Each region is rated on a scale of 1-5. Obviously, with limited time one can only cover so much of any given area, and all opinions regarding bloom quality are subjective. The ratings are assigned as follows:
- 1 - Bad
- 2 - Could have been better
- 3 - Good
- 4 - Great
- 5 - Outstanding
My fifth trip to the Big Bend region region during bluebonnet season was, once again, a bust. The prediction that there would not be much more than the occasional patch of roadside bluebonnets was correct. Roadside bluebonnets were most plentiful between Redford and Lajitas on the River Road (FM 170), but those that were there were mostly stunted and/or past their peak bloom on March 4th, which is somewhat early. The only other roadside bluebonnets I found in any appreciable size patches were on the east side of the park between Tornillo Creek and Rio Grande Village.
Away from the roads a few single bluebonnet plants were found in some of the desert washes throughout Big Bend National Park, most notably along River Road East near the Gravel Pit turnoff.
Rating: 1 - A little better than 2021, but still a bad year.
After travelling through parts of Gonzales, Guadalupe, and Wilson Counties I am very disappointed to say that my prediction for this region could not have been much more wrong. As of this writing (March 19th) the entire region continues to be very brown and gray as if it were mid-winter, with very little green grass to be found anywhere and only a very small percentage of trees beginning to put on leaves. As I was driving I wondered if it were an issue having to do with the late freeze which occurred earlier this month. But upon finding the few bluebonnets that I did see, I noted that they were near peak bloom, indicating that the issue was not the temperature. The plants were mostly small and underdeveloped, indicating a prolonged lack of rain.
I passed by at least ten fields that had bluebonnets in 2021 and only one of them (a field northwest of Stockdale) had any amount of bluebonnets worth mentioning, however, it was decidedly more sparse than it was last year. I passed through other areas that have been photographed with bluebonnets by others in seasons past, and there was nothing to be found. After such a poor showing in areas that I expected to be much better, I decided to return home without passing through Atascosa County, which I knew had received even less rain than Gonzales, Guadalupe, and Wilson Counties. Later that evening, I read a report from someone on social media confirming what I had suspected, that Atascosa County was also mostly barren of wildflowers. In addition, the poster also echoed my own experience in the counties that I had driven through.
After returning home I immediately went back to look at the rainfall maps to try to understand why I had been so wrong. My only conclusion is that I placed way too much value on the quantity of rain that fell in October 2021 and too little value on the dearth of rain in the following months. Even so, I don't understand how such a large amount of rain in October, from 5 to 8 inches above average in areas, and a mostly average amount of rain in November didn't get more seeds to germinate. I will chalk it up as a learning experience, which is the entire idea of this blog, and remember it for the bluebonnet seasons to come.
Rating: 1 - Only one sparse field of underdeveloped bluebonnets found northwest of Stockdale. The worst bluebonnet season of the last four years
Texas Hill Country
Unfortunately, the Texas Hill Country was no different than the other two areas I visited this year. I travelled through parts of Burnet, Blanco, Gillespie, Llano, and Mason Counties on two consecutive weekends (March 26th and April 2nd) and was unable to locate much of anything. The only field I was able to find was in southeastern Mason County, and it was fairly sparse in comparison to years past. Other than that there were bluebonnets along roadsides that had taken advantage of runoff from the nearby pavement, but they were significantly less in number than in a typical year.
Though my prediction for this region was also wrong in regard to quality of the bloom, it was accurate in that I found more bluebonnets (away from roadsides) in southern Mason County than anywhere else. It was here, though, that one could see the effect of the lack of rain during the rosette development period. Almost every single plant that was seen was very small.
I did not drive the Hill Country as extensively as I have in years past due to the overall condition of everything I saw; even on April 2nd the region appeared to be just barely coming out of winter. Most vegetation was still brown or grey, when it should have been green by this time.
Rating: 1 - One sparse field located in southeastern Mason County. The worst season of the last four years.
I have seen photos from Washington and Austin Counties in the past week showing better displays of bluebonnets than anything I saw this year. Though I have been to that area during bluebonnet season, I generally prefer not to go due to how densely populated the area is. I may go again someday, but with the price of gasoline this year and the amount of driving I've already done, I just don't care to.
Overall the 2022 bluebonnet season is in the top 3 worst seasons of the last decade, the other two being 2013 and 2018, extending the streak of bad consecutive bluebonnet seasons to three. Fortunately, the La Nina conditions in the Pacific Ocean which have plagued the state of Texas with drought for the last two years are currently projected to move to ENSO neutral sometime this summer. Hopefully, that will mean that the 2023 bluebonnet season will be more like what Texans expect it to be.