Quick, what’s the first thing you think of when you hear the words “Southern California”? Let me guess: the iconic Los Angeles skyline, the Rose Bowl, the Oscar statuette, terrible traffic, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the USC/UCLA rivalry, LAX, smog, Pink’s Hot Dogs, the Hollywood Sign and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy? Well, even if I didn’t guess right, when you hear the words “Southern California,” the first thing that “pops” into your head isn’t the Eschscholzia californica. But maybe it should be, especially during springtime around Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve when the landscape is carpeted in the orange blooms of the native Eschscholzia californica, also known by its less formal moniker, the California poppy.
The California poppy is a particular species of flowering plant native to the Western United States and Mexico, and it has a very close connection to its namesake state. On March 2, 1903, the California poppy was declared the state flower of California by then Governor George Pardee. Many agreed it was the proper choice for The Golden State, perhaps because it represented a floral depiction of the “fields of gold” that many settlers sought in California during the 19th century. During the spring and summer seasons, the California poppy proudly displays its distinct and vibrant color throughout much of the state, but nowhere more so than Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve.
“In the rolling hills just west of Lancaster, you’ll find 1,800 acres of state park land reserved expressly for wildflowers—the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve,” says Chenin Dow of Destination Lancaster. “Each spring, these hillsides turn bright orange as poppies bloom and countless people flock to see them. The poppies aren’t alone. Blue lupine and purple owl’s clover intermingle to create a colorful carpet of wildflowers, which, depending on rainfall and temperatures, may bloom anytime from early March through mid-May.”
In addition to admiring the large amounts of poppies found in the Poppy Reserve, be sure to visit the Jane S. Pinheiro Interpretive Center, which is open during wildflower season and offers a range of exhibits, a gallery of botanical watercolors and a gift shop. During your visit, also take advantage of the eight miles of well-groomed trails in the Poppy Reserve (including a paved section designed for easy wheelchair or stroller access), and be sure to pack your lunch and enjoy it at one of the shaded picnic tables, which offer dramatic vistas of the Antelope Valley and San Gabriel mountains.
A visit to the Poppy Reserve is a must during the spring months, as the poppies come alive during this time, attracting wildflower enthusiasts as well as people of all ages who want to admire the beautiful sight. While April 6th of each year is designated as California Poppy Day, Antelope Valley will celebrate this state flower during the Poppy Festival, which takes place on April 22nd and 23rd, 2017. People of all ages are sure to enjoy the many activities and entertainment available at the festival, including an acrobatic performance, arts and crafts, a car show, a farmers’ market, a healthy living pavilion and the Safety Zone, which provides visitors with information and resources related to public safety, crime prevention and emergency preparedness.
When planning a visit to the Poppy Reserve, set aside some time to explore the surrounding Antelope Valley region, located approximately one hour north of Los Angeles. “With more than 300 days of sunshine each year, five state parks and a unique desertscape that marks one of only a handful of places in the world where Joshua trees thrive, outdoor opportunities such as hiking, rock climbing, bird watching and ATVing abound,” says Dow. Outdoor enthusiasts will certainly find many activities to occupy their days, but those who prefer to watch sports rather than partake in them can catch a soccer or softball game at the Lancaster National Soccer Center and Big 8 Softball Complex, or check out the motorsports at Willow Springs International Raceway and AV Motoplex.
After a long day partaking in the outdoor activities available in the area, visitors should enjoy some of the area’s urban spots, such as the award-winning BLVD in downtown Lancaster. “Patrons can stop by the Lancaster Museum of Art & History (MOAH) to view the latest world-class exhibition, have some fun at the upscale Underground Bowling Lounge, take in a show at the Lancaster Performing Arts Center or catch the latest blockbuster flick or independent film in plush recliner seating at BLVD Cinemas,” says Dow. A stroll along the promenade and a delicious meal at one of the many restaurants in town are the perfect way to end the day. Dow recommends Pour d’ Vino wine bar and bistro, Kinetic Brewing Company, BeX Bar & Grill and the speakeasy-style Zelda’s.
Need more reasons to visit this area? How about the opportunity to check out The Musical Road in Lancaster, the only “musical road” in the U.S. Defined as a road, or part of a road, which causes a tactile vibration when driven over, the grooves placed on Lancaster’s Musical Road are designed to play the “William Tell Overture” when cars drive over them. In addition, the Prime Desert Woodland Preserve is another popular location for visitors to the area. The nature preserve provides more than three miles of trails where visitors can enjoy an easy hike to view native desert flora and fauna. It also regularly hosts special events, including nighttime “Moon Walks” featuring astronomy, bird watching and guided tours. Dow also suggests visiting the Exotic Feline Breeding Compound, or “The Cat House,” which is a zoo and wildlife museum dedicated to the protection and preservation of endangered felines, including leopards, tigers, cougars and more. That’s just a few of the sights to see and things to do in Antelope Valley.
Year-round, a visit to Antelope Valley provides many things to do and see for people of all ages. However, a visit during the spring and summer months affords its visitors the opportunity to admire the abundant wildflowers in the Poppy Reserve, an area that is truly thriving and teeming in beauty for all to enjoy. And who knows, after your visit to this wildflower wonderland, maybe the next time you hear the words “Southern California” you just might think to yourself—Eschscholzia californica.