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Saturday, March 16, 2013

What to expect when you visit the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

I've been reading about the Antelope Valley in Lancaster for two years. It's the site of the most prolific poppy reserve in the state of California located just east of I-5 as you leave Los Angeles. It's also part of the Mojave Desert. Wow! I'd never been to a desert before.

It's a 4.5 hour drive from San Jose so it inspired us to go looking for a poppy field to photograph last year closer to home. Sadly, it was a bit of a bust with no poppies in bloom when we drove up to Bear Valley Road in Colusa County. But, it turned into a burrowing owl and wildlife excursion which was just as rewarding.

The pictures you'll see of Antelope Valley on their website and Google are a glorious sea of orange.

When we stopped by as we were leaving L.A. on March 3, 2013 it looked like this.

Because the poppy plants were only this big.

You can track their progress on the park's official web page. As of 3/15 their status reads:

"It's been a very dry winter again this year, but after the recent late rains, many poppy plants germinated. At this point they are only the size of golf balls and the reserve is taking on a slight greenish shade (see Current Photos). HOWEVER- their shallow young roots are vulnerable to freezes and heat waves. It looks like we will have a late season, so late April, early May MIGHT be our peak- we won't know until it's happening but that's what happened last year after a similar winter."

But here's a tour of what to expect if you visit. There's a sign at the main gate right along Lancaster Road.

Take the road and you'll reach a fork in the driveway with a Ranger's station in the center and a pay station to the right just after the stop sign.

It's based on the honor system. You self register, place your money in the envelope provided, and drop it into the green drop box. If it's like the one we used at Fremont Peak State Park last year you'll include your license plate number on the envelope so the rangers can check your car in the parking lot later to make sure you paid.

Here's a close up of the sign for 2013's pricing.

Immediately after the pay station were some picnic tables and benches (on your right) just before you hit the parking lot.

And this was the parking lot. When we arrived we were the only ones there. A while later a few more cars showed up.

There are public restrooms.

And more picnic tables and benches beneath shaded covers.

The Jane S. Pinheiro Interpretive Center was closed that day.

And what I'd hoped would be hills awash in orange petals looked like this instead. Don't get me wrong, it was still beautiful and I'm glad we stopped, it just lacked the drama I'd hoped for.

So then I decided if we couldn't see poppies I wanted to see a rattlesnake. We took a hiking trail up the hillside looking for a rattler.

We passed a Joshua Tree. I could see flower buds on the end of the branches. They were huge and looked like giant artichokes.

And the cactus blended into the subtle color palette of the desert.

We set off on a trail just to the left of the Interpretive Center.

We walked and walked looking for rattlesnakes.

The red dot in the photo above is the Interpretive Center. We'd walked much further than we'd anticipated. Still no snakes.

We hiked all the way up to the Tehachapi Mountain Range look out. I thought it was gorgeous but turns out hubby found the monotony rather boring.

So no flowers and no snakes. We did see a lone, fuzzy, red, Velvet Ant and a small black beetle.

There were also quite a few of these little Side Blotched Lizards. 

And we saw a handful of birds. It was terribly windy that day which might account for why we saw so few birds. If you visit bring a hat with a chin strap and/or sunscreen. Any hat not secured to your head will probably blow away.

And we also saw this. Litter. So depressing to be out enjoying the majesty of nature only to find pieces of plastic. . .

And lids to plastic bottles. I picked up both pieces of trash and dropped them in a garbage can as soon as we got down to the bottom of the hill.

I hope there's a great bloom this year though I'm sure I won't make it back down to enjoy it. Maybe next year once I have my tiny trailer I can make a trip down and experience the Antelope Valley in full bloom. If you want to try to make if this year here's where you'll find it:

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve State Natural Reserve - website
15101 Lancaster Road
Lancaster, CA

Hours: Sunrise to Sunset
Park Office Phone: (661) 946-6092

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