Tis Poppy Time!

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area & Antelope Valley
California Poppy Reserve, March 3-4, 2015
Notice the snow-covered peaks in the distance
Here are the rest of my photos!  

And here’s a good article about the cinematic history of the
Santa Monica Mountains – I think it’s interesting that the
scenery was so diverse that it passed off for Wales, Colorado,
Korea, South America, basically whatever Hollywood needed.


Poppy Reserve in 2006
Poppy Reserve in 2008
Poppy Reserve in 2014

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Poppy Reserve from afar - the orange are
poppies, yellow goldfields, and purple is phacelia
I believe that's a Horned Lark on the sign
Last week my son and I went westward, which we rarely do. Going that way is
going towards the metropolis of LA and, in general on my days off I like to get
away from people. But this time we had a good reason to do so. Fortunately it’s
not all people, right in the middle is a large blank spot on the map called the
Santa Monica Mountain National Recreation Area. This “hidden in plain site”
National Park area is wonderful to visit any time, but in the spring time the hills
are lush and green and the wildflowers bloom. And this year it was being
reported was a banner year for flowers. Thus it was westward ho for us!

Monday was a rainy day, so we stopped at an indoor bounce house/play area and
waited for showers to subside. Then in the evening we made our way to Steckel
County Park. It’s a nice little park and I could avoid most of the traffic areas to
get there. I’d stayed here twice before and remembered the bird aviary which
I knew my son would like. He loved in particular talking to the parrots :)

On Tuesday then made our way south to the Santa Monica Mountains. I’d read
online that there was a good showing of flowers along the Pentachaeta Trail and
that’s where we went first. At first it didn’t look like much was blooming, but it
was a pretty trail with large oak trees so we hiked on. Then we started seeing a
few flowers – wild hyacinth and Indian warrior were the first two we saw. At
the top of the ridge the chaparral gave way to a plateau grassland and there
were vast fields of owls clover and goldfields. We also saw larkspur, shooting
stars, and fiddleneck. I don’t think we saw any pentachaeta, though, which is a
daisy-like endangered flower for which the trail is named.

On the ridge I asked a couple of fellow hikers if the trail looped around – I’d
seen one map that showed a loop, one that didn’t. They said it did, so we took the
most worn trail. Well, it petered out pretty quick. I took another trail that led to
a rocky viewpoint, but then it disappeared in thick chaparral. I took a lower trail
that also disappeared. Well, it looked like I could descend easy enough back to
the start of the trail, so cross-country we went. We had to do a little bit of
bushwacking and make our way around a series of sandstone pour-offs, but our
reward was a field of golden poppies that was not visible to anyone hiking the
trail. We sat there a while and rested, then made our way back down to the trail
where we started.

Then we drove to Paramount Ranch, another place I heard was having a nice
bloom. Plus it’s a cool place to explore, being the set for many a movie and TV
show. “Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman” was one of my favorite shows when I was in
high school, and it was filmed here. Of course the first thing my son said was,
“Does Sheriff Callie live here?” and so of course I said yes and he was excited!
We ate a picnic lunch, had fun exploring the old west set, then made our way
towards a hill covered in poppies that we could see from there. Wow, it was
beautiful! And so striking against the emerald green hills. There are also many
beautiful big oak trees here and a carpet of goldfields near the ranger station.

After Paramount Ranch we drove to Malibu Creek State Park. This is where the
TV show MASH was filmed – many will recognize the surrounding mountains and
cliffs from the show. You can actually hike to the site where there are still a
couple of vehicles from the show. And not just MASH, a whole slew of other
movies and shows were filmed here. My son took a nap while I examined maps
and trail guides. When he woke up we walked down to the creek and threw rocks
in the water. Then we secured ourselves a campsite and were treated to a trio
of deer who visited us while we ate dinner. They came back in the morning with
three more friends.

Wednesday morning we made our way to Virgenes Canyon, since we hadn’t seen
many flowers at Malibu Creek. Well, we came up empty at Virgenes as well, but
again it’s a pretty place even without them, green rolling hills dotted with huge
oak trees. Then we made our way northeast to the Antelope Valley California
Poppy Reserve, and definitely did not strike out there. The east end of the
preserve in particular is in full bloom right now with not just poppies but also
phacelia, goldfields, fiddleneck, owls clover, and popcorn flower. It’s a busy
place on spring weekends, but we only passed one person on the trail