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Everything you need to know before heading to the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve

Everything you need to know before heading to the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve
Photograph: Anita Ritenour/Flickr

Eschscholzia californica is as essentially Californian as Disneyland, In-N-Out and Huell Howser. Never heard of it? You probably know it better as the California poppy. When we’ve been bestowed with plenty of wintertime rain, our beloved state flower dots the region in bright golden blossoms. We Angelenos are particularly lucky to live less than two hours away from the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve—a more than 1,700-acre park of poppy-blanketed hills.

The Poppy Reserve isn’t the only place to see wildflowers, but it’s definitely the dreamiest. The visitor center (parking lot at roughly 15101 Lancaster Rd) is already open for the season, and we’re right on the verge of a peak bloom that’s expected to last into April; that’s not a lot of time to organize a trip to the Mojave Desert. But before you hit the freeway, make sure you keep these things in mind.

Follow the bloom status.

The California State Parks website—and an old fashioned phone hotline, 661-724-1180—continually updates the bloom status throughout wildflower season, noting the flowering flora along each trail. The website also posts photo updates, but if you need up-to-the-minute visual confirmation, try a quick Instagram search; we’ve found a steady stream under #antelopevalley and #poppyreserve, as well as a combination of the two. If you’re on the hunt for flowers outside of the reserve, the Theodore Payne Foundation keeps a log of bloom statuses across SoCal on its phone hotline-turned-website.

Check the weather, for your sake and the poppies.

Like Angelenos, poppies are meteorologically temperamental. They close up at night as well as on cold, windy days. About that wind: Expect it to be significantly stronger at the reserve than the surrounding areas. Lucky for you, the state posts the wind speeds in Antelope Valley on the hour. Also, the Mojave has the potential to have drastically different and unpredictable weather compared to L.A., so you’ll probably want to bring a sweatshirt along.

Explore the desert.

We don’t know about you, but a trip to the High Desert isn’t exactly a regular occasion for us (Low Desert, though? See you at Coachella.). Admission to the reserve is priced per vehicle ($10) and is valid at any other state parks for the rest of the day. Take a side trip to the Joshua tree-filled Arthur B. Ripley Desert Woodland State Park, or, if you’re willing to trek a little farther, Saddleback Butte State Park and Red Rock Canyon State Park. On the ride back into L.A., consider a stop at sci-fi favorite Vasquez Rocks.

Stay on the trail and don’t pick the flowers—or the snakes will eat you.

Apparently there’s some confusion about whether or not the poppy police will swarm upon you for picking one. Turns out picking any flower on state land is illegal. Plucking one of California’s precious poppy blossoms? We suppose that’s illegal and appallingly selfish. The same goes for trampling the flowers. You don’t want to stray off of the trail anyway: that’s Mojave green rattlesnake territory. They probably won’t eat you. Probably.

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