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Wildflower walks.

California's spring wildflowers are a treasure of the moment. Here are 20 great places where you can walk amid the blooms

"Take time to smell the flowers along the way." This classic-even corny-admonition addresses itself to those driven souls too obsessed with distant goals to appreciate the simple pleasures of the moment. Well, we've interpreted the advice literally. California's wonderful spring wildflowers are a treasure of the moment, and free for the asking-if you know where to look. And they're even more rewarding if you take time to walk amid the bloom.

We asked botanists, park rangers, and members of the California Native Plant Society all over the state to nominate their favorite spring wildflower hikes. With their help, we've developed a list of the 20 best publicly accessible trails ftom which to see wildflowers from late February through May We've hiked every trail, some many times. We can promise that each walk (except Jepson Prairie, more strictly botanic in its appeal) offers a beautiful spring excursion, whether or not the flowers are in bloom. Only once or twice did we put our editorial thumb on the scale: we felt the wheelchair-accessible Independence Trail along the South Fork of the Yuba River deserved more votes than it actually got, so included it anyway.

In spite of careful research, wildflowers have their vagaries-part of their teasing charm, some say At our press time in mid-January, rainfall seemed adequate to promote good bloom, but we suggest you call the telephone number given with each listing for current advice on the state of the display.

Southern Californians can also take advantage of the Theodore Payne Foundation's 24-hour hotline, (818) 768-3533, from March through May. It offers weekly updates on wildflowers in Antelope Valley, Santa Monica Mountains, Angeles National Forest, Joshua Tree National Monument, and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

In general, you'll find coastal flowers most dependable and longest-lasting and desert flowers most fragile, with the earliest, shortest, and least predictable season. Try for an early start. In the morning, trails are less crowded and trailhead parking is easier. Flowers look their best when they're dewy and side-lit; you'll also hear more birdsong, and if it's a hot day, you'll have cooler hours for walking.

For advice on field guides, native display gardens, seed sources (you must not pick or dig in the wild!), and for more on the California Native Plant Society's activities, see page 82.

Note that we give botanic names only when common names are confusing.

Chico's Bidwell: swimming holes or a long ridge walk

Yahi Trail, upper Bidwell Park, Butte County; (916) 891-4671. April.

Chico's 2,400-acre Bidwell Park is a superb place for a spring walk. The Yahi Trail takes you up clean-running Big Chico Creek, which tumbles along a black basalt bed that dams itself here and there, forming a series of irresistible swimming holes (attracting bathers with and without swimsuits). For a longer walk (about 9 miles round trip), the North Rim Trail is also flowery, and more open.

Aside from the pools, Yahi's attractions include a remarkable number of brodiaea species-plus lupines, clarkias, foothill and ftying-pan poppies, Chinese houses, bird's-eye gilia, shooting stars, delphinium, lomatium, and tarweed, as well as buttercup, monkey flower, and linanthus species. Western redbud, with its clouds of magenta bloom, is common along brushy slopes and near the creek.

In northeastern Chico, Wildwood Avenue leads into Upper Park Road; follow this northeast to Day Camp (parking area H). Yahi Trail picks up here, running parallel to the road and just north of the creek for about 2-1/2 gradually uphill miles to Brown's Hole (area S).

Coastal flowers, and maybe some northbound whales

Chimney Rock, Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County; (415) 6638522. Late March, April.

Southeast of the Point Reyes Lighthouse off the end of Sir Francis Drake Highway stands Chimney Rock, a noble bluff fronting the ocean with a wind-tossed mane of wildflowers. This walk isn't long only about 3/4 mile each way-but it is spectacular, with staggering sea views in every direction (and in April you can sometimes spot female gray whales in the protected waters of Drakes Bay, frolicking northward with their new calves).

Variety and reliability characterize the spring display here. In late March, you'll see goldfields, mule ears, checker-bloom, sanicle, violets, and Douglas iris, among other species, followed through April and into early May by lupines, angelica, poppies, baby blue-eyes, owl's clover, rockcress, sun cups, tidy tips, and seathrift. Our favorite, observed in early April last year, was pussy ears (Calochortus tolmiei), a beige cup enclosing subtle purplish markings and fine hair-like tufts, An unusual dark fritillary, F. lanceolata tristula, grows here and near the lighthouse.

