Carpets of purple sand verbena, orange poppies and dune evening primrose are igniting Southern California deserts this spring and catching fire on social media with the hashtag #superbloom2017.
The same uncharacteristically wet fall and winter that bumped California out of its longtime drought has now coaxed the spectacle that National Geographic defines as an "explosion of wildflowers that exceeds typical spring blooms." And, it may just be getting started.
The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Antelope Valley California Poppy Preserve and especially Anza-Borrego Desert State Park have had stellar luck with their blooms, with some park officials reporting "expanding" blooms and expecting more flowers to crop up in a "rolling bloom" later in the season, according to an interview by Curbed Los Angeles.
And with the bright bursts of wildflowers and cool weather come the hikers, like Catherine Atkinson, a member of USC's student-run outdoor adventure group SC Outfitters.
A recent trip to a poppy field proved one of the most popular outings the group has organized recently. "Everyone was going crazy because they wanted to see the flowers," Atkinson said. A new round of trips released yesterday includes some less-strenuous hikes for people who are "just going to these places where the blooms are occurring."
Currently, Atkinson is sitting on a waitlist for one such trip since the new excursions were full within seconds of when the application opened.
Zach Behrens, senior communications fellow with the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, has also noticed a spike in park attendees recently, and attributes the cramped parking lots to the super bloom.
"Anecdotally, it does seem in some spots that people are going up," Behrens said. "We haven't checked trail counters at our sites, but that said, one of the best spots I've been hearing about and I've personally gone to is at point Mugu State Park, way at the western part of the Santa Monica Mountains. The flower display is amazing – I've both gone on a Sunday morning and a Monday morning, and the parking lot has been full. It's interesting to see that even on a weekday, the parking lot is full there."
With the increase in park visitors, there are warnings to extend to novice hikers and eager photographers, like how to avoid stumbling across poison oak – also blooming alongside the super bloom wildflowers – and picking up ticks.
"In terms of tips, it's usually the basics, really," Behrens said. "Stay on the trail, because if there is poison oak out – which would generally be in the riparian areas – it's not going to be on the trail if you stick to it. If you go off trail, you're risking yourself for poison oak, for ticks that might carry lyme disease."
Behrens also suggested visitors be wary of the small purple flowers that can be found in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
"Some of the pretty purple flowers of the phelicia genus, they can be very vibrant," Behrens said. "But for some people, if you touch them, they can give you an irritation, sometimes similar to poison oak. It depends on your sensitivity to it."
Atkinson said that on SC Outfitter trips, hikers are encouraged to stick to trails and use common sense to avoid irritation and harm.
"It's just educating the people taking the trips, saying 'leaves of three, let them be,' for poison ivy," Atkinson said. "When you're taking a picture, don't walk into the middle of the field. It's normally been not really an issue and I don't doubt there are new protocols for that, especially on these new trips that are in those more bloom-affected areas."
Behrens credits a number of factors with the widespread bloom, and is slow to place precipitation at No. 1.
"It's a combination of timing and rain and the weather and some of other unknown variables," Behrens said. "There were areas last year when we were in drought. Outside the Recreation Area, there were areas that had crazy wildflower blooms – Grass Mountain in Los Padres National Forest, Death Valley National Park. It's sometimes not as easily translated to rain because there's been years past where there's been no rain and wildflowers pop up, or there's been so much rain and then no wildflowers pop up because sometimes when the flowers are at a certain stage, they can actually get drowned out if there's too much rain at that time."
For Behrens, and for the swaths of hikers visiting parks this month, this year's timing was just right.
Reach Staff Reporter Rennie Svirnovskiy here.