I really pay attention when locals speak. The 2 guys at the visitor center near Needles, California, seemed to know what they were talking about, and they were in no hurry even though it was Friday. It was closing time and they continued to tell Ruth and me about Mojave Desert attractions. When I showed one of them a photo of a flower, he said he didn’t know its name. A few minutes later he showed us a picture of it in a book and said its name proudly, “Apricot Mallow”. Flower-lover Ruth wrote it down. I just admired it. But when the other local man told us about Christmas Tree Pass, I recorded the name in my travel log.
The next day we found it. This little-known pass is a couple of miles west of Laughlin off of Highway 163. We drove a good portion of it. What made the experience so memorable was the fact that the desert was in bloom. I had heard about but never seen this phenomenon before. Christmas Tree Pass crosses the Newberry Mountains and ends at north-south Highway 95. Estimates of its length vary but most say it’s about 12 miles. We didn’t make it as far as the petroglyphs because the road was not paved and got increasingly rough and twisty. We wanted to continue because I’m always looking for scenic drives, there was no one else around, and the flowers were spectacular.
We had been told that Christmas Tree Pass got its name because locals decorate some of the larger flora for the Christmas holidays. onlyinyourstate.com says, “Many visitors will bring ornaments to hang on the trees as part of their hike,” which is probably accurate. The Las Vegas Review-Journal says that the pass gets its name from a pygmy forest of junipers and pinyons that started a decorating tradition that the National Park Service takes a dim view of. They would. Whichever is the most true, the imagination gets challenged.
Desert flowers adhere to no bloom schedule. If they pop, February and March are reportedly the best months to see them. There are 5 factors that determine their appearance; sun, seed-scattering wind, temperature, elevation, and, of course, water. Warm, winter days not over 85° and cool nights following rain in small amounts over the relatively cold season encourage flowering. Winter, 2017 must have been ideal.
The 4 flowering plants pictured here especially delighted Ruth and me. I believe the orange ones are globe mallow. The whites could be desert chicory. The very vivid, red-pink-fuchia-like ones are surely Beavertail prickly pear and my favorite. There were very few of these blooming, but the ones that were DID stand out. The others, I have no clue as to their name.
We lingered and loved Christmas Tree Pass. Before it becomes an interstate, check it out. I hope you get lucky too.