REGION — Since the end of February, thousands of people have been flocking eastward or northward to see the wide array of vibrant colors — oranges, yellows, purples and greens, just to name a few — lining the hills near Lake Elsinore and the desert floor of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
But where is all the color in the usually beige and brown hills and desert floors coming from? Flowers — lots and lots of flowers as well as other excellently hydrated shrubbery.
It was unlikely that a second super bloom, supposedly a once-in-a-decade kind of event, would happen just two years after the previous one. But it did, and I’m ever so grateful that it happened in my first year living in California.
Having come from southeast Ohio, where everything is alive and lush green in the summer and dead with muted tones in the winter, I was surprised to see that essentially flipped in Southern California, even more so this year with how much wetter it seemed to be than in recent years.
The vibrant colors have certainly helped me to get over some lingering homesickness I’ve had. Not only that, this year I got to witness a rare, natural phenomenon that I had yearned to see with my own eyes two years ago when California’s previous super bloom occurred.
I remember watching videos on Facebook about the super bloom in 2017 and thinking how wonderful it would have been to see such a rare, beautiful occasion in person. I never would have dreamed that I would get to see the next one in person so soon.
I’m not exaggerating when I say the desert intimidates me. A lot. Its destitute, open space, as well as its lifeless color and the dangers that lurk within the desert have culminated in me experiencing this pervasive, uneasy feeling whenever I’m there. It’s a feeling I’m trying to conquer because the desert can be considered beautiful in its own right, even without the temporary splash of color it’s currently wearing.
That being said, the flowers definitely helped me to overcome the uneasiness I experience when stepping into the desert.
It was an early Thursday afternoon at the beginning of March when we arrived in Borrego Springs. Traffic wasn’t too bad, but the Anza-Borrego visitor’s center was packed with people. We stopped in to grab a map and directions to where the best places to see flowers were, and headed out.
Borrego Springs is this tiny little town that reminds me of the small villages back home (yes, Ohio has villages) if you put them smack dab in the desert. I could tell the town was busier than normal, but it didn’t seem inundated like the horror stories I heard about the last super bloom. The town was a little more prepared this time around, and as far as I could tell it was working out for them.
The first place we went to see wildflowers was in Coyote Canyon, which is the most popular flower area according to the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association. It was pretty busy out there, but the fact that it was the middle of a weekday when we went probably made it a lot easier to access.
The flat, desert floor was carpeted with purples and yellows while the beige hills and the bright, blue sky filled the horizon. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
We then took a trip to the Texas Dip only to scramble along a hillside with loose soil next to the road. On the other side of that hill was a sea of yellow poppies.
That was all we got to see on that particular trip to the desert. I’ve heard there are even more flowers blooming now then when we went, so there’s a chance I’ll take another hour and a half drive back out there to see the flowers one last time.
On the following Thursday my friend and I drove up Interstate Highway 15 to check out a different view of the super bloom. Somewhere between Escondido and Temecula, splotches of orange, yellow and purple began to dot the hills and mountains along the highway.
My breath caught when I saw the peaks of a faraway hill that looked entirely orange.
We didn’t fully research where to go as we drove up to Lake Elsinore, so we drove in the direction of the wildflowers until we settled on going to Walker Canyon.
Remember how I said Borrego Springs was manageable? Walker Canyon was the exact opposite. All of the sudden we were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
At one point I happened to look to my left and watched as a sedan rammed into the back of another a few lanes over. I started to wonder if the flowers were worth it, but we were stuck in that direction so we had to keep going.
The exit off the 15 into Walker Canyon was overflowing with cars. We managed to squeeze into the long line and waited for a good 20 minutes if not longer before we actually got off of the exit.
Walker Canyon Road was lined with parked cars along its edges, but we managed to find decent parking spot in good time.
People were everywhere. Some were wearing hiking clothes, but more people were wearing stylish outfits unfit for the hike. I watched people slip and fall walking down the trail, and then I happened to be one of them. (Twice, as a matter of fact.)
No one was seriously hurt when I was there, although my left knee and right thigh still have some scratches.
Apparently the weekend after we went to Lake Elsinore was much worse, and the city tried to shut down Walker Canyon to the public. According Mayor Steve Manos, Walker Canyon was reopened because the city doesn’t have the resources to keep it closed, and the closure was causing issues elsewhere.
“Lake Elsinore, we truly understand how difficult this natural phenomenon has been on our residents,” states a post on the city’s Facebook page. “This is something unlike anything we have ever experienced in our City and may never again. It demonstrates the #ExtremeBeauty that we have right here in our City, which is one of many reasons so many have chosen Lake Elsinore as their home.”
I felt bad contributing to the overcrowding problem. I recommend anyone who wants to see the poppies try going on a weekday rather than a weekend, and try to minimize how long you spend walking through the canyon if you go.
Despite the crowds, traffic and scratches, the poppy-covered hills were breathtaking to walk through.
If you go to either Borrego Springs, Lake Elsinore or anywhere else experiencing the super bloom, just remember to be patient with others if you go — don’t expect good parking, come prepared with proper footwear and water, and don’t let the poppies distract you from keeping your eyes on the road.
Most importantly, be courteous to the people who actually live there. It’s their home, after all.
Samantha Nelson covers Oceanside, Camp Pendleton and the decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. She earned her journalism degree from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, and has previously reported for The Athens Messenger in Athens, Ohio, and USA Today in McLean, Virginia. Follow her on Twitter: @samm1son