It’s all Southern Californians are currently talking about, what with baseball season barely underway and the Lakers far out of the playoff picture in the NBA. It is a natural phenomenon breathtaking to behold, and on such a scale that it can be seen from space. No, not fires, although that’s a good guess, sadly. I am talking about the rare superbloom.
A superbloom is a flood of wildflowers, stretching over the hills as far as the eye can see. Purples, yellows, whites, and of course the oranges of California poppies, the state flower, seem to take over large swaths of normally olive-green to brown land, transforming the desert into a lush oasis for a few magical weeks.
Purple, yellow, and orange as far as the eye can see.
There are two main factors for creating a superbloom. First, seemingly obvious, is a wet winter, something ever rarer in this state of years-long droughts. The more rain, the more underground hibernating seeds get the nourishment they need to send shoots skyward. (A cold winter also locks much of this moisture in the ground.) Second, spring needs warm and sunny days. Both of those qualifications were met this year, and the results are incredible to behold!
The money shot!
In addition to flowers covering the ground, so too do locals and tourists, flocking to see the poppies especially. Nowhere is this more obvious than the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve just outside Lancaster, just north of Los Angeles. The orange of the poppies is visible from miles away, as is the line of cars waiting to get in. A sign at the entrance proclaims an hour wait from that point to the fee station and parking lot – something I was able to avoid by arriving just after 9am.
I mean, wow, right?
The reserve includes eight miles of well-maintained trails traversing the colorful hills, and people will cover all of them. Signage warns visitors to stay on the trails, as trodding over the poppies kills them. It is a fragile ecosystem, and many areas around the state have been forced to shut down due to tourists, instagrammers, and rules-don’t-apply-to-me-ians trampling the beautiful blooms. One couple even landed their helicopter in the middle. (Seriously, people. Don’t be one of these jerks.)
Even the Joshua trees are blooming, something that doesn’t happen every year.
There is also a small visitors center, though unless you have a question for a ranger, it isn’t worth seeing.
Elsewhere in the state, though, the superbloom isn’t looked at with such rose-colored glasses. One of the most common – and objectively lovely – wildflowers in such a bloom is from mustard weed, an invading pest that flowers and spreads so quickly, covering the entire ground around it with its yellow flowers, that it prevents the native plants from being able to grow. Even after killing it, mustard leaves a poison behind that works to make growing harder on other species.
Just as quickly as the bloom comes on, it also fades, leaving behind voluminous dead plant matter, which is just kindling in the dry hot California summer and fall. A superbloom can easily be followed by a torrential fire season, even in an area recently burned.
Sadly, this much new growth can make for a bad fire season.
However one looks at the side-effects, there is no doubt that a superbloom like this is beautiful to behold, and should be around for a couple more weeks. To visit, you’ll want to go early to avoid the parking/traffic nightmares, and go on a weekday if you are able. Pick a day expected to be sunny, since the poppies don’t open up fully without that. (When I was there, they were fully open by about 11am.) Bring a camera, although nothing can truly capture the experience. And please, follow the rules.
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