Photos by Cheryl Landes
Updated March 5, 2020
Thanks to winter’s record rainfall, Mother Nature blessed southern California with one of the largest desert superblooms in recent memory. Starting in mid-March, patches of tiny yellow, orange, purple, and white flowers appeared in these tan, gray landscapes. North of San Diego, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park delighted flower lovers with a beautiful show. And northeast of Los Angeles, a thick carpet of California poppies brightens the Antelope Valley.
Now the poppies are past peak in the Antelope Valley, but the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve reports that you can still see some large patches of color along the western slopes. Beavertail cactus are in bloom in front of the reserve’s visitor center is in bloom, and on Kitanemuk Vista Point, Acton encelia and buckwheat have started blooming.
Eight miles of trails wander through the reserve’s rolling hills with views of the valley and the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance. The area is rich in wildlife—you might see hawks, meadowlarks, lizards, gopher snakes, mice, gophers, scorpions, and kangaroo rats along the trails.
Rattlesnakes are also active during the day, so watch where you step. If you encounter a rattlesnake, give it extra space. They aren’t aggressive unless they feel threatened.
From March 1 through Mother’s Day, stop at the Jane S. Pinheiro Interpretive Center to watch a reserve orientation video, view Pinheiro’s botanical watercolor paintings, and buy souvenirs in the gift shop. Pinheiro, “The Poppy Lady,” was a local self-taught artist whose efforts helped establish the reserve.
If you go, carry extra water and wear sunscreen and a hat. During my trip, the high temperature was in the mid-90s. It’s easy to become dehydrated within minutes in the dry, hot desert heat. I stocked up at Wee Vill Market, seven miles northwest of the reserve at 18348 W Avenue D in Lancaster, and discovered a nice deli with homemade sandwiches, hamburgers, and burritos prepared fresh to order. The deli’s specialty is its pickle fries. I ordered a bacon cheeseburger and regular fries, which were cooked perfectly. By the time I finished eating in the dining area, the cook pulled a batch of homemade sugar cookies from the oven.
Weekdays are the least crowded. If you come on weekends, expect a wait from the turnoff to the reserve to the kiosk, where you pay for parking. During my trip on spring break, I waited for 30 minutes. To avoid a wait and enjoy a longer walk, park on Lancaster Road along the entrance road and enter at the kiosk for free. If you park on Lancaster Road, walk along the road to the kiosk. Anyone entering the reserve through the fenceline or by crossing the open fields will be ticketed.
Inside the reserve, stay on the trails. Dogs, horses, bikes, drones, smoking, and picking flowers are not allowed.
Also check the weather forecast before you go. Poppies open in mid-morning and curl up late afternoon and in cold temperatures. Spring winds in the valley affect the temperature and can be strong.
The reserve is open dawn to dusk daily throughout the year, and parking in the reserve’s lot costs $10 per day.
Public tours are offered weekdays at 11 a.m. when staff are available.
For more information, visit the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve’s website or call (661) 724-1180.
The pictures in this post are from my visit to the Antelope Valley on March 28, when the poppies started blooming. Reserve officials will continue posting wildflower bloom updates through Mother’s Day.