This Mother's Day don't buy flowers, instead take a trip to the famous California poppy fields. The peak has passed, but the poppies and wildflowers are still blooming in abundance just a short drive from L.A. You will be able to share millions of flowers instead of one short-lived bouquet.
Avenue I stretches out into the distance, the road perfectly straight and flat for as far as the eye can see. To the south the Los Padres National Forest rises up from the Antelope Valley floor and off to the north a lone snow-capped peak marks the beginning of the Sierra and provides a harsh reminder of the dry winter. Today's destination, the Antelope Valley California Poppy State Natural Reserve located 15 miles west of Lancaster, CA in the Mojave Desert. Due to recent rain storms, pictures of the beautiful orange flowers had been popping up on social media and news feeds with promises of a magnificent flower viewing creating the inspiration for this adventure! Even from a distance you know you are on the right track as the hills and valley floor are covered in a bright orange hue. From the flat valley floor gentle slopes of orange arise into rolling hills blanketed with poppies, this is the Antelope Valley California Poppy SNR. Once within the reserve, a quick stop into the Jane S. Pinheiro Interpretive Center will educate you on the history of the area and beautiful photos and paintings identify the wildlife you may see. It is hard to spend too much time inside when the real thing is just outside the doors.
The 8 miles of maintained paths/trails at the reserve are broken up into shorter segments and loops making this a great experience for the whole family. Paved wheelchair access and gentle slopes make this ideal for an outing with the grandparents or small children, while the adventurous can explore on more rugged trails out to the park's Antelope Butte Vista Point. While there are many options for short loops, the flowers and paths are so inviting that deciding to explore just one more section, then another, then another, may have you reaching the end before you know it and have to start heading back. Benches have been placed along the paths to stop and take a break, enjoy the vistas, and relax. The poppies are not the only flower to enjoy, Goldfields, Lacy Phacelia and Pygmy-Leaved Lupine were just a few of the other wildflowers also in bloom. There are no trees or shade so the breeze can be welcome in fighting off the heat, but the gusts will make you thankful for a strap to keep your hat on.
Aside from a few Side-Blotched Lizards and lots of Painted Lady Butterflies, the wildlife seemed to be taking refuge from the heat and the wind. Once back at the parking lot, a nice gentleman was kind enough to point out a giant snake disappearing back into the bushes right next to the bathrooms. Based on the interpretive panels I believe it was a California Kingsnake and despite knowing it was not poisonous, there is always the initial reaction of "Ahhhh snake stay away" and then "Ohhhh I need to get a picture"... the first reaction resulted in the lame picture. Not long after a volunteer could be overheard saying, "I guess the big 'ol snake is coming out and making an appearance" as they watched a crowd gather by the bathroom. Hopefully you will get a better picture of this park resident than I did.
After a few hours of meandering the paths among the endless wildflowers, hundreds of pictures later, and a getting to a state of true relaxation that only nature can provide it was time to head home. Even the snake couldn't shake the happy golden images of the poppies as I headed back to L.A.
NOTE: All pictures were taken by author on April 28, 2014
HELPFUL TIPS TO PLAN YOUR ADVENTURE
BEFORE YOU GO:
- Check the weather and be prepared with sunscreen, extra water and a sun-hat.
- Call the Wildflower Hotline, 666.724.1180, for the latest info.
WHEN TO GO:
- Now, the peak bloom has passed and there are still tons of flowers, but they wont last forever. If you miss them this year, plan on putting this on your adventure list for next Spring.
- Mid-day can get awful hot with no shade. Getting an early start could make the day more enjoyable.
- Weekdays will be less crowded than weekends, but the large parking lot and variety of paths can easily handle the weekend crowds.
HOW TO GET THERE:
- Directions can be found at the State Parks Website.
- Or use 15000 Lancaster Rd, Lancaster, CA 93536 with your mapping program of choice.
- To get that classic picture of you standing among the field of poppies... stop before, or after, you enter the State Reserve at one of the many poppy fields along the road. You will see lots of cars parked and people doing the same. Once on the reserve you must stay on the designated paths at all times. Just tread carefullyand be wary of the rattlesnakes that call the fields home.
- The reserve is in the middle of nowhere and aside from the interpretive center and bathrooms has no other facilities. They do have picnic tables so bring snacks or a picnic lunch if you think you might get hungry.
- Check out the Annual California Poppy Festival held each Spring. This year's festival has passed, but bookmark the website for next year!
- Bring $10 cash for parking.