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Field Notes: 2017 wildflower season, and some thoughts

Monday, April 24th, 2017

Super bloom

After what’s been a remarkable precipitation winter here in California, we’re moving into spring. Here in southern California, temperatures are inching upwards, my morning runs are getting earlier (to escape the heat), and the hills around my house are slowly turning from green to brown. Despite the quick fade-to-brown, just a few weeks ago those green hills were home to a remarkable wildflower super bloom; the flowers have since moved north to the Carrizo Plain National Monument, where it will probably fade soon too.

photograph of a photographer kneeling in a field of wildflowers during the 2008 wildflower season

A friend snapped this photo of me in Walker Canyon in 2008 (note my not-quite-bald head for dating accuracy). Poppies for days and not a soul to be seen. Photo: Mark Chappell

I first noticed California poppies starting to dot the hillsides around my home in mid-February. It wasn’t long before the news outlets noticed as well. I managed to get out to some remote patches early on, and planned on visiting some of my other favorite spots once things got better. It turns out that “one of my favorite spots” is the Walker Canyon area near Lake Elsinore. In 2008 (the last ‘superbloom’ year), I visited several times and never once saw another person. This year, I drove by. That’s it. After being featured by multiple news sources, I found hundreds of cars parked off the freeway’s frontage road, and people in every conceivable corner of the poppies. I kept on driving.

photo of poppies and other wildflowers in southern california during the 2017 super bloom

I heard the same scenario was true in other parts of southern California; Anza Borrego Desert State Park was full of bumper to bumper traffic on its peak weekends, and I heard that the Carrizo Plain has been very crowded as well. Other commitments prevented me from getting out more, but I was content to seek out some wonderful patches of Calochortus (Mariposa lily) and apricot globe mallow in the northern Mojave without fighting the crowds.

photo of a mariposa lily in gold butte national monument, nevada

photo of apricot globe mallow in gold butte national monument, nevada

Looking back on the wildflowers–what impact did we have?

The super bloom this year was indeed super. I loved that almost every time I went to the hills I said, “wow, look at those flowers!” It’s no wonder that the news outlets picked up on it because it was indeed hard to miss. Despite not getting out to what used to be my usual spot, I’m not really that upset about it.

A few blog posts ago, I wrote in my code of ethics that “avoiding the cultivation of disorder” is important in landscape photography. This statement has meaning on several levels. First, I was referring to the mayhem of popular photography locations at peak times. When I first wrote that blog post, I was thinking specifically about Horsetail Falls, but this year’s popular wildflower locations certainly fall into the same category. If thoughtful photography or a connection with nature is your goal, I don’t see how it’s possible when trying to work around hundreds of other people.

Second, referring again to the mayhem of hundreds of people visiting a single spot, I have genuine concerns about the impact on the land, and how we contribute to it. Before I sound like a total grouch about people visiting these spots, I should say that I am happy people are getting outside. We truly need more of that. But, the impact should be spread out, not localized. Photographers are partially to blame for this, and the discussion of whether or not to geotag photographs has been had elsewhere. As the information age continues to advance, I feel the need to be more and more vague about certain image locations. This article has made the rounds a few times, and expands on the topic very well.

Finally, by avoiding crowds, you can find new locations you might not have found otherwise. I very much enjoyed scouting locations on long trail runs this spring, then coming back to a few with my camera later on. Also, consider visiting some of the more popular locations in the off season–there are still amazing things to see!

photo of wildflowers and green in hills in Box Springs Mountains Reserve, Riverside County California



Friday, April 30th, 2010

The wind is your friend.

That’s what the spray-painted sign said as I drove along Highway 138 on my way to visit the Antelope Valley this morning.  Inspired by Phil Colla’s lovely poppy photos from last week, I decided to make a trip up there this morning for some much overdue wildflower photography.  I only hoped the sign would be wrong, and the wind would go away for the morning.

The poppies were present, but unfortunately the wind was as well when I arrived at a location near the Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve State Natural Area (near Lancaster).  We had a front pass through earlier in the week, and I think the winds were still with us, making for difficult photography.  Between gusts, I was able to capture a few still flower portraits, but poppies tend to not open up when the wind is blowing like it was today, making them slightly less attractive, in my opinion.

California poppies and Owl's Clover

California Poppies (Eschscholzia californica) with Owl's Clover (Castilleja densiflora) during a break in the wind

California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) blow in the wind

Something more abstract...and appropriate for the day

Despite the tough conditions, it was a fantastic morning to be out of the office, and in the field.  There are still many poppies blooming (some are a bit past peak, some were blown away this week, but many are still working towards peak bloom) if you have a chance to visit the Antelope Valley.  The next week or two should still be very good!

And, just as a reminder, being outside is always better than being at my desk…

A hiker exalts in a field of California poppies (Eschscholzia californica)

Better than work

Inland Southern California wildflower observations

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

The rain that has been falling in southern California for the last few months has done a great job of greening up our hillsides.  Driving from the Inland Empire to Orange County regularly for work has given me a good chance to look for wildflowers, and today my son and I took a drive south to Lake Elsinore.  Here are some observations for these areas.

  • The northern end of the Santa Ana Mountains along the 91 Freeway and through the northern part of the 241 Tollroad are very green, and clusters of poppies are starting to appear on the hillsides, although getting to them will take some work as the hills are steep, and they’re high on the slopes (although they like are accessible via Gypsum Canyon Rd).  From the summit of the 241 Tollroad through Irvine on the 261, lupine are going crazy along the road cuts.  While there are a lot of flowers, photographing them may be challenging, as there is a freeway within about 5 yards of the flower patches.  Nevertheless, there are lots of lupine right now.  If you continue into southern Irvine on the 241, there seems to be less flowers.
  • Driving south on the 15 Freeway through Lake Elsinore, there are very few poppies to speak of.  Off of Lake Street, there is some color starting to appear, but further south off of Railroad Canyon road, there are few, if any, poppies blooming.  I have heard there are a few more poppies off of El Toro Rd. (exit the 15 at Nichols), but still pretty lackluster so far this year.

Our average temperatures have been as much at 10 degrees below normal, and this very well is what could be causing the lackluster showing so far this year.  The temperature is slated to warm up beginning tomorrow, so I would think that if the poppies et al. are going to make an appearance this year, we would see it in the next 2-3 weeks.

California poppies near Lake Elsinore California

California poppies near Lake Elsinore, March 2008