It’s bloom time in the desert and flowers spring everywhere. The brittle bushes are shouting their yellow across the landscape and delicate purple blossoms are opening on the demure desert lavender. The tiny wildflowers that dress up the desert are splashing bright spots of yellow, purple and white at the feet of hikers. I’ve seen Mexican poppies, purple owl clover, purple lupine and yellow fiddleneck flowering on my walks.
I’ve been walking a lot lately to gear up for my hike this weekend to Phantom Ranch – way down at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Its seven to ten miles each way, depending on which trail you take – Bright Angel or South Kaibab. I’ll be carrying a pack loaded with water, rain gear, food and wine. This will be my fourth trip to Phantom Ranch and I always wish I could bring more stuff…binoculars, field guides, camera gear, books. But when you must carry everything on your back and keep track of these items in a small dorm housing nine other women, it pays to keep things simple. As it is, basic items somehow remain lost in the bottom of my backpack until I get home.
Last trip I picked up a booklet on the plants of the Grand Canyon. There are 1400 species of plants that grow in the canyon, covering the range of elevations. Looking at the list of plants found in the inner canyon where I’ll have the most leisure to scout around, there are a dozen that should be in bloom. Most of these are tiny wild flowers with intriguing names.
I’ll be on the lookout for Adonis Blazing Star, Purple Bladder pod, Blue Dicks, Storks bill and Caterpillar weed. Miner’s lettuce should be showing white flowers. This member of the Portulaca family is said to be a tasty salad green that miners ate back in the day to prevent scurvy. Stork’s bill or filaree is a member of the geranium family and gets its colorful name from the seed pod that resembles a bird’s beak until it dries and twists into a spiral. It lies on the ground until rain comes. Then the pod untwists, screwing its seeds into the soil.
It’s a grand part of this adventure that in February at the South Rim where the elevation is 7120 feet, winter reigns. There will surely be snow on the ground and perhaps swirling in the air as well. By the time we make it to the bottom of the canyon to Phantom Ranch we’ll be at sea level and spring will be unfolding bright petals of Mexican poppies and firecracker penstemon, our gorgeous and familiar desert wildflowers.