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Every March, plush carpets of wildflowers like purple owl clover and lupines and golden brittlebrush cover the desert floor beneath 4,553-foot Weaver’s Needle in the Superstition Mountains Wilderness east of Phoenix. But in an El Niño year, when the warming Pacific Ocean triggers a double dose of precipitation in the desert Southwest, these bursting fields go three notches brighter and bigger. That’s when the neon yellow of the Mexican gold poppy, which thrives only after especially wet winters, pops and swirls with the white and purple of the other annuals.
A section of the 730-mile Grand Enchantment Trail winds straight through some of the showiest displays. Aim to set out from the First Water trailhead (three miles from AZ 88 on FR 78) in mid-March, when the flora tends to peak and water is still generally easy to come by.
Hike 29 miles on the Grand Enchantment to the Rogers Trough trailhead, touring a series of narrow canyons and riparian washes on the way. Day one: Get an early start and hike 11 miles to Upper La Barge Box, a verdant chasm where the spring fireworks are especially lush; set up camp at La Barge Spring, one of the most reliable water sources in the entire wilderness. El Niño cycles are famously difficult to predict, but indications of an upcoming event—and the attendant desert wildflower bonanza—appear as increased precipitation by the preceding July.