How to see the California Poppy super bloom
If you're in SoCal like we are, take a break from games this week, go outside, and see this year's super bloom. This guide will show you how.
Spring in Southern California can be fickle. Some years our springs are grand, while other years, spring barely warrants a footnote in the rain charts. This year's spring brought the rains Nature demands to fully liberate her color pallet and reveal her artist's power. Her brush strokes are only this grand every few years, so put down that game, grab your sweetheart, and head for the hills.
(If you don't live in Southern California, not to worry. Keep reading, then call your regional State Park office to find your local wildflowers.)
The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve is nestled in the desert grasslands of the Antelope Buttes, 15 miles west of Lancaster. It boasts over 7 miles of trails winding through 1800 acres of Nature's beauty. Established in 1976, it was founded to protect an area with reliably outstanding displays of native wildflowers, in particular, our state flower, the California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica.
The 2,000 square foot Jane S. Pinheiro Interpretive Center provides educational displays and poppy-related art and items for sale. Also offered are two Junior Ranger programs. One is a Visitor Center Scavenger Hunt where the child earns a Junior Ranger Sticker upon completion. The second program requires the child to fill in the answers on a Junior Ranger Adventure Guide, where upon completion, the child takes an oath, is sworn in as a Junior Ranger, and is awarded a very nice metal badge. The child is then logged into a book and receives a Junior Ranger logbook of their own that they can collect stamps from every park they visit. After visiting so many other parks, they start to collect additional awards.
The California Poppy, our Cup of Gold, is definitely the star of the show. Blankets of orange sweep across the grassland, their delicate petals fluttering in the wind, like millions of butterflies resting in the sun. Look a bit closer and you'll see an assortment of flowers representing the rainbow's spectrum of color: from Red Maids and Red Stem Filarees to the butter-yellows of Goldfields, Acton Daisies, and Cream Cups. From the maroon Owl's Clover to the pale-yellow Desert Parsley. Even the blues and lavenders appear in the Pygmy-Leaved Lupine, Lacy Phacelia, and Blue Dicks. Not to be outdone, the two Joshua Trees by the Interpretive Center are still boasting creamy-white blooms.
All the flowers in the park are nature-made, with no human intervention. No seeding, no reseeding, no supplemental water, no manipulation what-so-ever, so the glory that we see is what Nature intended, and this year is an especially spectacular bloom.
In any healthy ecosystem, there is a balance between the flora and fauna, and here is no exception, However, due to the crowds, the chance of spotting any of the local wildlife is slim. Once the crowds dissipate, the Park hosts quite a variety of critters: rabbits, squirrels, kit foxes, badgers, coyotes, bobcats, and more. If you look up from the flowers, you may spot a Red-tailed Hawk, Burrowing Owl, or any number of song birds, and even a Quail or Roadrunner. There are also a variety of beetles, insects, and butterflies in amongst the flowers, and a selection of lizards that eat the insects.
One notable beetle is the tiny black spec that you may see on your light-colored clothing after visiting the poppies on a still day. These are the main pollinators in the Park, and are completely harmless to people. Just give your cloths a gentle shake before getting back in your car, and leave them behind to pollinate the next generation of flowers.
There's life underground too: mice, gophers and kangaroo rats to name just a few, plus the rattlesnakes and gopher snakes that feed on the rodents. Without the snakes, the rodent population would get out of control and would decimate the flowers and vegetation.
The Park is in close proximity to the Angeles National Forest and works with neighboring agencies to be a linkage in the larger wildlife corridor that allows larger animals free movement across the land. If you are hoping to spot one of the larger mammals, find a bench on the fringe of the park in the early morning or at sunset and sit very quietly. Your efforts may be rewarded.
Go here for the complete list, but here are the highlights.
Don't Doom the Bloom!
As you walk the trails, you will see patches of bare dirt reaching back into the flowers. These are spots where people stepped into the flowers last year, and today, not even our wild grasses are growing. Poppies simply do not grow in compacted soil and will die if their roots are disturbed.
A Poppy Pedestrian Walkway has been installed from the street to give easy access into the Park and to prevent visitors from trampling the delicate flowers and grasses. Once the dirt has been compacted, flowers and native grasses will no longer grow in that patch of soil for years to come.
There is no fee for walk-ins, so don't jump a fence to 'save a buck'. Not only are you likely trespassing on private land, you're Dooming the Bloom (uncool) and trampling through snake territory.
Snakes?! Yes, this is rattlesnake territory, and they don't like to be disturbed or threatened. Snake bites can and do happen and encounters are relatively common. Rattlesnakes are in close proximity, and the rangers do have to relocate them frequently. Yours truly nearly stepped on one that was crossing a trail a few years back. (We jumped back and respectfully gave the snake the right-of-way.) Rattlesnakes will not aggressively attack, but they will defend themselves.
Still tempted to stop at that gorgeous patch of poppies by the roadside, away from the State Park and the peace officers? Funny thing is, the snakes don't care if you're on private land or park land, they bite just the same when they feel threatened. So, don't think you are being clever by sending the kids or your beautiful sweetheart off into a random patch of roadside poppies. As tempting as it may be, people have been bitten by snakes in the poppies.
Don't Doom the Bloom: stick to the trails, stay alert, and enjoy the poppies for years to come. Thank you.
Follow this link for the latest bloom report: Bloom Status Update
If your GPS drops you off at this side-road, then you've stopped too soon.
Continue heading west on Lancaster Road another 1.5 miles to the Park's entrance. (Curious about the 'Art in Residence' sign? See below for an Easter Egg.)
If driving up from Los Angeles, your GPS may give you two alternative routes. Both are good. Pick the one that suites your style and needs:
Best Time of Day for the Poppies:
Best Time of Day for Traffic & Parking tips:
The Trails & ADA Accommodations:
What to Bring:
Poppy Reserve Mojave Desert Interpretive Association
Growing Poppies at Home:
A tip from the Park's Russ Dingman, is to start the poppy seeds in the freezer to crack the outer seed coat. Just place the seeds in water in the freezer long enough for the water to set, then place the ice cube seed packs out in the spring. An ice cube tray works well for this purpose.
Special thanks to Russ Dingman, District Superintendent for the Great Basin District, and Chris Hon, Senior Environmental Scientist, for patiently answering all my questions.
What we found was a wonderfully unexpected surprise.
The Antelope Valley has an active and vibrant art community, and we had stumbled upon an art exhibit by Nathaniel Ancheta and David Martin. The vibrant blue of the artists' antelopes contrasted spectacularly with the golden-orange poppies in the background, the green blanket below and the blue and white sky above. Nature provided the perfect setting for this Art in Residence.
If you are interested in learning more, visit Antelope Valley Art.
We continued down the dirt road, hoping to see more exhibits, but all we saw were many people jumping fences (trespassing), dooming blooms, and playing dice with rattlesnakes. Please don't be those people. The loop we drove took us to a side-road that definitely required a serious four-wheeled drive vehicle, so we turned around and exited the same way we entered. The dirt road is easily passable to the exhibit by a regular sedan, however, take caution if it rains and the road turns to mud.
Transmitted: 4/25/2019 4:35:29 PM