Photos by Cheryl Landes
In the spring, about a 90-minute drive northeast of Los Angeles, a thick carpet of California poppies brightens the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve.
Beavertail cactus bloom and Joshua trees bloom in front of the reserve’s visitor center, as well as the Acton encelia and buckwheat at the Kitanemuk Vista Point.
Eight miles of trails wander through the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve’s rolling hills with views of the valley and the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance. The area is rich in wildlife—hawks, meadowlarks, lizards, gopher snakes, mice, gophers, scorpions, and kangaroo rats. Rattlesnakes are also active during the day, but they aren’t aggressive unless they feel threatened. The best advice is to watch where you step and when you see one, give it extra space.
From March 1 through Mother’s Day, the Jane S. Pinheiro Interpretive Center is open at the reserve. Watch a reserve orientation video, view Jane 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.
A tour here requires extra water, sunscreen, and a hat. When I was here in late March 2017, the high temperature was in the mid-90s. It’s easy to become dehydrated within minutes in the dry, hot desert heat.
The Wee Vill Market, seven miles northwest of the reserve at 18348 W Avenue D in Lancaster, is the closest place to stock up on supplies. The store has 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 during bloom season. On weekends, there’s usually a wait from the turnoff to the reserve to the kiosk, where visitors pay for packing. During my trip in early April, 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.
The 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 pictures in today’s tour are from my visit to the Antelope Valley on March 28, when the poppies started blooming. Reserve officials continue posting wildflower bloom updates through Mother’s Day.