Disheartening Detour Yields Heart-Lifting Flower Display


Take heart.

The landslide that closed the Beeline Highway and has forced many Payson residents heading for the East Valley to take the long way through Globe have also created a nearly-historic opportunity for nature lovers.

Stop and smell the flowers.

Ironically enough, the wet winter blamed for the highway-closing slide has also nourished one of the best outbursts of poppies, brittle bush, lupine, globe mallow and other blooms on the long round-about path along the shores of Roosevelt Lake to Globe.

So never mind the detour that has turned the normal 90-minute jaunt into a three-, four- or five-hour trek, call it a day trip and make time to appreciate the Wizard of Oz lurid hillsides, covered with brilliant orange poppies scattered all along the drive.

After a string of drought-plagued years that blighted wildflower displays statewide, seeds that have lain dormant in the soil for years responded to a decently wet winter.

As Roosevelt Lake rose from a quarter full to brimming, wildflowers transformed stony brown slopes into drunken riots of orange and yellow.

In fact, the Sonoran Desert has the greatest diversity of wildflowers on the planet -- and faces serious competition for that distinction only from some desert areas of Israel.

The Sonoran's wildflower bounty represents a leafy response to the growing season challenges of a region that sometimes has abundant winter and summer rain, but can also lapse into decades-long periods of drought.

Year-round plants must survive those droughts, which means that they're widely spaced and slow growing. But those thrifty bushes and cactuses can't respond quickly to a wet year.

Enter the wildflowers, hidden away in the form of thousands of seeds in every square foot of desert soil. Poppy seeds that have lain dormant for a century can still sprout, although ants and other seed eaters generally don't let them survive that long.

Still, enough seeds survive the best efforts of seed-harvesting ants and kangaroo rats to grace the most unlikely slopes after the wet winters that roll around every four to 10 years. Generally, a good wildflower display requires the onset of good winter storms in October and November that continue every two or three weeks through January -- exactly what nature ordered this year.

The reliable wildflower areas statewide are recording a bumper crop this year -- places like Organ Pipe National Monument near the Mexican border and Picacho Peak State Park south of Phoenix.

One of the best reliable displays close to Payson at the moment are the front slopes of the Superstition Mountains near Apache Junction, where the Lost Dutchman State Park reports a solid undulation of yellow brittle brush on the whole slope, with lush displays of lupine and poppies in some areas.

But the drive to Globe offers some unexpected treasures, mostly distant, Technicolor slopes that tempt travelers to park the car and hike off into the distance.

However, the ancient stone ruins of Tonto National Monument are this year also augmented by slopes covered with poppies, making it a good destination for poppy watchers -- or clever people determined to turn an irritating detour into a lifetime memory.

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