Hike down the mountain, and bus (or hike) back up

Matt Davis Trait Mount Tamalpais State Park, Marin County; (415) 3882070. Late February through mid-April. From the Pantoll Campground parking lot on Mount Tam's Panoramic Highway, Matt Davis Trail takes you 3-1/2 miles downhill to the town of Stinson Beach. To return, you can hike up Steep Ravine Trail (near the end of Matt Davis, head southeast on a level part of Dipsea Trail, then follow Steep Ravine uphill) or take a short walk through town to the beach parking lot and catch a bus (75 cents; departing at 3:10, 4:10, and 5:10 weekend afternoons) back to Pantoll.

As you walk, swinging down rhythmic switchbacks from mountaintop to sea level, you traverse high slopes of juniper and scrub (look for lomatium and sanicle), then pass through several distinct woodland communities.

In the deep shade beneath stands of Douglas fir, you see forest plants such as calypso orchid, coralroot, fetid adder'stongue, and Indian pipe. In stream-cut canyons, young bays lift their slender, moss-furred trunks above thickets of sword fern; look here for brownish green mission bells (Fritillaria lanceolata) and delicate white fairy bells (Disforum smithii), crimson columbine, and pinkflowering Western trillium. In mixed woodland, rangy old oaks clamber toward the sun, sheltering wildflowers such as hound's tongue and zygadene. Where the trail opens to mountain meadows, sudden marine vistas stun the eye, and the hillsides blaze with poppies and lupines.

Above a modest waterfall about 2-3/4 miles from the trailhead, look on your right for an immense boulder: this is Table Rock, an excellent place for a picnic or water break; you can sit in the sun and look down over the perfect, lapis-colored crescent of Stinson Beach to the strange, swirled patterns of Bolinas Lagoon.

20 miles from Sacramento: wildlings on the valley floor

Jepson Prairie Preserve, Solano County; (916) 752-6580. Late February through late April.

Here, the southern Sacramento Valley's wide sky sits like a blue-gray bowl over a 1,566-acre expanse of native grassland zippered with old railroad tracks. (The Western Railway Museum occasionally runs an antique excursion train between Rio Vista Junction and Dozier, near the

preserve; call 707/374-2978 for details.)

Jepson Prairie, near Dixon (not far from Travis Air Force Base), is the place to explore the classic flora of vernal pools-also known, in an earthier jargon, as hog wallows. These low spots in the plain collect water during winter; since the depressions are sealed with impervious clay soil, rainwater doesn't seep into the ground but lingers as seasonal "pools" until it evaporates in late spring.

As the water recedes, each pool's shoreline gradually contracts, exposing concentric rings of recently irrigated soil. These rings support successive bands of flowering endemics. Meadow foam, yellow violas, yellow owl's clover, and prairie bells are among them. Often, a pool's final bull's-eye of color is the intense blue of the tiny-flowered downingia (five kinds grow here)-resembling, as one enthusiast puts it, "a piece of fallen sky."

Vernal pools also harbor a specialized community of tiny crustaceans. These creatures come to life with the rains, bury their eggs in the mud as the pools dry up, and go dormant until the next wet season revives them.

The Nature Conservancy owns Jepson. You may visit only with a docent (it's a specialized experience, and the pace may seem slow to nonbotanical folk). Call to schedule a free tour.

A narrow path to a littlevisited spring waterfall

Falls Trail, Mount Diablo State Park, Contra Costa County; (415) 837-2525. March, April.

Didn't know Mount Diablo had a waterfall? It does-in spring. The trail to the falls, picked up 2 miles from the start of Donner Canyon Trail (at the end of Regency Drive, off Marsh Creek Road in the town of Clayton) is narrow and little used; it goes very lightly over the mountain.

Last spring, in an unusually dry year, the Falls Trail was aflutter with thousands of coral-colored wind poppies, often scattered through with short-stemmed purple Chinese houses. We saw hundreds of yellow Mount Diablo globe lilies (Calochortus pulchellus, an endemic) and a magnificent population of large, creamylooking mariposa lilies. In the Digger pine- and juniper-shaded ravine where a narrow stream tumbles down over rocks to form the seasonal falls, deep blue delphiniums darken the clefts; the cool rush of tbe water's sound eases away all memory of the hot walk uphill (elevation gain is 1,000 feet). In early spring, a red delphinium, D. nudicaule, grows in this area.

