photography by April Harnish
"We chose Lake Hughes Road over the freeway to see what else SPRING had wrought in our local hills. It was a rewarding detour through the winding canyon."
"Bingo!" shouted Amber as we walked along the sandy trail.
My 9 year old was busy scribbling answers in her Junior Ranger Adventure Guide during our hike through the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve. A sighting of fiddleneck completed her Plants and Animals Bingo in less than a half hour.
That tells you what a remarkable wildflower season we're having. We saw almost every item on her bingo card (Not "snake," thankfully.). But the reason to visit is, of course, to experience the poppies. Thanks to this year's record-breaking rains, they are more abundant than they have been in years.
Pictures on the reserve's Facebook page looked promising, so we headed out early on a recent Saturday morning. That proved to be a smart choice.
We chose Lake Hughes Road over the freeway to see what else spring had wrought in our local hills. It was a rewarding detour through the winding canyon. Water slid along the creek bottom. Blooming trees reached for the bright blue sky. Tractors scooped dirt and rock into waiting dump trucks. The rain left behind more than flowers, and road crews are still busy with spring cleaning.
We arrived at The Rock Inn not long after I heard the first "how much longer?" query from the back seat. It was time for breakfast and we ordered up before our hike. Go with The Hobo and you won't go hungry: home fries mixed with onions, peppers, ham, bacon, sausage and cheese and topped with two eggs.
Fueled for adventure, we continued on our way. A glimpse of orange on a distant green hill confirmed we were headed in the right direction. The poppies grew more numerous the closer we got, blanketing the embankment along Lancaster Road leading to the reserve.
The poppies are popular, and we were greeted with a line of cars waiting to enter. It grew to about 50 before we paid our $10 at the gate, and then doubled in the two hours we spent wandering the trails. Obvious lesson: get there early.
We stopped at the visitor center to learn which of the seven-plus miles of trail would deliver the most orange. Scattered dots of orange along the north loop of the Antelope Trail became a solid carpet as we transitioned to the Antelope Butte Trail, about a mile from the visitor center.
Not surprisingly, this proved to be the most popular part of the park (Besides the portable restrooms at the trailhead.). Couples plopped alongside the trail for selfies while families lined up for this year's Christmas card photo.
Drones are banned in the park, but that doesn't keep aircraft away. More than one single-engine plane skimmed overhead, some multiple times, as pilots and passengers took in a unique view of the rolling green hills, wildflowers and burnished blue skies.
While the poppies are the rightful stars of the show, they are backed by a strong supporting cast. Goldfields, which can grow in masses with 500 to 800 blooms per square foot, accented scattered areas with swaths of yellow. Clumps of fiddleneck also added yellow here and there. Sprinkles of purple came courtesy of the dwarf lupine, which as its name suggests, is a miniature version of the star-leaved springtime classic.
The kids saw the trail heading up the hill and quickly let us know they'd seen enough. We returned to the parking lot, where the lines to get in or go to the bathroom had only grown longer. The wind was also kicking up, adding a gusty unpleasantness to what was an otherwise stellar day of weather.
Clearly, we had come at the right time, and were leaving at the right time. Bingo, indeed!
Eric Harnish lives in Castaic, which is hiding poppies of its own in certain canyons.
Here Comes the Bloom
Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve
The Rock Inn