Bloom Town

The next few weeks mark your last chance this year to enjoy an event that has been going on in the Valley since before the first humans wandered out of the frozen north to escape the encroaching ice age. (Talk about your snowbirds!) Desert Wildflower Season, those few glorious months when the desert around us comes alive with color, is quickly winding down. But there's still plenty to enjoy, and the nicest thing about this celebrated event is it is absolutely free. No tickets, no passes, no lines.

This is simply the best time of year to have a picnic. Actually, this might be the best time ever to have a picnic. Throw some cold chicken and pickles in a basket and head to Boyce Thompson Arboretum, where you can sit among the desert marigolds and the slender orange desert mallows.

"This is certainly a better season than average," says Paul Wolterbeek of Boyce Thompson. "This has been a banner year across Gila and Pinal counties for wildflowers. That's past its peak, but in the next couple of weeks you'll see the cactus bloom, and that'll be just as striking -- the hedgehog cactus and the prickly pear cactus are starting to bloom now." Hike South Mountain Park and look for the waxy yellow flowers of the prickly pear cactus, the scarlet flowers of the cholla or the spindly, thorny stalks of the ocotillo, topped with flags of red flowers. If you are heading off on a road trip this weekend, give yourself some extra time to enjoy the drive.

The desert is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Admission is free. There is no number to call, so you can't make a reservation. Don't worry, though, there is plenty of parking and absolutely no wait to get in.

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James Ward

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