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By Mel Makaw
contributing writer 

Wildflower drives 2023

Day Trippin' with Mel


April 1, 2023

Mel Makaw.

Hills in the Antelope Valley are already full of yellow wildflowers.

I took a couple of wildflower drives over the last couple of weeks when it wasn't raining, and I'm excited to tell you that while I did see a lot, I didn't find as many wildflowers as I'd hoped... which is good news for you because it seems the season is just getting started this year. By the time you read this there should be all sorts of wild flora growing in a number of different spots.

The first drive I took a week ago was through Cowboy Country. I saw the start of plenty of different wildflower patches, but I must say my favorite color to see that day was green. Because of all the rain this year the grass has turned green early and has stayed green longer than normal. It makes for some darned pretty scenery in East Kern.

I took the 58 West, then the Caliente exit. Once past Caliente the road divides into a Y; I bore left to take CalBodfish Rd., a twisty, windy road with a great rise in elevation, complete with switchbacks and spectacular views of the mountains. Oh yes, and many patches of yellow, orange, white and purple wildflowers.

That road drops you out in Walker Basin at the Rankin Ranch, where I chose to stay on CalBodfish with the idea of circling around the basin and going back to Caliente through Twin Oaks. However, after driving through lots of mud and standing water on the road, I ultimately came to a road closure and had to go back to Rankin Ranch to get on Walker Basin Road (another option that will take you back to Caliente through Twin Oaks).

On my way I saw more flowers and much more greenery – the cottonwoods along the normally dry but now swiftly flowing Caliente Creek are leafing out beautifully. But be warned, these roads are all narrow and curvy and many of the pullouts are muddy and not altogether conducive to easily stopping and taking pictures.

A few days later on a sunny but cool Saturday, after a hearty breakfast at Village Grill, my friend Leila and I headed out in search of some poppies, with our first planned stop being the Poppy Reserve in the Antelope Valley. From Highway 14 on the north end of Lancaster, you can take the Ave. "I" St. exit and go west, following the signs to the Poppy Reserve; or you can go the way we did: out on Willow Springs/Tehachapi Rd., which will become 90th St. W. and which will intersect with Ave. "I").

At the reserve we didn't see but a handful of poppies – nothing like past years, at least not yet – but we did see lots and lots of bright yellow and purple. We wanted to go into the reserve to the Visitor Center, however there was a long line of cars waiting to get in, and the parking lot was already pretty full. A ranger advised us that they anticipated the poppies would be in full bloom in a week or two, so we opted to turn out and keep driving rather than join the crowds there that day.

Again, by the time you read this, if the ranger was correct, it will be a better time to view the poppies in the Reserve and the surrounding countryside.

From the Poppy Reserve, we headed on to Ave. D, which is also Highway 138, where we kept going west toward Gorman and the I-5. All along the way we saw lots of bright yellow and purple, and even added some lupine to the list.

The many high hills around Gorman are known for their wildflower displays, but the poppies weren't up yet. There were huge swatches of yellows and blue lupine, and the grass on the hills was brilliant green; the sky was bright blue with huge fluffy white clouds. Even poppy-less, it was quite beautiful.

I'd then hoped to check out Highway 166 and Wind Wolves, but that road was closed so we decided to go on to Arvin via Wheeler Ridge Rd. Alas, that road was also closed, we found out a mere 5 miles from Arvin; we backtracked to the outlet shops and headed on up the 99 to the Union Exit, and then turned east toward Arvin on the 223.

Mel Makaw.

Patches of poppies are popping up along Caliente Creek Drive.

In Arvin our quest to see poppies was rewarded in town with medians full of the blooming state flower, but Bear Mountain and the surrounding hills were sadly devoid of the bright orange poppies. There was, however, more blue lupine than I usually see there – and lots of white lupine too – plus a variety of yellows, golds, whites and purples.

Leila and I plan to go out again chasing poppies in another week or two, about the time this column will appear in The Loop newspaper. My hope is that all of the closed roads are reopened by then, and that after a few warmer days, more wildflowers will be visible.

Even if they aren't, however, these drives I've described are very scenic, rewarding and relaxing; we had a great day just getting out and about and seeing so many different parts of our beautiful county.

© 2023 Mel Makaw. Mel, Tehachapi writer/photographer and avid day tripper, welcomes your questions, comments, and suggestions at


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