Too often people associate the southern Utah desert with sand, snakes and cactus. There's nothing wrong with those things, but the drier climates also get a blast of color from wildflowers this time of year.
"The peak month for viewing wildflowers is April, though they can be enjoyed usually starting in late March through mid-May," said Jenny Stucki, a naturalist at Snow Canyon State Park near St. George.
Stucki says early season flowers in southern Utah include spectacle pod, desert marigolds. Fiddleneck, elegant lupine, Palmer penstemon, firecracker penstemon, sego lily, yellow evening primrose, pale evening primrose, globemallow, desert 4 O'clock, purple sage, indigo busg and desert willow. Blooms on prickly pear cactus and purple torch plants will come a little later in the season.
While the entire park offers opportunities to see Spring wildflowers, Snow Canyon's Hidden Pinyon and Whiptail trails are usually sure bets, Stucki said.
But Snow Canyon isn't the only place in southern Utah that is blooming. Zion National Park, Red Cliffs Desert Reserve and other low-elevation environments in that corner of the state get colorful wildflowers as well.
Wildflowers get started a little later in Moab and the rest of southeastern Utah.
"Peak wildflower season varies slightly, but it is usually around the very end of April and the first three weeks of May in Arches National Park and all of May in much of Canyonlands National Park," said Mary Moran, with the National Park Service's Southeast Utah Group. "There is some variation in bloom time from one year to the next, but it is relatively minor. Most species respond well to a relatively wet winter and early spring, with no dry spells during that time."
There are some distinctive wildflowers found only in Arches or Canyonlands, but generally the same flowers can be seen in both parks.
To find sego lilies -- the state flower -- look in the area around the Wolfe Ranch structure near the Delicate Arch trailhead, Moran said. Fans of claret cup cactus, larkspur and Utah penstemon should walk the trail to the Delicate Arch viewpoint.
Mules ears can be spotted along the main park road between Windows and Delicate Arch. Drive on the Salt Valley dirt road for a bright orange show of globemallow -- the show is best during wet years. The Park Avenue Trail in Arches also is a good place to look for cliffrose.
For more information, visit the park's website and look for the Arches Flower Guide link.
The White Rim Trail in Canyonlands has narrowleaf yucca, blue-purple scorpionweed, pink and white sego lilies and cliffrose.
The flowers described by Moran also can be seen in at Dead Horse Point State Park and Bureau of Land Management lands in southeastern Utah.
Viewing wildflowers is typically easy from well-established trails, roads and parking areas. When viewing wildflowers, park officials ask that you follow these two rules of etiquette:
» Don't go off the trail to get a better look or to take photographs. The desert soil is a living organism and critical to the ecosytem; walking on it can kill it.
» Don't pick the wildflowers, leave them in the ground for others to enjoy.
DesertUSA has a page dedicated to wildflower reports and pictures for Nevada and Utah.
The U.S. Forest Service has a page for places to see wildflowers in Utah, but most Forest Service wildflower viewing takes place in the late summer in Utah.