For much of this walk, you're on unshaded, heat-radiating rock slopes. Be sure to bring liquids: stream water is not potable.

See skyscrapers over the waving wildflowers

Summit Loop, San Bruno Mountain State and County Park, San Mateo County; (415) 363-4020, 591-8560, or 948-7022. March to mid-April.

Just 9 miles from the Candlestick Park exit off U.S. 101 is a big, grassy, undervisited hilltop park that's awash with spring flowers. Take Bayshore Boulevard to Guadalupe Canyon Parkway, then drive west 4-1/2 miles to the park entrance. The trailhead is at the southwest corner of the south parking lot.

The Summit Loop is a walk of a little more than 3 miles, with an elevation gain of about 500 feet. See if you can distinguish escaped exotics that have naturalized here (broom, morning glory, gorse) ftom natives such as yarrow, goldfields, lupine, sticky monkey flower, coast rockcress, Wight's paintbrush, sun cups, violas, seaside daisy, Franciscan wallflower, Pacific pea, lace parsnip, and hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea). Look also for yellow bee plant, checker-bloom, and mission bells.

Pick your own trail in this San Mateo County park

Edgewood County Park, San Mateo County; (415) 851-7570. March, April.

Exit Interstate 280 on Edgewood Road and drive east 3/4 mile to the park's entrance, where you can get a free map. Choose any route that sets off into the woodland south of the parking lot and brings you west to the rolling grasslands near the freeway, where a large patch of serpentine soil supports a remarkably diverse botanic community.

In the eastern part of the park, you're likely to see Indian warrior, mule ears, paintbrush, lomatium, saxifrage, blueeyed grass, blow wives, phacelias, hound's tongue, linanthus, white fairy lanterns (Calochortus albus),and many more. In the serpentine, sunny-looking concentrations of goldfields, cream cups, tidy tips, and yellow owl's clover dazzle the eye.

Flume walking for flower lovers in the Mother Lode

Independence Trail, South Yuba State Trails Project, Nevada County; (916) 432-3183 (disabled visitors and groups should call ahead: this number reaches Sequoya Challenge). April, early May.

This volunteer-built trail has wheelchair access, unusual in such wild and hilly country; in places, it makes use of a restored wooden flume from the gold rush era (the flume's sides guide chairs). There's even an accessible picnic table.

Easily observed trailside flowers include several species of brodiaea, California Indian pink, narrow-leafed iris, blue delphinium, wild ginger, wild mock orange, foothill pink phlox, yellow cat's ear, woodland pea, white fairy lantern, and white nemophila.

To reach the trailhead from State Highway 20 at Nevada City, drive 6 miles northwest on State 49 to a parking pullout. A path on the east side of the road takes you about 1/2 mile along the slope to overlook the gorge of the South Yuba River, far below (the trail's generally at about 1,500 feet).

Or start across the road, going southwest through a mile of floriferous native woodland to approach Rush Creek and poise, now on a 30-foot-high trestle, practically in the midst of a magnificent waterfall. Here, allow yourself to take in tbe beauty of the water's wild thrashings and hypnotic poolings over granite boulders that glow with the gold of yellow-star sedum. The completed part of the trail runs about 1-1/2 miles past the trestle. A Sierra Gateway trail (not wheelchair-accessible) at nearby Bridgeport Covered Bridge has spectacular March flowers.

Just west of Yosemite: historic Mereed trail

Hite Cove Trail, Sierra National Forest, Mariposa County; (209) 379-2301. Late March to early May.

Just west of El Portal, park opposite Savage's Trading Post (where Hite Cove walkers must register), on State Highway 140 at the South Fork of the Merced River. The trail snakes along the river's north bank, taking you 4 miles into a very scenic canyon to the site of a gold rush era hotel. Other than some old stove plates and a few log foundations, not much remains of the historic mining settlement. But the journey is its own reward: the flower show is long, reliable, and varied. You start high above the Merced, then drop (about 200 feet) to river level amid masses of baby blue-eyes and a succession of large, invitingly flat rocks (the river is swift, so watch young children carefully).

