Little rain results in a lack of color along Castner Range

Where Are The Poppies?

EL PASO, Texas - In years past, Castner Range has been known for a gold glow during Spring.

That is the time when people visit the Museum of Archaeology to get a closer look at the Mexican gold poppies in full bloom.

This year, the poppies had a weak show. Only a small amount of flowers bloomed around the northeast.

"I've got some people here from Montana and I was hoping it would be a little greener, but we'll deal with it," former El Pasoan Gary Mitchler said. "Yeah, I am disappointed because it's one of the aspects of El Paso that's pretty unique to this area. I've never seen it anywhere else."

Mitchler grew up in El Paso, and recalls the poppy spectacle  "It completely changes. It's like you're in the land of Oz almost. Sometimes you look up in the mountains and it's just beautiful."

At the museum, Curator of Education Marilyn Guida remembers brighter years as well. She began working at the museum in 2008, and said her best memory came from last year.

"It would be everywhere. The whole surface of the ground would be covered with poppies," she said.

While the poppies are not nearly as visible as in past years, Guida said they are still around.

"They are here, but there's not very many. They are few and far between, and they're pretty tiny. So, you don't get that effect of a carpet of yellow gold," Guida said.

According to the National Weather Service El Paso, poppies are highly dependent upon water. Specifically, late fall and winter precipitation decides the total number of poppies in bloom.

"The timing of the rainfall. It's best to have it in December and January and last year was a wonderful display even though basically it was a dry winter," said John Fausett, Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the National Weather Service. "The rain came at just the right time last year, not so this year."

Over the last six months, data from the National Weather Service indicates five have seen below average rainfall totals. The worst month was this March, at over 0.8 inches below average. The only month with above average precipitation recorded was January, when a snowstorm hit the region. January saw 0.24 inches of water above the normal.

Just last weekend, the poppy festival was held.  Guida said the number of poppies directly affects the number of attendees. 

This year, she estimates nearly 2,000 people were in attendance. In 2010, which was considered a good bloom year, roughly 3,500 attendees were estimated.

"I think we all know there's variations throughout the years and this is going to be the way it is," Guida said. "What's important to the poppy festival, to the people who put it on, is to emphasize the natural environment of El Paso."

While no one can forecast the poppy growth for next year, El Pasoans and visitors like Mitchler just hope for more rain and snow next fall and winter. 

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