It looks like it's time to head out to the Antelope Valley. For the past few weeks, areas outside the state's official poppy reserve, like the so-called Boulevard of Poppies, have been displaying a nice bloom. Now, officials at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve are saying their flowers appear to have hit peak bloom and will last throughout the rest of the month (the nearby Poppy Festival is next week).
But if you're expecting one of those jaw-dropping sights like we had four years ago, when fields were awash in orange, don't. Rick Reisenhofer, State Parks Superintendent for the area, tells me that this year's bloom is at about 50 percent in his estimation. That's not bad when the past few years felt more like zero percent. And with springtime green grass to accentuate the colors, it's enough for me to head up, as well as many others: the reserve's parking this week has been filling up.
[Update: Tioga Road will be open to bicycles on April 19 and 20. Details here.]
Californians might be familiar with a growing trend of car-free events where big city streets are closed to vehicles to allow for pedestrians and cyclists to take over. Think CicLAvia in Los Angeles, Sunday Streets in San Francisco, or CicloSDias in San Diego. Add to that Yosemite National Park, where a variation on that concept has been happening for years.
Each spring, between snow removal and the opening of two key park roads to traffic, officials have been letting cyclists take over for a few days. Such an opportunity was announced today with the opening of Glacier Point Road to vehicles pegged for Monday at noon. That means from today through Monday morning, the curvy 17-mile road up to one of the park's most famous views can be considered one big bicycle path.
A correction has been made to this story. See below for details.
I wouldn't call it a banner year yet, but the California poppy bloom in Antelope Valley is starting to look like it's worth the drive. On Saturday morning, Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve officials posted the above photo on Facebook and wrote, "The hills are green with rivers of orange around the park! With the periodic rains we got in March we should have a good (maybe great) bloom spread through all of April." Patches of other wildflowers -- white forget me nots, purple lupine, lacy phacelia, yellow goldfields, and fiddleneck -- could also be found, they added.
Another national holiday, another reason to get outdoors and save a few bucks. Both the National Park Service and Forest Service are waiving fees this Presidents Day Weekend. Here's how it works.
This is the second of six fee free events for the National Park Service this year (see the full list below), and as such, any park that usually charges an entrance fee will not Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. That goes for Cabrillo in San Diego, Joshua Tree and Death Valley in the desert, Sequoia and Yosemite in the Sierra Nevada, Pinnacles on the Central Coast, among others. But don't forget, some national park units in Southern California are always free: Santa Monica Mountains, Mojave National Preserve, and Channel Islands (where transit to the islands is not free).
After stopping work almost a decade ago, the group of agencies that care for most of the Santa Monica Mountains are picking up where they left off when it comes to trails. The question is what to do with current and future trails for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders and how their use would potentially affect the environment and archaeological resources.
The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is administered by the National Park Service, but its boundaries capture more than 150,000 acres of land, including city and state parks, as well as private land. All told, there's over 500 miles of public trails in this congressionally designated recreation area that runs from Runyon Canyon in the Hollywood Hills to the beaches of Santa Monica, Malibu, and Ventura County (see a map here).
Reading through the affidavit in support of charging the three men accused of starting the Colby Fire last week, one thing seems clear: their gut told them it wasn't okay to light a fire. Based on interviews with investigators, a fire was nonetheless lit. Some quotes:
- Clifford Henry, Jr. "said that he knew it was dangerous to have a fire in dry grass and he has been camping since he was a child" and "stated that it was crazy to have a campfire where such dry grass and dry wood was on the ground." In a later interview, "he stated that they had to go high up the trail to hide their campfire to prevent the police from coming. He believed that if they were caught with the campfire, they would be fined or kicked out of the area since it was illegal to have a campfire there."
- Jonathan Jarrell "acknowledged that California weather had been warm and with minimal rains" and "wasn't sure if campfires were allowed because they ... were not actually in a campground."
- Steven Aguirre "admitted that they knew they weren't supposed to have a campfire, but no one opposed having one."
It's been widely reported that the three guys who are said to have started the Colby Fire were not camping in a designated campground. That's true, but one should not come to the conclusion that it was an illegal campsite. Dispersed camping -- that is, camping in a spot you find suitable outside official campgrounds -- is allowed throughout Angeles National Forest, with the exception of closed areas such as Williamson Rock (to protect an endangered frog) and the Station Fire recovery zone.
For better or worse, such a policy exemplifies one of the biggest differences between National Forests and National Parks. Generally speaking, forests are public lands where everything is allowed unless it's specifically prohibited; parks are withdrawals of public land where everything is prohibited unless it's specifically allowed.
The Colby Fire as seen from a Glendora city street this morning. | Photo: Courtesy Shelby Arenas
When it became apparent that fire danger in Southern California was going to be very high this week, Angeles National Forest officials wanted to close two specific roads: Glendora Mountain Road and Glendora Ridge Road. So they went ahead and successfully secured a permit from Los Angeles County to close them between Monday and Friday.
It's not that this area is any more dry than the rest of the forest or that the Santa Ana winds blow especially harder. What makes this a problem area are humans. Fires, usually small, are pretty common here because the roads are popular for car and motorcycle races, according to Nathan Judy, a fire information officer with Angeles National Forest. He says it's not uncommon for racers, particularly during nighttime hours, to take a bad turn and go over the side into the brush, igniting a fire.
Despite being closed to vehicular traffic, walking into the forest was still allowed. And that's what happened today with the Colby Fire. Three young men, now in custody, are said to have hiked in to camp and allegedly started the blaze when trying to keep warm this morning.
If there's anyone with the pulse on forest fires in California, it's Stanton Florea. He's the U.S. Forest Service's fire information officer for the state and today he's been keeping tabs on one in Sequoia National Forest. He's not yet concerned about this small and slow-moving blaze -- it may actually have positive environmental effects, he said -- but what's capturing his attention is the white stuff.
Yes, as in snow. This fire is burning through an area with patchy snow. "That's not normal," he said. "There's not much more that speaks to these dry conditions."