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Seasons in the Desert

Updated on August 20, 2014

The Desert Has Five Seasons

Most people seem to think that the desert doesn't have seasons. Nothing could be further from the truth! In the American southwest, the desert has five seasons. They are autumn, winter, spring, dry summer, and wet summer. The seasons are different here, because we have different plants. But if you know where to go, you can experience these seasons whenever you want (provided it is the right time of the year.)

My experience is with the Sonoran Desert, along with some limited experience of other parts of Arizona.

Seasons can even get mixed up, or so it seems. This looks like a winter tree in a fall grassland. I will explain that one more later.

(Photo credits Pat Goltz)

Drought-Deciduous Plants

I will start with fall colors. There are actually two types of fall colors in the desert. The one I will talk about here is the one that pertains to drought-deciduous plants. There are a number of these, but the one that gets the best fall colors is Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens). You can say they are fall colors because right after they turn color, they fall off. ;)

Ocotillo and similar plants put out leaves when there is rain. When there hasn't been any rain for awhile, their leaves turn yellow and fall off. In this photo, you can see two ocotillo plants with the cactus. The one on the left still has its green leaves. The one on the right is in its fall colors, and it will be bare in a couple of days.

Ocotillo plants are interesting for several reasons. One is that you can cut them, bundle the branches together to make a fence, and sometimes the branches will take root and then you will have a green fence when there has been rain. An ocotillo fence will keep out coyotes. The bark is used medicinally for female troubles. The flowers attract hummingbirds. I like to fill a gallon jar with ocotillo flowers, then add water, and put it in the refrigerator for 18 hours. It makes a delicate punch.

Lockett Meadow

San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff

Lockett Meadow is a relatively obscure beauty spot in the San Francisco Peaks. The San Francisco Peaks are one place where you can readily see the season of winter as well. They have skiing. Here, you are looking at Quaking Aspens (Populus tremuloides) in their fall colors, mixed in with evergreen trees. Quaking Aspens grow in the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson, Arizona, as well.

Outside of Arizona, these trees are found in New Mexico, especially around Santa Fe, that I know about, because I used to visit regularly.

I like autumn in the desert, because that is when the ducks return. I enjoy photographing the ducks. There are photos in my lens on the birds of Arizona.

Here is another view of Lockett Meadow, with my favorite lake, er, pond. You can make a little pond look like a lake if you take the photo right. :)

San Francisco Aspens

From the ski lift

This is on the other side of the San Francisco Peaks from Lockett Meadow. I took the ski lift up to the top and photographed the trees all the way down. The evergreens are pretty much dead, due to extreme drought over several years. The aspens are the yellow blanket down the slope.

One more from the San Francisco Peaks, more Quaking Aspens.

Lone Tree

Near Sonoita, Arizona

This photo was taken on the way to Parker Canyon Lake south of Sonoita. This is in the extreme southern part of Arizona. I don't remember what time of year it was, but I think it was actually dry summer. The tree appears to be dead. This is what the grass looks like when it dries out from lack of rain. I think the picture is appropriate in a discussion of autumn, though.


Winter means snow, doesn't it? Well, sometimes. But since people equate snow with winter, I will post snow pictures from the desert.

These four pictures were taken in the Tucson Mountains, about 400 feet above the city of Tucson, Arizona.

This photo was taken in the early morning, while the atmosphere was still blue.

In the Mountains

Intrepid little plants

Most of the time, if you want to see snow, you go into the higher mountain ranges. This picture was taken along the Mount Lemmon Highway, in the Santa Catalina Mountains, Arizona.

More season photos when I have time.

Natural Beauty, with Emphasis on the Seasons - The music is beautiful, too

These are awesome, and upstage what I have given you here, but that's OK.

Share your thoughts with me

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    • randomthings lm profile image

      randomthings lm 4 years ago

      SOOOO Beautiful. LOVE the single tree photo1

    • profile image

      TanoCalvenoa 4 years ago

      I love this lens and the photos and information. I'm very familiar with the deserts of California and Arizona, and for awhile I lived in California's Mojave Desert. I love the desert - except of course for the summer heat. Everything else about it though is super great.

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 4 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      I live in Las Vegas and there are places outside the city where we can see these things you've shown. It took me a while to appreciate the subtle changes in the landscape, since I moved here from Indiana. My uncle lives in Tucson and loves the Sonoran Desert and tells me about beautiful things in the changing of the seasons there. Thanks for sharing your wonderful photos.

    • Pat Goltz profile image

      Pat Goltz 4 years ago

      @DrBillSmithWriter: You're welcome. I hope you get to come back and visit sometime.

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image

      William Leverne Smith 4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      What fun - this lens brings back so many memories from our years in Arizona: first living in Winslow, then, years later, living many years in Tucson!! Thanks for the memories! ;-)

    • Pat Goltz profile image

      Pat Goltz 5 years ago

      @Alana-r: You're welcome. And thank you.

    • Alana-r profile image

      Alana-r 5 years ago

      Very interesting, i learned a lot, thanks for sharing.

    • Pat Goltz profile image

      Pat Goltz 5 years ago

      @LadyFlashman: Flagstaff is a lovely place, close to so many places of great beauty, but a bit cold in winter for my taste. Perfect in summer, though, I think. I have Creosote bushes all over my property. I know what you are talking about.

    • LadyFlashman profile image

      LadyFlashman 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      I was volunteering doing conservation work in the South-west (based in Flagstaff) and was there during Fall, Winter and Spring, camping in the desert. I fell in love with it and miss it very much! The Quaking Aspen are just beautiful. I am especially fond of Creosote bushes too, because of their smell after rain.

    • Pat Goltz profile image

      Pat Goltz 5 years ago

      @Steph Tietjen: I like that idea, planting an Ocotillo by my house if I didn't have one. The best ones are the ones that get sprinkled more often, by humans. I don't know if it weakens the plants or not, though. Albuquerque would be too cold for me in winter. Spring and autumn are too short for me, too, although this autumn has been wonderfully long. Thank you.

    • Steph Tietjen profile image

      Stephanie Tietjen 5 years ago from Albuquerque, New Mexico

      The desert sure does have seasons. In Albuquerque, the spring and autumn are too short for me--my favorite times of year. I planted an Ocotillo facing south next to the house (after seeing them growing wild in Tucson); it would be happier and larger in the Sonoran desert, but i love it. Great photos and good topic.