At Savage's, you can pick up an excellent paperback guide, Wildflowers of the Hite Cove Trait by Stephen J. Botti and Ann Mendershausen ($5). On any April day, you'll probably see at least 35 of the 40 species described. The most unusual find of the area (not mentioned in the guide) is harlequin lupine.

Don't be surprised if the post's resident dog, an animal of mixed parentage that is actually named Fido, decides to join you-at least as far as your snack break.

45 miles west of U.S. 101: lupine carpets under oaks

Indians area, Los Padres National Forest, Monterey County; (408) 385-5434. Mid-March to mid-April.

Here, beneath unviolated old deciduous oaks, astonishing carpets of sky blue lupine will take your breath away. A number of other flowers, such as purple owl's clover, grow intermixed with the blue, like tricks of an Impressionist palette.

There's no one main trail here; this is our most freeform experience. A maze of old dirt roads might entice the daring, but we prefer to park and wander cross-country The narrow, creek-laced meadows are abruptly bounded by the ruggedly steep slopes of the Santa Lucia Mountains, so it would be difficult to lose your bearings as you walk in this area. Flowers are so thick in the level meadows that there's no need to tackle the rocky hills.

From your car window, a living canvas of flowers will make your trip unforgettable even before you reach Los Padres National Forest, which you approach by a 17-1/2mile drive through Fort Hunter Liggett. Take U.S. 101 to the Jolon Road exit (1 mile north of King City) and drive south 18 miles on Jolon to Mission Road. Turn right on Mission, entering Hunter Liggett, then drive 5-1/2 miles to Del Venturi Road (1 mile north is Mission San Antonio, a delightful side trip). Turn left on Del Venturi and proceed 12 miles to the forest boundary at Indians. Best flowerwalking is in the next 6 miles, within Los Padres.


Coastal dunes to desert oasis, four hikes in the Santa Monicas, a classic carpet of poppies Near Pismo Beach: a dune-lagoon comples Coreopsis Hill, Nipomo Dunes, San Luis Obispo County; see individuals' numbers given below. Mid-March to mid-April

The best way to see this 100-acre botanical treasure is on a guided walk with the remarkable octogenarian "lady of the dunes," Kathleen Goddard Jones. Participation is free, though a small donation to her conservation organization is appreciated; to join one of Mrs. Jones's dunewalking parties, call her at (805) 4893707. Walks are also given by Bill Denneen of Bill's Home Hostel; call (805) 929-3647 for information.

On your own, ftom Pismo Beach drive south about 11 miles on State I (not U.S. 101) to Oso Flaco Lake Road; go west 3 miles to a parking lot at road's end, From Santa Maria, go west on State 166W to Guadalupe, then turn north on State I to Oso Flaco Road.

Walk the paved path toward Oso Flaco Lake. Go west (toward the ocean) past the lake, through wax myrtles and arroyo willow, then head south. The lake flows out toward the ocean as Oso Flaco Creek; wade across the creek, then continue south along the beach until you come to a park boundary sign. Head inland (paralleling a line of old metal posts) toward a dark, vegetation-covered hill due east of the open dunes- this is Coreo is Hill.

Flowers are especially thick on the north side of Coreopsis Hill, from where you overlook Little Coreopsis Lake. You're sure to see carnival poppies (three yellow and three white petals), brass buttons, dune delphinium, evening primrose, sand verbena, wallflower, golden pincushion, prickly-phlox-and, of course, stiff, candelabra-like giant coreopsis, each bearing dozens of yellow blooms. On the slope above a black poplar woodland, you might spot the rare and endangered purple-flowered dune mint (Monardella crispa), softleafed paintbrush (Castilleja mollis), or Nipomo mesa lupine, or the rare (but not endangered) sand almond or dune malacothrix.

Walk on the ice plant rather than on what looks like a path: plant lovers are trying to let the old path "heal over" to prevent further erosion. These windswept parabolic dunes form a beautiful but very fragile ecosystem.

Riotous mixed bouquets on a flank of Figueroa

La Jolla Trait Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area, Santa Barbara County; (805) 688-3017. March to May.

