Parched and thirsty, California gorged on spring rains over and again this year. The showers came in waves that never crested into floods but gently filled aquifers and reservoirs, lakes and damns. The moisture coaxed long dormant buds into blooms across the state. They were nowhere as welcome as in the vast fields of wildflowers that spread from the south and into the northern coastal valleys. The drought has officially ended and in celebration, thousands have taken to the roads marking the flower-filled event with selfies and drone shots. I’m guilty as charged but too drunk on nature’s abundance to care. If you spend long days working inside you’ll know how nourishing getting out into nature can be. Truly, there’s healing power in seeing wildflowers up close and the beauty of a scenic view.
Trail inside the Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve

Trail inside the Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve

Nature is on our side

Oliver Sachs, neurologist and author of many books, researched behavior and how the human brain works. A new collection of his essays is coming out posthumously and one, Everything In Its Place,  goes into the transformative power of nature that he observed in his clients and his life. He found that music and nature had more calming power than drugs. I share his passion for visiting botanical gardens and scuba diving. It’s restorative to grab a friend for a walk or join a dive buddy in waters full of bright corals and tropical fish.
Scenic view of Poppies near Lake Elsinore and not far from San Diego

Poppies near Lake Elsinore and not far from San Diego

A Lifetime of Biophilia and Hortophilia Evidence

Oliver Sachs considered “Biophilia, the love of nature and living things an essential part of the human condition.” He also believed that Hortophilia, the desire to interact with, manage and tend nature, is embedded in our DNA. I’ve experienced it in my life and now have a new label and impetus for enjoying a scenic view and getting close to wildflowers.

  • When my son was a toddler taking a walk around our small Naples island community was medicine for us both. He continuously stopped to look at bugs or flowers.
  • Years later, he came home from school to announce that he was going out to look for spiders. Luckily, he never brought them in but especially loved studying suspended Argiope spiders and as a teen had a Rosey Haired Tarantula as a pet! Funny to think that hairy creature was calming but I witnessed the effect.
  • Over the past few years, I’ve seen my partner come home harried from work and after spending an hour in his garden, emerge revived and relaxed.
  • Every day I spend long hours in front of a monitor. Getting out into nature, fresh air, admiring a scenic view; just moving through and looking at the world is grounding and makes me feel human again.
Cactus flower collage from the Palm Desert area.

Cactus flower collage from the Palm Desert area.

It’s been a banner year for wildflowers in Southern California so there was no question that a short road trip to the Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve and further to the Carrizo Plain National Monument was a great idea. Here are some discoveries from a four-day scenic road trip between San Diego and San Francisco.

Joshua Tree National Park

Our first stop was not the famous Anza Borrego Springs just east of San Diego. I knew the peak had passed after tracking the wild blooms progress from south to north on the website. We drove north and a bit further east to stop in Hemet for the night before crossing into Joshua Tree National Park. The park can get crowded but while campsites were full, there were plenty of places to pull over and trails were open. Flowers adorned many of the Joshua Trees and shorter cacti.
A blooming Joshua Tree stars in a wonderful scenic view

Blooming Joshua Tree

As we drove west to our next destination splashes of color stood out on the hillsides miles away. That was the beginning of the Poppy Reserve! The road is well marked and traffic grew as we drew near. Within three miles of the official site, the sides of the road were decorated with Poppies and other flowers like Goldfields and dots of purple Lacy Phaecilia. Of course, we had to pull over to take it all in.
Drone shot of poppies on the road to the Antelope Valley Preserve

Drone shot of poppies on the road to the Antelope Valley Reserve. Photo: Dave Rudie


A scenic view of the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve

I’ve been asked if the first lady, Ladybird Johnson promoted planting Poppies in California for her beautification programs. She worked in Texas but didn’t plant the Poppies in California. They were first noted in the 1700s and became the State Flower in 1903. Spanish sailors named them La Sabanilla de San Pasqual (The altar-cloth of St. Pascal) after a revered shepherd who tended his flocks far from any church and communed with God by kneeling in fields of wildflowers. I was inspired to kneel too!

We arrived late in the afternoon and the poppies were already starting to close. Another name for the California Poppy is Dormidera, or sleepy one because they close up at night. I’ve picked them in my backyard and even with the lights on, the blossoms start to twist shut before dusk.

Tips for the Reserve

If you go entering the official Reserve costs $10 per car and it covers 1800 acres of the Antelope Buttes about 15 miles west of Lancaster. It has over seven miles of trails including a paved section for wheelchair access. The flower fields are protected with signs warning visitors to stay on the marked trails or risk being fined. On our way out we saw a small, crestfallen group getting a ticket from a Park Ranger.

On overwhelm in the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve a very scenic view.

No flowers were trampled in the taking of this picture!


Carrizo Plain National Monument

After spending the night at a modest hotel in Gorman on Interstate 5 we drove north early to Soda Lake and the “Living Museum” of the Carizzo Plain National Monument. The spring rains left the road pockmarked and miles were unpaved but the rough ride was well worth the effort.  An information enter brochure describes the Plain as an “Internal drainage basin with all surface water draining into Soda Lake.” Approaching from the south, we found rolling hills and fields covered in yellow flowers surrounding a bright white and mostly-dry lake bed. It’s considered one of the sunniest locations in the State, but nights can be cold and winter temperatures often drop below freezing. The starkly beautiful landscape is reportedly full of sensitive wildlife like blunt-nosed leopard lizards, the San Joaquin kit fox, the giant kangaroo rat and the San Joaquin antelope ground squirrel. I only spied giant crows, small birds and admired the swooping circles that hawks made over the fields.
Crows nest or an invasion? Spied near Soda Lake

Crows nest or an invasion? Spied near Soda Lake

Birds eye scenic view of Soda Lake

Birdseye scenic view of Soda Lake. Photo: Dave Rudie

Our trek continued northwest towards Coast Highway 101. The well-paved road made maneuvering along the twisting route easy. Vegetation became greener, perhaps nourished by moist ocean air sweeping into the valleys, and Oak trees dotted the hills. In between Atascadero and Santa Margarita, we came over a pass to an incredible view. Fields of low yellow flowers flanked both sides of the highway. We joined other drivers and parked to admire the scenic view.

Fields of flowers west of Carrizo Plain

Fields of flowers west of Carrizo Plain

From there we faced a long drive north along Highway 101 to San Francisco but we made it in time for dinner. The next morning we were blessed with a sunny glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge. All of it was food for the soul.

The San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Point National Historic Site.

The San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Point National Historic Site.

I know it’s not possible for everyone to get out into rolling hills of flowers but even opening a window can be therapeutic. For more about the benefits of getting out in nature check out this book, suggested by Tripwellgal follower, Alice Louise Karrow. The Green Cure details how going outdoors and spending time in nature, from forest bathing to a walk in the park, may provide a simple and powerful way to improve your health and well-being.  Click on the book cover to find it on Amazon or use this link:The Green Cure: How shinrin-yoku, earthing, going outside, or simply opening a window can heal us

 (Yes, it’s an affiliate link which helps me keep the blog going and will not add to your purchase cost. Thank you in advance.)

Have you enjoyed a scenic view full of wildflowers? I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment and share.

Scenic view on a wildflower road trip in California


The healing power of a scenic view full of wildflowers on a California road trip