Easily one of Lancaster’s most notable characteristics is its prolific fields of poppies, which bloom this time every year. The attraction has long been enjoyed, thanks to the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, a State Natural Reserve, with eight miles of trails in the Mojave Desert grassland habitat (see sidebar).
To celebrate this jewel of the Antelope Valley, Lancaster leaders developed an annual event, inviting visitors from neighboring communities to enjoy the blooms as well. For several years, the City of Lancaster co-sponsored the Wildflower Information Center with the Lancaster Woman’s Club. Held at the Lancaster Museum/Art Gallery, visitors could pick up free wildflower maps and learn about the best viewing locations before heading out to the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve.
The California Poppy Festival also began as part of the Earth Day celebration. Since the Golden California Poppy blooms each year around the time of Earth Day, it seemed appropriate for Lancaster to combine the two events into the California Poppy Festival. The first Earth Day was held in the spring of 1970 with an estimated 20 million people participating worldwide. Through the years, the annual Earth Day celebration has grown in popularity; in 1990 an estimated 200 million people in 141 countries participated in different celebrations. The California Poppy Festival carries on the Earth Day tradition of concern and caring for the environment.
The 2012 California Poppy Festival is scheduled for April 21-22, running from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on both days, and takes place rain or shine! Festivities include two days of music, art, food and activities celebrating the state flower of California and the appearance of poppies in the Antelope Valley.
Although the wildflower season generally lasts from as early as mid-February through mid-May, the park is open year-round from sunrise to sunset. Fall is also a pleasant time to visit, as the days are normally warm with milder winds.
Eight miles of trails through the gentle rolling hills, including a paved section for wheelchair access, make the park a wonderful place to hike and explore any season. Benches located along the trails make good places to sit quietly and watch for wildlife, such as singing meadow larks, lizards zipping across the trail, gopher snakes and rattlesnakes. If you’re lucky, you may spot a coyote or bobcat. Numerous burrows around the trails may house mice, gophers, kangaroo rats, beetles, scorpions, or others.
The Jane S. Pinheiro Interpretive Center, offering a short video, wildlife/plant displays and gift shop, is open 9-5 weekends and 10-4 weekdays during the wildflower season. Tours are offered if staff is available. Nearby, shaded picnic tables are available on a first-come, first-served basis year-round, with an interpretive display and a serene view over the valley to the San Gabriel Mountains. The park is open sunrise to sunset. Visit http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=627.