as UC Riverside professor Richard Minnich say it’s due to the unusual weather. Drought conditions starved invasive grasses and other plants that normally would compete with flowers for water and nutrition, letting poppies, asters and other blooms spread across the California landscape.
That’s great news for all those eager to catch those flowers at their loveliest time of the year. In Southern California, a “super bloom” is underway at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park between San Diego and the Salton Sea, with crowds taking in desert lilies, sunflowers, dandelions and other flower varieties. Visitors be warned: The park expects plenty of flower-inspired traffic congestion over the next few weeks.
Farther north, the Railtown 1897 State Historic Park (10501 Reservoir Road, Jamestown, 209-984-3953) in the Sierra foothills east of Stockton is touting its “Wildflower Train” departing at 3 p.m. on April 8, 9 and 15 with park naturalists and rangers pointing out the different flowers in bloom. The 6-mile, one-hour ride takes visitors through Gold Country terrain covered with meadowfoam, goldfields and other flowers. Tickets cost $20 for adults and $14 for children ages 6 to 17 and can be purchased at www.railtown1897.org.
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Closer to the Sacramento region, there’s the popular Daffodil Hill farm in Volcano (18310 Rams Horn Grade, 209-296-7048), which was scheduled to open Friday with more than 300,000 bulbs. Again, the farm is expecting big weekend crowds and recommends visitors come in the middle of the week. The McLaughlin family ranch is celebrating its 140th anniversary this spring.
Other great Northern California wildflower spots include areas around Mount Diablo in Contra Costa County such as Mitchell Canyon, which features rarities such as globe lilies.
In the Nevada County foothills, South Yuba River State Park offers family-friendly guided wildflower walks at 11 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday through May 14.
And see the spring miracle of vernal pools at the Jepson Prairie Preserve, 11 miles south of Dixon. The pools, which disappear in summer, are ringed with masses of tiny wildflowers. Docents lead tours at 10 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday through May 14.
The artistry of chocolate
What: The Mutari Chocolate House shop will present “Bean to Cup: Chocolate from its Source to You” in Santa Cruz. Learn every step to making an organic, steamy cup of hot chocolate.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 21
Where: Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, 1305 E. Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz
Cost: $15 adult admission; $10 for children
What: Fast machines will take to the dirt track and fly through the air at the Amsoil Arenacross motorcycle competition.
When: 7 p.m. Friday, March 24, and Saturday, March 25; noon Sunday, March 26
Where: Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center, 1350 N. Wells Ave., Reno
Cost: $10 to $40
What: The California Artisan Cheese Festival features cheese and wine pairings, chefs, authors and cooking demonstrations.
When: 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, March 24, through Sunday, March 26
Where: Sheraton Sonoma County, 745 Baywood Drive, Petaluma
Cost: $20 to $150