Many Central Coast residents wind their way up Figueroa Mountain Road (about a half-hour north of the town of Los Olivos 5 miles off U.S. 101 on State 154 to admire the profuse roadside wildflowers. But few seem to get out of the car and walk deeper into spring.

About 1/2 mile past Figueroa Ranger Station, look for a sign for Tunnell Road and a small parking area. The 4-mile trail to Ballard Camp (La Jolla Spring is about 1/4 mile due north of there) picks up on the north side of the road, in a pocket meadow filled with goldfields, lupine, and chocolate lilies (Fritillaria biflora). It leads tbrough oak scrub and pine, where the flowers temporarily thin, then proceeds as a series of floriferous switchbacks down the north-facing bank of a stream.

Canyon monkey flower clambers amid huge manzanitas. You'll see riotous mixed bouquets, upslope and down, including delphiniums, phacelias, foothill poppies (Eschscholtzia caespitosa), Plummer's mariposa lilies, many different lupines, nemophila, clarkias, Chinese houses, and starry pastel swaths of delicate linanthus. At the canyon's bottom, old firs and pines shade a pleasantly cool, spring-fed stream.

It would be a pity not to go on up to the summit lookout. There are a few picnic tables here, and you can look out past Figueroa's 4,528-foot crest, with its colorful cloak of poppies and lupine, to a Sound of Music style panorama over the mountainous landscape.

Up past giant coreopsis to a mountain meadow

La Jolla Canyon, Point Mugu State Park, Ventura County; (805) 987-3303. February, March.

(This La Jolla has nothing to do with Figueroa's, nor has it any connection with the San Diego County town.) On State Highway 1, look for an oceanfront parking area just east of Point Mugu and about 22 miles west of Malibu; this brings you to the Ray Miller Trailhead.

Less than a mile out on the trail, you walk past a seasonal waterfall. As you twist your way up the canyon, the landscape is dominated by stands of tall-growing (2 to 5 feet) giant coreopsis; it towers above other native plants like some vegetative personage in a fairy tale. On a more usual scale grow shooting stars (one of the best displays of this February flower in all California), rattleweed, wallflowers, larkspurs, crimson pitcher sage, popcorn flower, Indian warrior, and blue-eyed grass.

Take a trail to the left at a sign for La Jolla Valley Trail Camp; Mugu Peak Trail leads west uphill for wider views but fewer flowers. A walk-in camp (about 2 miles from the trailhead) in a flowery meadow has rest rooms and picnic tables; it's a great place to relax and let children play (one Sunday last spring, a large Japanese family party was in progress herewith hip-held trays of sushi and intergenerational games of Frisbee).

Return the way you came or, for a longer walk, take the La Jolla Valley Loop Trail, which leads west from the camp before dipping southeast. At the top of this trail is a beautiful, pristine stand of the California state grass, purple needlegrass (Stipa pulchra), just as the Chumash Indians must have seen it hundreds of years ago. A large, round pond also attracts birds and other wildlife year-round.

Flowers, picnic sites, ocean views, a nature center

Ocean Vista Trail, Charmlee Natural Area County Park, Los Angeles County; (213) 457-7247. March, April.

From the Pacific Coast Highway (State 1) west of Zuma Beach County Park, drive north 4 miles on Encinal Canyon Road. The park's clearly marked entrance is on the west side of the road.

Most of Charmlee is a big, open, slightly rolling meadow, green and thick with flowers in spring, with attractive enclaves of live oak and rock fringing its edges shady places to rest or picnic (there's also a regular picnic area, with drinking water). From the ocean overlook about 1-1/4 miles from the park's nature center, the straight-down views are startlingly beautiful.

With fire as recent as 1985, the flower display is still outstanding. Plentiful spring bloomers include arroyo lupine, California peony, ground pink, Catalina mariposa lily (Calochortus catalinae), shooting stars, blue larkspur, crimson pitcher sage, paintbrush, chaparral currant, rein orchid, toadflax, and penstemon, as well as caterpillar, fernleaf, and Parry's phacelias.

A small nature center has a master blackboard, like that in a cheese shop, listing flower sightings with dates of observation. A simple but accurate trail map is available free here.

