Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, California
Numerous places throughout southern California offer the chance to view the California Poppy, but the Antelope Valley is one of the few places where the flowers blanket entire hillsides in an ocean of orange blooms. Now, mind you, this is not a yearly occurrence—each year the bloom is dependent on a variety of factors, and only when those factors combine in just the right way do the poppies put on a spectacular show. Generally speaking, if it is going to be a good bloom year, the display happens in mid-April, but our trip was planned for the end of March, so we could only hope that we would get to see a few blooms. Luckily for us, all of the factors needed for a great display came together in 2003, and it came early!
As we drove towards the reserve, it became quite apparent that we were in for a fantastic hike! The poppies were indeed out in full force—the blooms were so prolific and bright that they literally hurt your eyes! The display began with fields of orange blooms that seemed to flow beside the roadside like a stream, eventually overtaking the banks and spilling out onto the hillside. The star of this roadside show is definitely the orange California Poppy, but a supporting cast of yellow Fiddlenecks, Coreopsis, Goldfields, and Cream Cups, blended with a splash of purple from Lacy Phacelia, Lupine, and Davy Gilia, combine to form the perfect ensemble. Rabbit Brush, Red Maids, and green grasses round out the rainbow of color.
When we arrived at the reserve, we could see that it was a perfect day for a hike through a sea of poppies—the sun was shining, the sky was a deep blue, and the winds were peaceful. The lack of wind is a very important factor when photographing the poppies, not only is it easier to get a good shot when the poppies are not blowing in the breeze, but if the wind is high, the poppies close their petals and you loose the impact of the full bloom. Fortunately, the calm conditions on the day we hiked the reserve were perfect for photography.
The poppy reserve, nestled in the Antelope Buttes near Lancaster, California, is located on the most consistent poppy-bearing land in the state. Eight miles of trails, including a wheelchair accessible paved section, gently wind through the fields of wildflowers. We began our hike just west of the visitor center on the South Loop of the Poppy Trail—a sandy trail that is 0.8 miles long and pretty much level the whole way. The trail affords great views of the San Gabriel Mountains, which were still snow covered at the time of our hike, not to mention views of the Tehachapi Mountains as well. Everywhere you looked wildflowers were out in full bloom, it was so amazing that it just instantly brought a smile to your face. We took our time hiking along the path and photographing the flowers, and then as we neared the end of this short trail, we picked up the North Loop to add an additional 1.2 miles to our hike. Once again, the views were superb—so beautiful that it actually brought tears to my eyes. To end our hike, we ventured up the Lightning Bolt Trail for another 0.6 miles of spectacular scenery. We spent the entire day just walking around and taking in the landscape of mosaic colors and spring fragrances—astonished by our unexpected luck. As mentioned before, true to the unpredictability of mother nature, the intensity and duration of the wildflower bloom varies from year to year—but the gods were smiling on us in March of 2003.