The desert comes alive with wildflowers every spring and one of the best places to see the variety which erupts each March/April is the drive up from the Valley to Globe-Miami along highway 60.
Every spring, swaths of Mexican Gold poppies bloom along highway 60 lure photographers and petal-peepers to the communities of Miami and Globe. The burst of color is reliable even in years that lack generous winter rainfall, but with the rains we’ve had during the first quarter of 2017 this promises to be an exceptional display.
The first few precocious roadside poppies flowered in January this year; a good omen before a colorful spring. During February and March East-bound drivers with Apache Junction receding in the rearview mirror will find highway 60 bordered with purple, blue, orange, yellow and red from (respectively) phacelia and lupine, globemallow, brittlebush, poppies and penstemon.
Also known as ‘The Superstition Freeway,’ Highway 60 allows anyone to become familiar with common spring wildflowers on a scenic two-hour drive to Globe and Miami. You can learn to I.D. flowers on a walk at Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park (45 minutes east of Mesa) where March and April weekends feature guided wildflower walks included with $12.50 admission.
Photographers know BTA as the place to find showy magenta blossoms on native hedgehog cacti that punctuate rocky cliffs with vivid color – check the park’s website for updated reports of whats-in-bloom, and times for wildflower walks and other weekend nature tours.
Highway 60 Wildflowers
Highway 60 through Gold Canyon has blue/violet stretches of lupine and phacelia mixed with orange, shrubby globemallow, vivid brittlebush and desert marigold. As you drive through Gonzales Pass look for feathery red fairy duster and stunning golden brittlebush from mile marker 209 for 219.
Boyce Thompson Arboretum is at Milepost 223 where you can join a guided One O’Clock wildflower walk any March weekend (10 a.m.during April), then continue east on highway 60 another six miles up and through Queen Creek Canyon.
The drive known as the ‘Gila-Pinal Scenic Road’ is among Arizona’s designated scenic byways which winds through the Tonto National Forest.
An array of wildflowers can be seen including; deer vetch (Lotus rigidus), firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii); white trumpet-shaped blossoms on moonflower (datura) and seven-foot-tall tree tobacco near the Queen Creek Tunnel. Scan cliffs above the road to marvel at towering hoodoos and eroded rock formations in Queen Creek Canyon; look down for thick clumps of Tufted Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa), and rare endemic rhyolite bush (Crossosoma bigelovii) that prefer slopes of decayed volcanic rock.
Hwy 60 emerges from Queen Creek Canyon near the entrance to Oak Flat campground. Earliest flowers you’ll find here are subtle pink-and-white native manzanita blossoms along both sides of the road during February, followed by thick patches of lavender Gooding’s Verbena and a fragrant wild lilac known as ceanothus during March on the north side of the highway.
Continue highway 60 farther East through Devil’s Canyon and watch for vivid red claret cup cacti in the cliffs.
Robust patches of Mexican Gold poppies between Miami and Globe flourish along sidewalk pavement edges between mileposts 244-246 where you can ponder our local ‘Beauty and the Beast’ contrast along the industrial mile of highway past the copper Rod Plant east of Miami, driving through the small community of Claypool.
If you’re more adventuresome and care to hike, there are plenty of opportunities to explore on foot. Some of the most popular trails in the Pinals include Ice House, Six Shooter, Ferndell and Telephone Trails; or park and walk either of two graded dirt roads uphill towards Pioneer Pass or Signal Peak to see Astragalus (freckled milkvetch); Lupine, thistle and wallflower. In April watch for the unusual tennis-ball-shaped flower clusters on the ‘Antelope Horns’ milkweed growing roadside.
One of the most popular parks in the region is Round Mountain Park located in Globe just north of the Two Lanes Bar on highway 60. Here you’ll find well marked trails, good parking and several picnic areas along with colorful native flowers ranging from False Garlic to wallflower, delphinium, doubting mariposa lilies, fragrant barberry shrubs and vivid purple hedgehog cacti. Dogs are welcome as long as they are on a leash.
Perhaps the biggest draw to the region is the breathtaking blankets of golden poppies fount at Peridot Mesa on the San Carlos Apache Reservation. It is an annual magnet for professional and amateur photographers alike.
Peridot Mesa’s among the most accessible spots for flower photography, too; less than one mile north of highway 70. No 4-wheel drive or high clearance needed! The dirt road up-and-over the mesa is suitable for most vehicles driven slowly and carefully.