The Fire Ecology Trail is very worthwhile. A self-guiding brochure (yours for a 25-cent donation at the nature center) has good information on the important role of fire in the Southern California chaparral ecosystem; its insights affect your perception of the entire landscape in a broader, more meaningful way than most trails with numbers manage.

Down, then back up: 1,050 feet in Solstice Canyon

Upper Solstice Canyon, near Malibu Creek State Park, Los Angeles County; (818) 706-8809. March to May.

This canyon has dependable flowers and, with a thousand-foot drop, enough habitat change so there's great plant variety.

From the Pacific Coast Highway (State 1) about 5 miles west of Malibu, drive 5-1/2 miles north on Corral Canyon Road; there's a simple parking area at the end of the road. You hike down the trail on the west side of the canyon about 1-1/2 miles to Solstice Creek, which you follow through an area that burned in 1982 (and now abounds in wild pansy, white yarrow, scarlet bugler, penstemons, black sage, and blue dicks and other brodiaeas).

Starting down the chaparral-covered hillside, you'll see an uncommon profusion of woolly blue curls their elaborate blueand-purple flowers looking more like millinery supplies or exotic birds than the drought-tolerant natives they are.

After some streamside meandering, you climb a steep hill to Castro Crest, walking now on an old fire road. Among springblooming species that grow here, look for caterpillar phacelia, bush monkey flower, crimson pitcher sage, canyon sunflower, and high above the Pacific, on the last leg of the way-paintbrush, pricklyphlox, silverleaf lotus, and masses of butter yellow bush poppies that grow around tbe sandstone bluffs lining the Castro Motorway A large stand of chaparral pea, root crown-sprouted after the 1982 fire, also appears in this area.

There's little shade. Bring water, and set out early in the day.

Ridgetop views plus flowers in 4 miles at Topanga

Musch Ranch Trail Topanga State Park, Los Angeles County; (213) 4552465. Late February to mid-May.

A 4-mile loop, Musch takes you through an oak woodland, chaparral, and grassland, with a climb of about 600 feet to a ridgetop, About a mile out, you reach a hike-in campground; near its eastern end, an underground spring (with abundant sunshine) favors particularly abundant bloom, which continues into summer.

This 10,000-acre park, well equipped and carefully maintained, has other attractive trails (including a short self-guided nature trail near the picnic area), but this one, with a 1984 burn area and five types of Santa Monica Mountain plant communities, is especially floriferous.

You're likely to see showy penstemon, canyon sunflower, bush poppy, black sage, nightshade, chocolate lily, and Chinese houses. In the deeper canyons grow the dainty-flowered woodland star and large patches of miner's lettuce. Higher up, a fabulous concentration of Catalina mariposa lilies lifts pink-streaked creamy blooms amid wild oat grasses.

From Ventura Freeway (U.S. 101), take Topanga Canyon Boulevard (State 27) south to Entrada Road; turn left, and continue 1.1 miles to the park's Trippet Ranch parking area ($3 fee). Musch Trail takes up at the lot's northeast corner, near the rest rooms.

At Torrey Pines, a choice of oceanfront walks

Guy Fleming Trail, Torrey Pines State Reserve, San Diego County; (619) 7552063. January through April.

The Signed 2/3-Mile Fleming loop introduces you to the basic constituents of the Torrey pines plant community (the pines themselves are indigenous only to this mesa and to Santa Rosa Island).

Early wildflowers here include sand verbena, giant sea dahlia (Coreopsis maritima), paintbrush, nightshade, ground pink, biscuit root, and milkmaids. March brings brittlebush, lupine, sun cups, wild snapdragon, California poppy, bush poppy, pearly everlasting, monkey flower, shooting stars, phacelia, rockrose, and blue dicks. And then come sea figs, blueeyed grass, owl's clover, tidy tips, blue delphinium, golden yarrow, prickly pear, and Mohave yucca (Y. schidigera).

There's also a labeled native garden outside the visitor center, an attractive 1922 adobe that sits with graceful intimacy on its pine-shaded sandstone site. Here you can get a free trail map.

For a longer walk, take Razor Point Trail from the visitor center parking lot out past pine-topped bluffs and into eroded sandstone badlands; these descend abruptly toward the sea and down, via the westernmost leg of the Beach Trail, to an apron of beach near Flat Rock. This is the place for a dip, some dolphin-watching, or a seaside picnic. Return along Broken Hill Trail and the North Fork (a recent burn here promises unusual flowers in 1989). This loop is about 3-1/2miles.

