As the snow melts and the days become warmer, America's National Parks come to life with an explosion of color and the aroma of fresh wildflowers.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park (www.nps.gov/grsm) is one of the most prolific wildflower locations in the country, with over 1,600 species of flowering plants, and each year since 1951, the people of this magnificent park straddling the border of North Carolina and Tennessee have celebrated with the annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage (www.springwildflowerpilgrimage.org). This five-day event, to be held from April 22 to 26 in 2009, welcomes lovers of the outdoors, naturalist and botanists, amateurs and professionals alike from across the country and around the world, and consists of a variety of wildflower, fauna, and natural history walks, motorcades, photographic tours, art classes, and indoor seminars.
Among the hundreds of varieties in bloom in April, visitors have the opportunity to see and smell painted trillium, Canada mayflower, yellow and pink lady's slipper, umbrella leaf, Dutchman's pipe, beard tongue, Solomon's seal, spiderwort, fire pink, hawkweed, yellow mandarin, rue anemone, wild geranium, little brown jugs, Robin's plantain, flame azalea, yellow-wood, paw-paw flower, phacelia and Vasey's trillium. Scheduled events include; Black Bear and Wild Hog hikes; Sexual Encounters of the Floral Kind: Birds, Bees, Beetles, and Wind Pollinators; Cascades and Wildflower walks along Lynn Camp Prong; Tree and Shrub Identification walks; Herb Lore of Appalachia; Photography workshops; Birding; and Exotic Plant and Wildflower walks at Old Sugarlands. Events such as terrestrial insect walks and wildflower hikes along Chestnut Top Trail are covered by registration fees -- adults are $30 for one day or $50 for two or more days. Students pay $10 for one or more days and children under the age of 12 accompanied by an adult are free.
A full listing of all events is on the pilgrimage website and you can reserve your spot on each tour/walk online or register on-site, but be aware that many of the popular programs sell out early. There are also art and photography competitions with works being exhibited during the pilgrimage.
If you'd prefer to go it alone and just experience the beauty of the park in bloom without a group or the crowds, try the following areas and trails for maximum flower viewing: Ace Gap (late April, and May), Balsam Mountain Trail (April through May), Bradley Fork Trail (early spring through July), Chestnut Top(late March through early summer), Cove Hardwood Self-Guided Nature Trail (late March through May), Cosby Nature Trail (March and April), Deep Creek (throughout spring), Gregory Bald (June for flame azaleas), Husky Gap (April and May), Kanati Fork (April and May), Little River Trail (mid-March and April), Porters Creek Trail (late March through May), Oconaluftee River Trail (late April into May with 40 species of wildflowers), Rich Mountain Loop (mid-May), Schoolhouse Gap (mid-May) and Spence Field( late May to mid June). Entry to the park is free
Spring brings an abundance of wildflowers to the 800,000 acres of California's Joshua Tree National Park (www.nps.gov/jotr) and with them comes over 240 species of migratory birds. The wildflower season can start as early as mid-February, but peaks in March, April, and May. The park's website keeps a short but informative record of current wildflower sightings divided by color -- blue, red, white, and yellow -- particularly helpful for photography buffs looking for particular color combination. High rainfall levels in the area this fall and winter suggest that it will be a bumper year for wildflowers.
One of the most beautiful spectacles in spring is the creamy-white blossoms of the Joshua trees themselves. A member of the lily family, these white bristly-like flowers can be seen from February to late March and are currently in peak bloom in the Queen Valley area in the northern section on the park. There are currently dozens of other varieties on show including desert lavender, Mojave lupine, chia, bladder pod, yellow-cup primrose, chuparosa, the vibrant purple hues of filaree, Spanish needle, purple mat, pincushion and forget-me-not.
The flowers are most visible in the South Boundary area, Cottonwood, Wilson Canyon, Pinto Basin, the Palms, and Queen Valley. Indian Cove at the north end of the park is an excellent place for wildflowers especially along the nature trail at the west side of the campground. 49 Palms Oasis and the Cholla Cactus Garden are usually good places to see wildflowers but the best way for park visitors to find out where blooms are and what's blooming is to ask at the Visitor Center. A seven-day vehicle permit is $15 and individuals (on foot, bicycle, or motorcycle) pay $5 for a week's entry to the park.
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