When growing up, there was a saying that said “April showers bring May flowers.” It took me awhile to fully comprehend the saying because I grew up in Seattle, where April showers ended up being May showers or even June showers and we would have beautiful blooms regardless of the time of the year. Whether it be the tulip festival (See A Day of Color: Skagit Valley Tulip Festival) or the wild marigolds along the trail, I was spoiled with an endless sea of colorful flora.
A few years and adventures later, life brought me to California where I truly learned the meaning of the saying above. Especially when exploring the Mojave Desert. For 3/4 of the year, most of the desert is barren, with animals and insects scurrying about to avoid the extreme heat in the summer, or the cold in the winter. You have plants that have adapted like the Joshua Trees, desert grasses and the many different cacti, but the harsh environment doesn’t do much to sustain other plant life. That is until Mother Nature wakes up from her winter slumber and coats the earth in rain. Spring is in the air! Even Punxsutawney Phil comes out of hiding just to see when spring will finally be here.
Something magical happens while all that rain starts to fall. All the seeds that were dried up from the harsh desert sun begin to hydrate and start growing roots. In no time wild flowers cover the hills of the Mojave Desert. Among that sea of color is the California State flower, the California Poppy! In vibrant orange, it coats the Mojave Desert Grassland in style. One of the best places to see this superstar is at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve and the California Poppy Festival.
Every spring the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve comes alive! Lupine, Goldfields, and Cream Cups join the California Poppy in creating a mosaic of color that is never the same! With eight miles of trails throughout the rolling hills of the the park, there is plenty to take in. Along the trails, you will spot many different species of wildlife as well, such as meadow larks, lizards, and snakes. If you’re lucky, you may spot a coyote or a bobcats, even a gopher or kangaroo rat!
The best time to visit the reserve is during the late winter and early spring months. That is when the wild flower blooms are the most intense. While the season tends to last until early May, the duration and intensity varies from year to year, relying heavily on the amount rainfall during those months. The best thing to do before heading to the reserve would be to call the Wildflower Hotline for the latest updates. You can find that number below.
California Poppy Festival
With the poppy reserve on its outskirts, the City of Lancaster co-sponsored the Wild Flower Information Center to cater to the thousands of visitors that flocked to the reserve and the greater Antelope Valley for a glimpse of the brilliant and beautiful poppies. And since the California Poppy blooms each year around the time of Earth Day, it seemed only natural to combine these two events into the California Poppy Festival.
Over the years, the festival grown and now plays host to over 55 acres of activities, hundreds of exhibits and live performances. It’s a great way to celebrate one of places that boasts some of the most abundant crops of the vibrant poppy that California calls it’s State Flower.
Whether you go to the reserve, to the festival, or both, here are some helpful tips when visiting.
1. Call the Wildflower Hotline before going. The blooms vary from year to year, so make sure you call before heading out. While there are many things to see at the reserve and it is open from sunrise to sunset year round, you don’t want to get there and the season be over with. The Wildflower Hotline (661) 724-1180
2. Dress in layers and wear comfortable shoes. With 8 miles of trails at the reserve and 55 acres of activities at the festival, you’re definitely going to get a workout. While it’s normally sunny warm skies, spring weather is unpredictable, so brisk breezes and stormy skies are possible. Sunglasses and sunscreen are a great idea as well. No need to match your skin color to the poppies 😉
3. There is a $10 fee to enter the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. Make sure you bring cash. Ticket prices and dates for the California Poppy Festival can be found here. There are also many other places where you can see the poppies and other wildflowers, many of which are free. The Jane S. Pinheiro Interpretive Center within the poppy reserve offers maps of the surrounding area and they keep a list of flowers spotted in the area. You can also find info on them online here. Directions to the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve can be found below
4. Stay on the trail. The reserve is fragile and walking off the trail will crush plants along the way and compact soil, leaving a bare spot of dirt for years to come. That being said, everything in the reserve is protected. So do NOT pick the flowers. They immediately wilt after being picked and they carry the seeds needed for next year’s wild flowers. They also carry a pretty serious fine if picked.
5. There are no animals allowed on the trails or visitor center, with the exception of service dogs. Since there is no shaded areas and the desert will heat vehicles quickly, dogs cannot be left alone in the vehicle. To be safe, please leave Fido at home.