From 1-5 north of La Jolla, drive west about 1-1/2 miles on Carmel Valley Road, hen south I mile along the Pacific Coast Highway's oceanfront drive to the preserve's entrance (day-use fee $3 weekdays, $4 weekends and holidays).

An easy meander through picturebook poppies

Antelope Loop Trail, Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, Los Angeles County; (805) 948-1322. April.

This is the place to see classic orange carpets of Eschscholzia californica. But be sure to call the number given above for an updated report on the flowering. It seems to be an all-or-nothing affair: arrive just a week or two too late, and the whole place looks like an elephant's hide, with a fluff of seedheads.

April 1 through 16, the Lancaster Woman's Club runs an excellent wildflower information center; it's in the Lancaster M useum/Art Gallery (44801 N. Sierra Highway) in the town of Lancaster. Members present educational displays and can give you a free map of the Antelope Valley, marking it with locations of current flowers.

The main road through Lancaster is State Highway 14. To get to the reserve, drive west from State 14 on W. Avenue 1; past 110th Street W., bear right on Lancaster Road. The flat 2-1/2-mile loop goes between the visitor center and Antelope Butte Vista Point.

Up and down dry washes to a desert oasis

Lost Palms Oasis Trail, Joshua Tree National Monument, Riverside County; (619) 367-7511. February to April.

"Flowers by the millions!" was one of our advisors' comment about this walk. Starting from Cottonwood Spring, about a mile east of the park's Cottonwood Visitor Center, this trail runs 4 miles through flower-filled canyons to a spring-fed oasis of native fan palms.

The bright, sharp colors of ocotillo, cholla, and beavertail cactus seem to be everywhere, punctuating desert washes scattered with goldfields, desert dandelion, chia, lupine, desert mallow, Canterbury bells, evening primrose, desert star, Mojave aster, pincushion, desert fivespot, ghost flower, and scarlet monkey flower. Our favorite was Mentzelia involucrata, a silky, translucent ivory trumpet lined with fine orange stripes that make it look lit from within.

The trail goes continually up and down, the only shade coming from rocky escarpments. You cross and recross dry washes, moving into a stony beige landscape which, in its lack of complication, sets off each flower like an individual event.

A popular trail and some uncrowded alternatives

Borrego Palm Canyon Trait AnzaBorrego Desert State Park, San Diego County; (619) 767-4684. February to early March.

Taking off from Borrego Palm Canyon Campground (where you can pick up a self-guiding trail brochure), the 1-1/2-mile (one-way) walk to the Palm Canyon oasis is an overpopular but excellent introduction to classic desert flora.

Come here to meet the basic cast-pincushion, phacelias, chicory, desert dandelion, chuparosa, beavertail, ocotillo, indigo bush, and California fuchsia-and supporting characters such as desert lavender, fireweed, Bigelow's monkey flower, white forget-me-not, barrel cactus, Cleveland's penstemon, and desert mallow.

After making a first acquaintance with this huge desert park, wander elsewhere on your own. It's easy to walk crosscountry off primitive dirt roads; just take your bearings by two points so you can find your way back, and brings lots of water. Give chollas a wide berth: devilish round things can detach themselves from this low cactus and launch spiny invasions into your shoes and socks (carrying tweezers and a comb isn't a bad idea).

Some good flower walks in the park include Coyote Canyon, near Desert Gardens, for a splendid ocotillo display (go northwest from the end of DiGiorgio Road); Hawk Canyon and tbe Borrego Buttes area, for lupines, desert sunflower, desert lilies, and ghost flowers (go north from State 78 just west of the Ocotillo Wells Ranger Station); and Indian Gorge, for monkey flower, Parish larkspur, rock hibiscus, desert poppy, ghost flower, indigo bush, and desert star (from Highway S2, 2 miles northwest of the turnoff for Bow Willow Campground, take the dirt road southwest to Indian Valley).
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Title Annotation:California
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Wildflower time in Golden Gate Park.
A wonderful wildflower year?
Where the wildflowers are.
Wildflowers are bursting out all over.
Sow wildflowers the right way.

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