Orange poppies and Instagram photo-ops draw 5C students to Lake Elsinore ‘super bloom’

A canyon filled with orange poppy flowers and blue sky.
Many 5C students traveled to Walker Canyon in Lake Elsinore to see the “super bloom” of poppy flowers over spring break. (Hank Snowdon • The Student Life)

LAKE ELSINORE, Calif. — Many 5C students who flocked to the Walker Canyon poppy fields in Riverside County over spring break were searching for a rare moment in nature, while others just wanted the perfect Instagram photo.  

When they arrived at the city of Lake Elsinore, the serenity certainly wasn’t there, but the Instagram influencers sure were. Hordes of people from all over Southern California sat in long traffic lines to see what has been termed the “super bloom apocalypse.

Some students loved the “super bloom” blanketing the hillsides, and didn’t mind the crowds. Nicholas Mendez CM ’21 was among those who traveled to the bloom during spring break and enjoyed it.

“I was definitely surprised by the amount of people there,” he said. “It was fun to people-watch; people were really into the flowers.”

Mendez also saw many people trampling the flowers, and several venturing off the path to sit in the blooms.

“I was not a ‘flower-trampler,’ but I did see a lot of people laying in the flowers, especially with their dogs — it looked like great photo material,” he said.

Lake Elsinore shut down Walker Canyon for a day in mid-March after weeks of heavy traffic and flower damage, causing the city to term the situation a “poppy nightmare.” The canyon was reopened a day later.

Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t a law that protects the state flower specifically. But it’s still illegal in California to pick plants on public land, according to the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Nolan Clark PO ’22 was dismayed by the flower destruction.

“The super bloom is an incredible display of nature’s beauty and I think seeing it should be encouraged, but it is disheartening to see the destructive impact that visitors have on the flowers — picking them, trampling them and littering in natural areas,” Clark said, “especially from a group of individuals that claim to be aware of their impact and strive to be progressive.”

Alexa Ramirez PO ’22 said she was unprepared for her experience at the poppy fields.

Ramirez and her friends visited the sea of orange during spring break searching for “a rare moment basking in nature.” Her friends wore floral dresses to mimic the carefree super bloom photos they’d seen on Instagram and arrived at the poppy fields at sunset.

But the poppy dream turned into her own poppy nightmare. According to Ramirez, the students were completely unprepared to take on the hike to the poppy fields, and the setting sun made her experience rushed and chaotic.

“The sun was going down, and people were scared we weren’t going to be able to take pictures in the daylight when we should have been thinking about … get[ting] down safely,” Ramirez said. “It was exactly the opposite of what I wanted. I wanted time to breathe, but everything felt so rushed with taking pictures and getting off the hill before it got dark.”

Looking past the crowds, Mendez loved the beauty of the flowers.

“It looked like there was Cheetos dust covering the hills,” he said.

While Mendez enjoyed visiting the “super bloom,” not all 5C students appreciate the recent growth of wildflowers in Southern California.

Sara Reid CM ’20 said the bloom has caused her allergies to become much more severe.

“It looked like there was Cheetos dust covering the hills.” -Nick Mendez CM ’21.

“My allergies are so much worse than they have been the past two years,” Reid said. “The week before spring break I had to sleep on my back because my allergies were so bad.”

Mendez agreed the bloom affected his allergies: “My eyes have been itching like crazy.”

Reid, a Claremont-Mudd-Scripps women’s lacrosse player, said practice has exacerbated the problem.

“Imagine me, I play on grass every single day, so that already makes it bad,” she said. “Then with all the pollen in the air, now it’s really bad.”

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