The morning after the Peter, Paul and Music concert at the Mesa Center for the Performing Arts, we battled 20-mile-per-hour northerly winds heading towards Picacho Peak State Park between Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona.
“Well, it was a little chilly overnight,” said the Ranger at the visitor center. “Even though it’s warming up, the poppies usually like to wait for the sun before they open up.”
We both looked skyward, where a dim sun was trying to poke through the cloud cover.
“Take a hard left just past the visitor center and go up to the parking area there,” he said. “There’s a lot of flowers up there that did open this morning on the Nature Trail.”
Despite the unusual smooth gray sky, our goal was wildflower photography. The shores of Picacho Peak were awash in a sea of gold and purple flowers. Even without the sun’s warmth, the poppies were open en masse in gold waves across the toe of the peak. Lupine created a welcoming pavement edge all the way from the freeway to the visitor center.
A long line of cars patiently waited for the park entrance, slowly moving past the sign that said “heavy wildflower traffic; drive slowly.” I immediately pictured troops of purple lupine marching across the road.
Map in hand, we parked in the Harrington Loop and headed for the Nature Trail, it’s a loop of less than a mile, and there’s about a 100-foot elevation gain on the gravelly, sometimes narrow, trail. With our light hiking shoes, we had good traction, and there were enough places to step aside to allow downhill hikers to slip by.
After hiking the trails and exploring the park a little bit, we headed to Ironwood Forest National Monument, which is on the backside of the park. There, wildflowers were so thick they created carpets of orange and white.
As of late March 2023, the wildflowers at Picacho Peak State Park are still colorfully blossoming. Without an annual Arizona State Parks pass, admission is seven dollars for the day. It’s about 90 minutes south of downtown Phoenix or about an hour north of Tucson, right off Interstate 10.
Story by Eric Jay Toll