Sunday, March 9, 2014

Photo Essay: An Explosion of Wildflowers in the Antelope Valley

In my three years since moving to Southern California, I keep hearing about wildflower explosions, but I hadn't really seen much. I'd traveled to Anza-Borrego specifically to witness the flowery blanket I'd read about, and was disappointed. There haven't been any poppies at the Preserve to speak of. Tejon Ranch blossomed last year, but the buds disappeared nearly as quickly as they sprouted.

Knowing how capricious the seasons can be - one year too wet, the next two years too dry, then a sudden downpour - you can never totally discount wildflower season this early in the game. Until it gets too hot, there's always a chance that the hillsides color palette will be something other than brown.

Case in point: on Friday, a photo of Saddleback Butte State Park was posted online, showing a yellow blanket of wildflowers. Now, sometimes when that happens, a keen photographer will get just the right shot to make it look like the flowers stretch for miles, when in reality, it's just a small patch.
Having no other plans on Saturday, I set out on the drive north to the Antelope Valley to see for myself.

For my first visit ever to Saddleback Butte,  I was not disappointed.



Formerly known as Joshua Tree State Park because of its dense population of Joshua trees - a tree that only grows in the Mojave Desert - Saddleback Butte starts off modestly at the ranger station / visitor center by the Day Use Area.



There's an little nature trail that winds around a flat basin, partially paved for a wheelchair or a stroller or just anybody looking for an easy walk.



The wildflowers here are few and far between.



Pretty, but isolated, and delicate.



Setting off on the Little Butte Trail...



...I started to see the first signs of yellow - real yellow, not just individual fledglings.



What appeared from the distance to be a yellowish green grass was actually a densifying population of at least three different varieties of yellow wildflowers, the fiddlenecks in particular with their tall, green, curved stems.



And then it became tremendous.



I'm not going to show you one photo. I'm going to show dozens of areas completely covered in a springtime spectacular of yellow...



...in stark contrast to the green and brown of the Joshua trees rising above...



...and the deep blue sky.











The yellow was interrupted by an occasional white...





...and one outcropping of pink...



...and even a small patch of sumac...



...but, except for the clearing in the sandy trail, you just could not get away from the yellow blanket...





...all the way up to the Little Butte itself.



Taking a moment to glance behind me back at the Little Butte Trail...



...I then summited the butte...



...looking down at the verdure...



...before proceeding towards the Saddleback Trail.



I could've gone all the way to Saddleback Peak, which wouldn't have added that much distance to my hike, but I was in a rush, and daunted by the drastic elevation change (on rocky terrain) in just two miles.



Instead, I decided to skip it and stay amongst the Joshua trees, making a loop back to the Day Use Area where I'd parked.



This stretch of the trail was really incredible: less traveled, the lack of constant foot traffic allowed the path to shrink and the flowers to creep.



With snow-capped mountains in the distance...



...and more buttes not so far away...



...you could see an even starker contrast here between winter and spring...



...where, in certain areas, spring was most definitely taking over.









The Saddleback Trail continued to get sandier and even less traveled, the windblown sand appearing rippled, like drifting dunes.



I was reticent to disturb it, but I had to make my way back to my car through the campground, by which point the flowers had pretty much disappeared.

Many times during my hike, I found myself smiling widely, a smile that normally overtakes my face only when I'm biking. It's amazing what an injection of spring can do.

Typically, flowers like this may not peak until mid-March, but I can't imagine the wildflower blanket at Saddleback Butte State Park intensifying much more beyond this weekend.

I'm glad I could get there as soon as I did.

It would have been a shame to miss it.

Related Post:
Photo Essay: The Wildflower Blanket at Tejon Ranch