Botanists predict the spring of 2010 should be a memorable year for wildflowers, but even in lean years Globe-Miami attracts photographers in search of vernal color. Why? Poppies, for one – robust patches of goldpoppies usually appear by late February bordering highway 60, beautifying the otherwise industrial drive through Claypool. The bright yellow flowers here outlast those in Pinal County, blooming through May in a good year. Want a few more local wildflower hot spots? Round Mountain Park in downtown Globe, Peridot Mesa on the San Carlos Apache reservation, highway 188 from Wheatfields up past Roosevelt Lake, and foothills of the Pinal Mountains.
Plan a day-trip or a weekend getaway to Globe-Miami in March, April, or May when the flowers are typically at their peak. Ask about progress of color with a call to Virginia or Ellen over at the Chamber of Commerce at 928-425-4495. Scenic roads leading here are worth the drive, and higher elevation means you’ll see roadside poppies and other spring ephemerals long after they have browned and gone to seed at lower elevations.
Highway 60 heading east from the Valley and Highway 77 driving north from Tucson are two of the best wildflower drives in Arizona. Phoenix residents gain more than 2,000 feet in elevation driving to Globe, and have the chance to see chaparral species such as the delicate pink manzanita flowers which line the roadside as you drive through Tonto National Forest during March (look for evergreen sumac, patches of Gooddings verbena and fragrant Ceanothus as well). Approaching from Tucson? Watch for the white and pink variants of Globemallow as you drive north on highway 77 through the towns of Mammoth and Winkelman. Make sure to have a spare memory card (or plenty of slide film) for the stretch of highway that parallels the Gila River. Majestic saguaros are too numerous to be counted here — and each spring they’re surrounded by golden flowering brittlebush, purplish-violet flowers of hedgehog cacti, phacelia, fleabane daisies and dozens of other wildflowers.
No wildflower outing would be complete without thick patches of photogenic poppies, so set your GPS coordinates for “Claypool.” Even in the driest years robust patches of Mexican goldpoppies can be found blooming through cracks in the sidewalk pavement along the highway near mileposts 244-246, most vibrant of all near the Phelps-Dodge Rod Plant just east of Miami as you drive through the small copper-mining community. Then, as you continue on highway 60, look for tall stands of golden yellow wallflower as you approach the Globe-Miami Chamber of Commerce (Desert marigold punctuates the roadside, too).
The single best place for hikers and photographers is Globe’s Round Mountain Park. Plan an evening walk during March to see the ethereal glow of greenish-yellow hillsides gilt with yellow bladderpod complimented by evening primrose (Oenothera primiveris) blooming right along the packed-earth paths of this community park. Admission is free, there are miles of hiking trails, and Round Mountain Park is easy to find — near the crossroads of Highways 60 and 70. Turn at the Country Kitchen restaurant – the park is just a short drive up the dirt road on the west side of the Samaritan Veterinary building. Other flowers typically easy-to-find at Round Mountain include wild onions, covena, scorpionweed (Phacelia distans) and fragrant berberis shrubs. Robust penstemons can be distinguished by their color: “firecracker” penstemons are red, while the taller Parry’s penstemon is usually vivid pink.
Peridot Mesa on the San Carlos Apache reservation east of Globe can be covered with acres and acres of blooming goldpoppies when conditions are right, and you can see the vast swaths of color right from highway 70, approximately across from San Carlos High School. Tribal day-use recreation permits are required to leave the highway and photograph the flowers; buy one at convenience stores in Globe or at the San Carlos Recreation & Wildlife office in Peridot, less than three minutes drive east of Peridot Mesa.
And four different trails are each well worth hiking in the Pinal Mountains from the Ice House Canyon CCC Camp on the north side of this sky island mountain range which borders Globe to the south. Trails include the Six Shooter, Ferndell, Ice House and Telephone Trails (you can also walk up the graded dirt road to Pioneer Pass). The Pinals also offer great birdwatching: Painted Redstart, Grace’s Warbler and Bridled Titmouse can be found during spring migration along with Red-breasted Nuthatch, Hairy Woodpecker, and Cooper’s Hawk. The Pinals are also known for local rarities such as Yellow-eyed Junco, Olive Warbler and Gray Vireo. Pinal Mountain hiking trail maps are available from the Tonto National Forest Globe Ranger Station; call 928-425-7189. Flowers to look for in the Pinal foothills include wallflower, spurge, freckled milkvetch, lupine, and thistle.
Text and Photos by Paul Wolterbeek (except where noted).
Guest Contributors include press releases, guest authors, and columnists who contribute less than 4 times a year.