Have you ever stood in a field of sweet orange California poppies, with the wide blue sky overhead? Now is your chance! Poppy season is upon us.

California poppies, those bright and simple flowers that happily appear at the first sign of spring, cover the fields and rolling meadows of Antelope Valley at the California Poppy Reserve. The California poppy was declared the state flower in 1903, hence the reason it has become a ubiquitous image in California, like the California Grizzly Bear (but not so much, though, the official California state marine fish, the garibaldi, which is also orange, by the way, as everyone who has visited the Roundhouse Aquarium knows (see Kosher Road Trip, Nov. 2007.)) The poppy is curiously delicate, yet hearty, as you will find if you pick some (which you absolutely cannot do at the reserve), and its brilliant orange sits opposite mesmerizing sky blue on the color wheel. Standing amongst the poppies on a clear day is electric.

The late March day we went to the poppy fields it was breathtaking, and really, really cold. It wasn’t nearly as cold at home as it was in the fields, so consequently, we did not come prepared with winter coats and gloves. A biting wind was blowing, which was truly invigorating, but my first thought was “must—tell—people—to wear—coats—brrr…” I reminded myself that in New England people would be wearing summer clothes in this weather, and we forged ahead, up hills and through dancing fields of wildflowers, orange, purple and yellow, taking pictures and just enjoying the beauty.

I had actually been wanting to see the poppy fields for a few years, but the reserve website kept saying ‘it’s not so great, the poppies are kind of shvach.’ And then finally, last year, the website said it was a good year for poppies, so we went. But guess what? The folks at the reserve are calling this year’s conditions the ‘perfect storm’ for poppies. That means the rain and snow fall has been good and so the poppies should be out in full force; just make sure to check the website or the poppy hotline to find out when the best time of the season will be.

When you see all the flowers and the vast expanse with a horizon so broad you can see the curve of the earth, remember that this is the Mohave desert and that with all of man’s sprinkler system technology, these green fields are dependent upon the rain…“Who fashioned a channel for the torrent, or a path for thunder clouds, that it may rain upon a land without man, and in a wilderness in which there is no person, to sate desolation and wasteland, to make vegetation sprout forth?” (Iyov 38:25)

And yes, they have an “Interpretive Center” with the standard attractions: gift shop—check, taxidermied wildlife—check, old fashioned style informational video—check. We appreciated the center for the opportunity to warm up a bit before braving the cold again. I’m joking; it wasn’t that cold. My daughter strongly recommends earmuffs, though.

So this year is shaping up to be great for poppies, and for all those of you who have considered going to the reserve but thought it would be too big a road trip, take note: it’s an easy drive from the 5 N. to the 14 into Lancaster and takes about an hour and a half. Your GPS or Google maps will tell you to take the 5 to the 138 because it’s shorter, but I’m recommending the 14 because it’s faster and easier, although not as pretty. Also, for people wondering about accessibility at the reserve, they do have a paved pathway around the main loop through the poppies, so I hope everyone really tries to get out there this year to catch a glimpse of these beautiful flowers that bloom for a very brief period of the spring.


The Reserve is located 15 miles west of Lancaster at 15101 Lancaster Road.
Poppy Reserve Wildflower Hotline (661) 724-1180, www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=627

Park is open sunrise to sunset.
Interpretive Center open beginning March 14:
Weekdays 10 AM – 4 PM
Sundays 9 AM – 5 PM

parking: $5 per vehicle