California’s Wildflowers – Ephemeral Visions of Nature
Wildflower Landscape Photography
by photographer Richard Dickey
A Crimson Mirage
A simple desire to get out of the city and satisfy one’s wanderlust might become a happenstance experience that’ll change your life. Almost forty years ago, while driving across the high desert, I spotted a crimson mirage on the distant horizon. Realizing it was the California Poppy Reserve visible from thirty miles away, I changed course and headed in that direction. A flickering crimson mountain gradually turned red, then orange, the closer I approached. Upon arriving at the reserve, I was stunned by the brilliant magnificence of mile after mile of bright orange poppies opened to a blazing sun in a bluebird sky. With a radiance so intense it required sunglasses to look upon, since California poppies reflect multiple bands of ultraviolet light to attract pollinating insects. I found gazing at hundreds of thousands of these UV reflectors in the glaring sunshine too painful for bare eyes. Needless to say it was a “wow moment” in nature, leaving me astonished and curious to learn more about this spectacular phenomena.
Ever since that encounter I’ve spent nearly four decades, traveled thousands of miles, and dodged dozens of rattlesnakes to document what I consider ephemeral visions of nature. Nowadays, people describe them as super blooms. Back in early days they were called carpet blooms. Whatever you name them, these wildflower blooms are rare, fleeting moments of time and space, when millions of flowers in the wilderness overwhelm the landscape, when the aggregate of tiny, delicate details become the bigger picture. Lasting a few days, or at the very best a couple of weeks, these wildflower vistas represent the epitome of the “Secret Garden” that writers have romanticized and written about for centuries. One could live a lifetime on this land and never see the same scene ever again. And California is ground zero to the most varied, surreal and largest wildflower displays on the planet, a few even visible from space. With some locations having only bloomed once, my goal with this online gallery is to document and share what I’ve witnessed over the years and raise awareness about these mercurial and threatened landscapes.
Grab the largest screen available and treat yourself to a virtual trek
Using high resolution film and digital cameras, this wildflower landscape photography gallery represents a lifetime’s work chasing California wildflowers that started in 1985. Long before there was an internet, or social media, I used weather geek know-how along with the help of a new, unknown cable network called the Weather Channel to make observations of radars, rain totals, satellite images and temperatures to determine where and when to go exploring. So a shout out to the folks at the Weather Channel circa mid-1980’s and anyone who remembers their signature jingle? The greatest respect and care was taken capturing these photographs, as not to damage any wildflowers during shoots, as there were plenty of grassy areas surrounding and in-between the flowers and patches of bare soil where one could maneuver to frame a shot. And yes, places like this really do exist, and are not fake, as I once overheard a guy mansplaining to his girlfriend discounting the authenticity of the images during an exhibit I participated in at LACMA’s ARSG. So I recommend you find the largest screen available and treat yourself to a virtual trekthrough the desert and get away from today’s negative news. Create some positive time to slow down, relax, unwind and soak in nature’s most sublime wonders. This is a limited release or drop of landscape wildflower photographs from a larger body of work. Over time more photos will be added. Zoom in on a few images and explore the details. Most of these landscape photographs are available for purchase in various sizes in the Gallery Menus.
Just an FYI, all the images on the website are copyright registered with US Library of Congress. So please be respectful, don’t screen grab, copy or download without written consent. Do feel free to share image links back to the online gallery here. Enjoy your hike.
Welcome to the Wildflower Multiverse– Move the slider button right or left
California Wildflowers in Gorman CA - Dormant vs Super Bloom
“…poppies will put them to sleep. Sle-ee-p...”
a mountain that trembles
the night crew awakens
beauty of a semi-parasitic plant
what dreams may come
a secret garden may lie dormant for years
Gorman hills - Dormant vs Super Bloom
patiently waiting to sprout from the dust
Wildflowers in the primordial space of Carrizo Plain National Monument
… home of the oldest, tallest and largest plants on the planet. Of all these treasures, none are more mercurial and magical than California’s super blooms.
