Every spring in California, the magic moment happens. We’d heard the legend for years. Fields of neon orange flowers suddenly exploding into full Technicolor glory in every direction as far as the eye can see. Mountains, hills and every surface ablaze with fiery petals. Enough California poppies to make Dorothy forget about heading to Oz. We knew this generally happens in springtime, though we had never experienced it ourselves. With spotty reports from the park service, but a few promising Instagram updates from friends, we decided to set off on our very own poppy hunt to witness Mama Nature’s majestic springtime pageant. We packed a picnic and off we went…visions of poppy fields dancing in our heads.
The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve in Lancaster was our destination, about an hour and half up off the 5 Fwy N. We threw on some good tunes, passed the wild Martian mountains of Vasquez Rocks Park and enjoyed the wind in our hair, the sun on our skin and that thrill of freedom and adventure that always comes from a good road trip—even a mini one. Ready for whatever might greet us, we finally arrived at the poppy reserve to find…amber waves of dried brown twigs as far as the eye can see. Not one poppy in sight. Even the ranger seemed depressed, clearly having had to explain this to many a hopeful visitor before. Not to be discouraged, we decided to try Plan B. We had seen an Instagram post about a poppy field on West Avenue M. We’d try there instead. And off we went in search of whatever we might find, just happy for the adventure.
As we turned a nearby corner to consult Waze on locating Ave M, we drove by a ranch that seemed to have a little Old West town in the center—small wooden shacks part Wild West, part Pee Wee’s Playhouse. Our heads collectively swiveled with curiosity and we turned the car around to see what wonderland we may have happened upon. We pulled into the gates under a sign that read “Happy Acres Ranch” and realized that this wasn’t, in fact, open to the public. At least not yet. Two men working by a horse pen approached and we rolled down our windows to ask about the Western town.
The brothers introduced themselves and explained that some recent family events had put them in charge of the ranch. The tiny Western buildings and the even tinier colorful Pee Wee sheds were something they were building to hopefully turn the ranch into a destination for families passing through. They very graciously offered us a tour and asked if we wanted to meet their horses. Always a yes to any invitation for exploration, we hopped out of the car and had a look around, admiring the brothers’ beautiful craftsmanship. The visit to the stables felt like stepping into a Disney cartoon as we were introduced to the largest and most regal horse any of us had ever seen–Tonka. If there was ever a King of Horses, Tonka would be him. This jaw-droppingly stunning black and white spotted horse the size of three horses had a gentle and sensitive spirit that made us fall in love with him immediately. We fed him fresh carrots and met the other horses while hearing the brothers’ plans for the ranch. We were truly touched by their desire to turn family tragedy into something beautiful to share and bring happiness to others.
Wrapping up our impromptu ranch adventure, the men pointed us in the direction of a poppy-covered hill they had recently seen a little closer by. With street names still tumbling through our heads, we set off in search of this newest destination. Exactly as they said, we rounded a corner along Elizabeth Lake and there she was: a hill full of lush patches of wildflowers ablaze in the late afternoon sun. Brilliant oranges, purples and yellows shone out like they were shouting hello just to us.
Thrilled to have finally found some poppies on our hunt, we gleefully ran the trails, taking in the beauty of these majestic ladies all around us. Spotting an open patch of dirt on the ground, we set up our picnic as the sun turned to hazy gold. Homemade gazpacho and hummus, castelvetrano olives, marcona almonds, fresh farmer’s market figs, honey & goat cheese were spread out on our blanket. As the sun crept its way towards the mountain, we dined amongst the flowers, all bobbing and swaying in the breeze like Alice’s singing garden chorus in Wonderland. A Golden Afternoon, indeed…
With the sun setting, we packed up and took one last traipse through the poppies, filling ourselves up with the sheer child-like glee of being alone in the beautiful Wild. Though even in our glee, we were extremely careful to stay on the dirt footpaths that ran throughout the flowers. After all, the flowers are here to be shared and enjoyed and to LIVE their full lives, not to be trampled on by humans. If you go, please mind your manners and mind the flowers.
Heading back down Elizabeth Lake Road, we were surprised by how beautiful the area was. Huge gorgeous houses and lush green ranches and vineyards brought back echoes of Santa Ynez and Los Olivos. I wondered how I had never been here before, happy to be here now. Nothing went according to plan. Yet everything turned out better than we could have ever imagined. And I was struck by how wonderful life can be when you leave a little room for magic…
(No poppies were injured in the making of these images.)
If you want to visit the Elizabeth Lake poppy hill for your own wildflower picnic, you can find it at the corner of Elizabeth Lake Road & Munz Ranch Road. Please watch where you tread so you leave flowers for others to enjoy. We’ve also heard recent tales of Mount Figueroa in Santa Barbara being completely carpeted in orange poppies—see Instagram photo below. This weekend’s rains should ensure their full wild bloom explosion for the next few weeks. Go on your own poppy hunt & let us know what you find!
(@schroederville posted this image of Figueroa Mountain near Santa Barbara 2 days ago on Instagram!)
Happy hunting!! ~love Sirens & Scoundrels
Additional Photos by Christina Huntington & Alexa Sau
© 2016 Sirens and Scoundrels