Poppy Apocalypse in Lake Elsinore
After years of drought, this year’s rains have California in a wildflower season of epic proportions. The current epicenter of this bloom is the small town of Lake Elsinore that was evacuated in August for wildfires and again in February for flood. This year’s high rainfall and the natural fertilizer caused by the wildfires are causing a “Super Bloom” that is visible from space. Super blooms only happen once a decade on average in California.
The word has been spreading since the beginning of March of this flower-covered mountain clearly visible from the I-15 freeway. In the distance we could barely make out people winding in a solid line all the way up the mountain through the poppies like a gargantuan snake. Cars are parked bumper to bumper as far as the eye can see on the normally deserted two-lane frontage road.
The mayor of Lake Elsinore, Steve Manos, is being interviewed on the radio, “We have survived fires and floods, but it looks like the flowers are going to do us in!” Manos continues that the city has never had this many visitors. Visitors were estimated at over 100,000 during the St. Patrick’s Day weekend. The mayor also refers to it more positively as a “Poppypalooza”. Lake Elsinore has been caught totally unprepared for this instant fame fanned greatly by posts on Instagram and other social media outlets. The crowds have overwhelmed city services and led to the closing of the Lake Elsinore freeway exits on St. Patrick’s Day. For this reason, it has come to be known as the “Poppy Apocalypse”.
We have come early on a Tuesday to avoid the weekend crowd. Still, the closest freeway is completely congested. There are crowds everywhere you look, but finding a parking place is ultimately not that hard. It is a quarter mile or so walk to the trailhead, and there are people taking pictures all along the way. Maybe this situation is just overwhelming to the residents of Lake Elsinore because they are not use to large crowds that most Southern Californians deal with everyday.
The poppies alone are beautiful, but in some places there is a profusion of different colored wildflowers mixed in including yellow, white, and purple. Once on the trail, people are spread out. The experience is a friendly one. It is unbelievably scenic in every direction, and as avid photographers it leaves us a little overwhelmed as to where to start taking photos.
Walking among the poppies crushes their roots and kills plants. Really, we don’t find it necessary to leave the dirt path, especially since this is rattlesnake territory. If you shoot straight down on wildflowers, the blooms are spread out. By shooting from the side, the flowers stack and intensify the color. The path causes a break in the flowers allowing us to easily shoot them from the side by bending down.
This Super Bloom will persist throughout the spring. Although the lower deserts like Anza Borrego are already nearing the end of their bloom, the higher and cooler areas of California are only beginning to come into their own.
I found this not to be a “Poppy Apocalypse” but rather an extraordinary wonder of nature. Everyone should take the time to experience it this year.