In Spring, a photographer’s fancy turns to . . . flowers! Actually, the opportunity to photograph wildflowers continues throughout the year. The wildflowers in the northern hemisphere start in late February in the desert southwest and continue through the spring, summer, and even into fall, depending on the latitude and altitude.
As I write this (beginning of September), wildflowers have just peaked in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon at around 7,000 to 9,000 feet elevation. I regularly pursue the flowers in the high basins of the Rocky Mountains (10,000 to 11,000 feet elevation) at the end of July and into August. The timing is a consequence of the variables of moisture, temperatures, and when the snow melts. I’ve even photographed a few wildflowers with cooperative butterflies that linger in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado in early October, when my main purpose is fall colors. Note the image below taken on the Grand Mesa near Grand Junction, Colorado, on October 1st a year ago.
If I were to follow the wildflowers of the Western United States for a full season, I’d start in the desert during the month of February in the southwestern U.S. and hope for early rains. Southern Arizona and the Mojave Desert in California can be the first to show color; in good years the desert floor is carpeted (for a minute!) with bright “belly-flowers.” Check out Organ Pipe National monument in southern Arizona or Anza Borrego State Park in California. I’d move up a bit north in late March to catch the start of the California poppy bloom, again hoping for the right combinations of rain and temperatures during the winter months. I chased the poppy blooms for 15 seasons to acquire enough images for my book “Golden Poppies of California” and had maybe three really stellar years that started in March and sometimes extended into May. Go to the California Poppy Reserve in Antelope Valley near Lancaster, California. Also watch the fields next to the summit of Interstate 5 as it heads from Bakersfield over the pass to Los Angeles. The gas stop of Gorman is in the middle of the fields of poppies and lupine in a good year. You can also get my book at www.GeorgeLepp.com for more info on photographing poppies. We have a few copies left at closeout prices.
The traditional Spring wildflower season in the west begins with flowers along the Pacific coast and in the mountains at varying altitudes. My favorite places for wildflowers in April and May have been the coastal foothills of California and up into the Sierra Nevada in June. For 28 years I ran workshops at Mono Lake on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada near Yosemite National Park with a number of excellent wildflower years. I checked it out this past June and due to the drought, there were no flowers to speak of.
July, in the high basins of the Rockies, has been good consistently for flowers, as well as pikas and hummingbirds. Yankee Boy and American basins are good bets from the end of July through early August. Bring your 4-wheel drive to get to these locations. Columbine, paintbrush and larkspur abound.
The end of August has often found me in Denali National Park for the change of color, but in this case it’s the turning of leaves. With an extremely short growing season, the wildflowers are still to be found amongst the tundra until the first snow, early October.
If you just can’t get enough of wildflower photography, you can head down to South America and keep on photographing. The seasons are reversed and fall for us is spring for them. Take a look at a Linde Waidhofer’s gorgeous portfolio of spring in Patagonia, Chile (http://www.westerneye.com/portfolios/pata_spring/index.html).
There is no end to the season of bloom.
p.s. I know there are wildflowers just about everywhere, and I’m not deliberately neglecting to mention your favorite place in this little post. Feel free to share your experiences and beloved locations here!