Spring Moments in Southern California (Walker Canyon)

The highly ephemeral winter moments in Southern California are rivaled by the almost equally ephemeral moments of intensive spring scenes in certain well-known hot spots that provide reliable blooms with the right amount of precipitation.

One such reliable and well-known hot spot is Walker Canyon near Lake Elsinore in Riverside County. Some have dubbed it the Walker Canyon California Poppy Reserve* or Lake Elsinore Poppy Reserve (in the style of the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, a California State Park near Lancaster in Los Angeles County) because of its reliable and astonishing bloom of guess what – California Poppies, of course. :-) The place is also known as Gavilan Hills, for the plateau and peak east of Walker Canyon and it is getting busy right now, with both flowers and people!

California Poppies require sunlight and warmth to open – their flowers close over night. At the same time, their intensive orange in bright sunlight is quite hard to photograph accurately. I went to Walker Canyon when conditions seemed promising – a slight chance of rain overnight meant a low probability for precipitation but enough clouds to hopefully keep the light somewhat smooth and even into the morning. When I arrived it was quite hazy – not ideal, but it allowed me to make more intimate photos with a longer lens, which I personally find preferable over the “in your face” boldness of these flowers and the landscape in bright sunlight.

There’s another reason why I made all of these photos with a longer lens though: Walker Canyon is marred with power lines, and the dirt roads that can be combined for a nice loop hike (Walker Canyon Road, Lake Street, Hilltop Drive) are partially also the maintenance roads that lead to the electrical towers. The power lines span this area in such an unfortunate way that they are hard to avoid in more inclusive photos that would also include the hills with sky and clouds (luckily, photos are quiet at least, and thus hide the constant hum and crackling of electricity emanating from the electrical towers…).

Is this a superbloom? I don’t know. Walker Canyon looks like that when it gets enough rain (it had a similar bloom in 2017, and that’s when the word got out, via social media). California Poppies are almost like a weed – they’ll just keep returning (same for Antelope Valley). Besides the poppies, there is some Chia Sage, a few Bluebells, Wishbone Bush, plenty of invasive mustard and filaree. The Brittlebushes aren’t in bloom yet – I don’t think their bloom will overlap with the poppies. As busy as the place already was today (on a Thursday morning, there were easily 50 cars parked by the time Toni and I were done with our hike), I’m not too eager to check it out again, I must admit.

Anyway, here are a few photos that I quite like – partially sunny, partially hazy, partially overcast. On small-screen devices like phones or tablets, you can just scroll down. On larger screens, you may also click on any image to open it in the slideshow gallery view. For the best effect, I suggest switching your browser to fullscreen mode then. This is usually done by pressing the F11 key (and again, or ESC, to switch back).

These photos were all made from the main trail. It is COMPLETELY unnecessary to get off the trail and walk into the flowers, trampling and destroying them, for a picture.

*) Yelp lists Walker Canyon near Lake Elsinore incorrectly as Walker Canyon Ecological Reserve – this is wrong. Yelp took the name of a Reserve in San Diego County’s high desert, and applied it to a similarly named place in Riverside County…


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2 thoughts on “Spring Moments in Southern California (Walker Canyon)”

  1. On Saturday I was driving home from Las Vegas where I was visiting my daughters/granddaughter and hit Norco/Corona area around 10am where traffic started slowing and eventually crawling. For some reason the Corona area is always slow (regardless of direction and regardless of time) so I didn’t think much of it. But it just kept getting slower and soon I was down to 15-20mph. After 30-40 minutes I started seeing the poppies on the hillsides and figured it was just a bunch of rubbernecking that was slowing traffic. Then, upon entering north Lake Elsinore area I saw a flashing sign for “Poppy Shuttle Next Exit.” Damn. I had been crawling for an hour to get to this! On the east side of 15 the side roads were lined with cars, on the west side a parking lot was overflowing, on the hillsides ant-sized people were everywhere, six abreast on the trails. That could not have been enjoyable for anyone. It was like snow in Julian. Once I passed the ‘attraction’ traffic flowed and it was the north-bound traffic now blocked–all the way to Wildomar.
    Funny, when I come from Vegas I usually make a decision coming down Cajon Pass as to whether to take 15 or 215 when I reach the split. Wrong choice this trip.

    • In the last few days I only looked at Google Maps and the traffic information and it was always deep red in that area. I read an article that they had 50000 visitors this weekend. 50000! It’s completely insane. They shut it all down now as far as I know. It’s probably better for the flowers, and everyone who lives there, too.


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