Texas Wildflower Extravaganza

Prior to last autumn, the Hill Country of central and south Texas had been mired in an intense, multi-year drought that ruined crops, depleted grazing fields for livestock, lowered aquifers and reservoirs to levels not recorded before, threatened municipal water supplies, and caused great angst among water-management agencies. The drought also left wildflowers rather sparse each spring season, limited to localized pockets of marginally favorable conditions and some roadsides where runoff effectively boosted “rainfall” on the scale of a few yards’ right-of-way width.

Then last year, along came the positive phase of the ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) in the equatorial Pacific, well-known to influence large-scale atmospheric patterns over North America during the cool season. Storm tracks behaved in the typical manner for these episodes, with a series of southern-stream perturbations aloft that yielded abundant precipitation over central and south Texas — some of it even in the form of snow.

The cold, wet fall and winter were absolutely ideal for settling, cracking and germinating untold scores of long-accumulated bluebonnet seeds. Fully aware of this potential for a major wildflower feast a few months ago, Elke and I began planning a mid-April trip to our favorite parts of the Hill Country, on a long weekend that I was scheduled to have off. Of course, we would partake of the usual excellent German food in Fredericksburg, the barbecue in Llano, a chance to stock up on Dublin Dr Pepper and collect limestone slabs for our landscaping back home, and marvel again at the geologic variety of the Llano country. [See our road trip report from 2005.]

It couldn’t have worked out any better. In absolutely stunning fashion, nature snapped wide awake from its drought-induced floral coma. The wildflower explosion was second to none in either of our experiences. The roadsides, hills and meadows, for mile after mile, bore carpets of bluebonnets, paintbrush, prickly poppies, evening primroses, phlox, and numerous other varieties of all colors.

We’ve all seen the legendary shots of entire fields packed full of bluebonnets; this year, they really were! From Mason to Willow City, Doss to Buchanan Lake, we roamed for three days in ecstatic appreciation of the visual and photographic delights abounding all around.

Locals whom we heard, and with whom we spoke, claimed that the wildflower show this year was unlike anything seen since at least the mid 1980s, perhaps even decades longer. I believe them. Old-timers, who never thought they again would witness such a spectacle, marveled at the scenery. Where not mowed at the wrong times, and seeds had been permitted to accumulate, the flowers got so dense it was as if heaven itself had poured forth a bounty of color upon the land. Several entire ranches were covered in flowers.

We had two sunny days and one mostly overcast, each with their own distinct advantages in photography. Clouds helped with smoothing away harsh shadow/highlight contrasts and lowering the dynamic range. Wind made it a challenge on the cloudy day to shoot in lower light, especially at high f-stop settings needed for rich depth of field. Still, even at twilight on the cloudy day, one could lie down in the bluebonnets and shoot with nice results.

The sunny days offered opportunities for tighter apertures and landscape panoramas, but also, freezing flower motion in windy conditions at shorter depths-of-field.

We’ll be in awe of what we witnessed on this journey for a long, long time. The only bad thing about such an amazing experience is that we know it might not be matched again in the remainder of our lifetimes, given the nearly perfect cascade of meteorological dominoes that must fall over a span of years to months to produce such an extravagant floral show. No matter…we shall return, for the flowers, fine food and friendly folks.

For more shots from the trip, please visit our online gallery of 50 select photos from the 2010 Texas wildflower eruption.


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