The heavy rains that hit parts of the desert in recent weeks have created a spectacle that doesn't happen every year: a fall blooming season in the Joshua Tree National Park. Large areas of the park are now blanketed in yellow chinchweed blooms, and the bloom is likely to continue into autumn as the park's shrubs take advantage of the moisture from the storms.
Good places to see the striking fall bloom abound include the Hidden Valley area off Park Boulevard in the Park's high-desert western section, and between Smoke Tree Wash and the Cottonwood Visitor Center along Pinto Basin Road.
Along with the carpets of chinchweed, plants taking advantage of the late summer rains to put out more blooms include white-flowered datura, California fuchsia, asters, and a number of the park's abundant shrubs. And the effects of the rain may last for some time: Ocotillo along Pinto Basin Road are now covered in lush green leaves, suggesting the possibility of a spectacular bloom in late winter.
The general greening up along Pinto Basin Road is more intense than I think I've ever seen, in fact: Driving by, I had an odd urge to head into the shrubbery with a fork and a bottle of salad dressing. (Note: don't do that.)
The chinchweed bloom won't last very long unless we get more rain, so you may want to make travel plans for this weekend. The storms, which hit the park on August 25 and September 7, also forced closure of a number of park roads. Most of them have since been re-opened, but a large section of Park Boulevard between Twentynine Palms and the Pinto Wye will likely be closed well into October. Jumbo Rocks Campground is currently closed due to storm damage.
Check with the Park's website to see what closures are in effect as you plan your visit.