Outdoors: Time for flowers to bloom

By Adam BlauertMarch 14, 2012 

Central California's wildflower season is just around the corner. With this year's unusual winter weather, predictions about the coming season's intensity vary. Last year was one of the best in recent memory. The wildflower displays were stunning and they lasted well into June in the lower elevations.

My guess is that this year will be an average year. Small numbers of wildflowers are already appearing and they should peak sometime in April.

Wildflowers are one of our state's annual surprises. Close enough to home for an easy day trip, they can be enjoyed both on driving tours and on foot. Guided hikes are offered in some areas and provide hikers with an opportunity to learn how to identify common species.

Mariposa County: Highways 49 and 140 and backroads of Mariposa County provide enjoyable wildflower drives. The trail to Hite's Cove on the South Fork of the Merced usually offers some of the best displays in the state. Park at Savage's Trading Post about 22 miles east of Mariposa on 140 and follow an easy trail for about a quarter of a mile. Although the trail continues for nearly five miles, some of the best wildflower displays are found along the slopes near the start of the route.

Tuolumne County: Located along Red Hills Road near Chinese Camp, the BLM-managed Red Hills Area of Critical Environmental Concern is a prime wildflower area. Although much can be seen from the windows of your vehicle, a short walk along one of the many trails will bring you closer to the blossoms.

Jamestown's Railtown 1897 State Historic Park will offer special wildflower train excursions at 4:30 p.m. on April 14 and 28. Train docents will point out the various species along the train's route. For reservations call (209) 984-3953.

The moderate three-mile hike to the top Table Mountain in the New Melones Lake Recreation Area is another popular wildflower viewing area. Park at the end of Shell Road and find your way along the trail to the flat summit of the iconic lava flow or call the Bureau of Reclamation at (209) 536-9543 to learn about ranger-guided hikes.

Fresno County: Fresno County has its own Table Mountain, located along Auberry Road near Millerton Lake. The Sierra Foothill Conservancy preserves many acres in this area and offers guided hikes throughout the year. This is a great wildflower spot, but hikers must be part of a guided tour. Call (559) 855-3473 to register.

Merced County: At the western edge of Merced County in the Diablo Range, Pacheco State Park often has abundant wildflowers. Hikers can access the trails on their own or be a part of a guided hike on Wildflower Day. Call (209) 826-1197 to learn more about this March 31 event.

Santa Clara County: Just beyond Merced and Stanislaus Counties, Henry Coe State Park is a wildflower heaven. Guided hikes will be offered on April 1. Call the Pine Ridge Association at (408) 779-2728 for more information.

I'll feature some of these locations in more detail in April. If you have a favorite spot I haven't mentioned, please send me an email and let me know.

Adam Blauert can be reached at adamblauert@yahoo.com.

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