California’s Super Blooms
With its distinct Mediterranean climate and varied landscape, California’s native flora has evolved a unique concentration of endemic plants at such a global scale that is scientifically recognized and known as the “California Floristic Province.” The CFP has been designated as one of Earth’s biological hotspots due to its diversity and endangered status, home of the oldest, tallest and largest plants on the planet. Of all these treasures, none are more mercurial and magical than California’s super blooms. For years on end, California’s landscape may look unassuming and covered in warm sandy browns. Desert wildflower seeds remain dormant for decades being blown and moved about with the desert winds, occasionally teasing when seasons are marginal. Factors such as changes in cryptobiotic soils and fluctuations of insect species may play a role as much as seasonal rains and temperatures. These wildflower seeds, tiny DNA ingredients of life, have discovered the secret to surviving for years and decades with little or no water. They are resilient survivors that evolved in response to an unforgiving environment. These super blooms represent the finest of California’s unique and rich biodiversity.
The future of California’s wildflower landscapes are threatened. Click the image link below to learn more.
yellow candles with burgundy flames
forest of wildflowers
yin and yang
a sea of orange
Visualize yourself standing amidst a sea of orange poppies, so vast they expand miles across a desert plain reaching into far distant foothills. A soft wind stirs and slowly the air is filled with the sound of flowers moving in the breeze. The growing sound of a million satin petals surrounds and envelopes you. This very soft subtle sound grows to a loud ruffling and rustling, making the landscape seem to vibrate beneath your feet. Visible ripples of wind roll across the flowered plain like sets of waves across an ocean. Scents of flowers invade your nose, smells like honeysuckle, grape, mint, lemon-licorice and jasmine blend and morph into an incense of the desert in spring. One becomes aware of the palpable sense of “giddy” energy radiating from the land, beyond rational explanation, a feeling of lightness and completeness flows from the desert in full bloom as if Mother Earth herself were laughing with the flowers.
Late nineteenth century Southern Californians honored their wildflower heritage celebrating with weekend wildflower parties and parades with flower-covered horses and buggies. This tradition became origins for the famous Rose Parade.
smell of grape soda
thirty second exposure
fractured mountains and the sublime
blue and gold
ancient sediment layers
out of sight, out of mind
Wildflowers of the Carrizo Plain National Monument
bouquets of blues
details of the big picture
Centuries ago, Spanish sailors returned to Europe describing a fiery glow along a mysterious shore called California. Telling stories of hills and valleys ablaze with brilliant luminescence of gold and orange flowers, they referred to California as “la tierra del tuego” – the land of fire – for the vast spreads of poppy blooms that covered the land. Afterwards, Spanish missionaries and European settlers discovered the interior of California blanketed with enormous pastures of spring wildflowers extending hundreds of miles from San Francisco to San Diego.
hallucination of the high desert
lupines and painted hills
full moon at sunrise over a pink desert
pitching waves of color
Experiencing a super bloom is a feast for your mind, body and spirit, leaving you speechless, and wanting more the next promising season. Taking in nature through the senses and bathing in the desert’s energy, leaving you refreshed and rejuvenated.
long shadows with lupines, poppies and eveningsnow
carpet of the Sierra Nevada
threads of the carpet
one point perspective
one million flowers
rare white owl’s clover
“In the Spring, The San Joaquin Valley had a matchless sky overhead and an expanse of wildflowers that spread over the the great valley like a purple carpet, so vast that a day’s ride by horseback would take one only to the middle of it.” – Arnold Rojas
wall of blue
flowers of the storm
… a full bloom in the darkness of a moonless desert night with coyotes howling and yipping close by.
an ocean floor and howling coyotes
a struggle to bloom
quartzite, goldenbush, and poppies
a constant for eons, but never the same
no two blooms are alike
Wildflower Bloom on Gorman Mountains - 2001 vs 2003
Wildflower Bloom Gorman Hills Canyon - 2001 vs 2003
valley of fire
yellow oceans of the Carrizo Plain
Wildflower super bloom of Monolopia lanceolata in western Antelope Valley 2003