“Poppies.  Poppies.  Poppies will put them to sleep.”

Poppies surrounded me in the undulating hills.  They dotted the landscape to infinity.  They flowed like rivers of orange through the meadows, turned their ruffled heads in the desert breeze.

These were not the famous poppies from the Wizard of Oz, not the opiate-bearing, sleep-inducing flowers that almost foiled Dorothy and her crew near Emerald City.  These were California Poppies near Lancaster, California.

It’s high season in the high desert at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve.  The last two seasons have been plagued by severe drought in Southern California, so there were no poppies in the fields.  But a series of late winter and early spring rains this year turned what would have been a bust into a boom of blooms.

One of the Poppy Reserve volunteers observed that because they didn’t expect to have any flowers this season, they were caught off guard without enough staff.  When those sneaky rains came in to prompt a surprise bloom, tourists flocked to view this remarkable sight.

The California Poppy was named the official state flower of California in 1903.  The native habitat for this vibrant star of the flower world runs from Oregon, to Washington, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and, of course, California.

Once upon a time, great fields of poppies blossomed throughout the state.  It was common to see carpets of solid color ranging from yellow to orange to copper.  Although you can still find poppies all around California, the only place you’ll see large fields of poppies these days is in the western Antelope Valley.

The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, a California State Park, is an 1800 acre reserve committed to protecting native wildflowers, especially the California Poppy.  The reserve does not water or fertilize the wildflowers.  They allow them to grow naturally.  But they do preserve and protect them from being trampled on by humans.  If you want to view the poppies, you must stay on the eight miles of hiking trails that run through the reserve.  Pets are not allowed.  And don’t even think about picking one of them.  Not only will you be in a heap of trouble, you’ll be disappointed, as the blossoms wilt immediately.

But wait, there’s more.  In this Mojave Desert Grassland habitat, you’ll discover other wildflowers, such as Lupine, Fiddlenecks, Goldfields, Owl’s Clover, Cream Cups, and Bigelow Coreopsis.  You might even be lucky enough to see a Black-tailed Jack Rabbit, Antelope, Badger, Red-tailed Hawk, Painted Lady Butterfly or other of the many animal species that live here.  There are also several species of snakes, including rattlesnakes—another good reason to stay on the trails and be vigilant.

Near the trailheads, the Jane S. Pinheiro Interpretive Center provides wildflower and wildlife exhibits and a gallery of Jane’s botanical watercolor paintings.  There’s also a gift shop that benefits the non-profit association that cares for the Poppy Reserve.

For more information to plan your trip and to follow the news about current blooms, visit the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve website.