April has been an amazing month in Southern California. Every year in spring, the region receives a dizzying variety of wildflowers, especially prominent in the regions between the wetter coast and dry desert plains. Some years are better than others, and some years are Superbloom years. 2017 Is being hailed as the best Superbloom in decades! Thanks to the much needed rainfall received this year, mother nature put on a psychedelic display unrivaled by anything I have ever witnessed.
I started my hunt for the Superbloom in far Southern California, around the borders of Anza Borrego Desert State Park. I returned to a small valley I had scouted a few months previous. Little Blair Valley offers free camping, and great trails with thousands of years old Native American Petroglyphs.
I thought the valley would offer a good opportunity as it lies at the correct altitude for the Superbloom. While it was beautiful, it didn't offer quite the spectacular display I had hoped for. I still made the most of my surroundings by hiking a few miles in the dark to do some lightpainting of the ancient petroglyphs.
I returned to my camping spot, as the weather began to turn. The winds were howling, and the temperatures dropped very quickly. I climbed into my tent, and quickly realized I had forgotten my good thermarest mat and pillow. I grabbed a headrest from my car's passenger seat to double as a pillow, it was going to be a long night. The sounds of the tent fabric catching the wind lulled me into a fitful sleep.
I woke up before dawn. The wind was still 50-60mph. I found some rocks to weigh my tent down and geared up for an early morning hike to shoot some timelapse of the sunrise. I battled the wind to get my Nikon setup on a hilltop and programmed it to shoot 1000 sequenced photos for timelapse. I made it a point to splay my tripod legs to make a wider base, so my camera would not be blown over (A problem I would sadly encounter later this day at another location). The sunrise was beautiful, with the high winds pushing striated cloud formations across the valley.
After about an hour, I went to gather my Nikon from the mountaintop, and drove back to camp. The tent was still there, albeit with all the stakes pulled from the ground by the wind. Clever me for putting the stones in to weigh it down, as it would still be blowing across the Mojave today had I not. I made a sandwich and snacked on fruit while convincing myself not to go back to sleep. I had a lot of driving ahead of me.
8 hours of yellow mustard fields, and a roadside nap in San Bernardino later, I was in Antelope Valley. Famous for it's preserve of California Poppies, Antelope is pretty much the Mecca of wildflowers in California. About 2 miles outside the park, I began to see the crests of the famed orange hills. I'd found it! Superbloom in action!
I soon realized I was going to be shouldering through masses of tourists and fellow photographers. The road for 2 miles leading into the preserve was packed with parked cars, and the park itself had a queue of over 50 cars just to enter. This wasn't what I envisioned, and I quickly drove past the park proper. I decided to do some exploring and found a side road. Usually Californian dirt roads such as this lead to gated or fenced off property, but I was in luck today. I drove 10 minutes into the a landscape of hills and valleys that seemed to have been watered with pure LSD. The colors were indescribable. The clouds were a photographers dream. Everything was perfect. Except the wind. I struggled to open the door of my car against the 60-70mph winds. But the wind was a minor hindrance to one of the most otherworldly and beautiful sites I had ever laid eyes upon.
I went through my paces, setting up a timelapse to capture the perfect cottonball clouds. I then set to shooting this landscape from every angle I could imagine. I was in a utopia of color and light. This lasted about 30 minutes until I went to check on the timelapse. I crested over the hill to be greeted by a horrible sight. My tripod was on it's side, blown over by the high winds. The foresight I had had at sunrise was overtaken by my eagerness to get started here.
The damages to my camera and wide angle lens put a damper on my joy. I still had my Sony A7Rii to shoot stills, but I was heartbroken to see the camera I had come to love in pieces, and a lens I use for work in critical shape.
Nonetheless I had to stay to capture sunset, which was still 2 hours away. I put the accident behind me and decided I would be depressed about it when I got the bill. I threw my 50mm f1.2 lens onto my Sony to get some closeups of a few of the millions of flowers. Choosing one flower out of the crowd felt like I was doing a disservice to all the others.
The wind continued as the backdrop to the whole journey, and even began to get stronger. I don't have any instrument to measure wind, but when you struggle to stay standing upright, it is safe to say the winds are strong.
Soon, the sunset came, and while beautiful, was not as spectacular as I had anticipated. I snapped the last few photos of the day, and drove the remaining 3 hours back to home in Santa Barbara, through the dark and winding corridor of San Francisquito Canyon.
About a week later I made a much less eventful, but still beautiful daytrip to the Carrizo Plains National Monument with my lovely Mom to capture the last of the Superbloom there. The drone was the star today, as the winds were behaving this time. The grey clouds obscured any quality light throughout the day, but the blossoms were still fantastic, and showing my Mom the process of landscape photography I spend so much time doing was a great time for both of us.
There are still a few weeks left before the wildflowers complete their lifecycle. The blooms will climb in elevation as the temperature rises through May. Perhaps I'll have time to go chase them once more before they say their final goodbye.