Table of contents
Spring is in the air!
Wildflowers blooming in the springtime: one of the best parts about life on the west coast! There are few things more beautiful than a long walk on a trail full of blooming Lupines and California Poppies. It’s something that anyone can enjoy and in many places, it doesn’t cost you anything. The flowers can be a powerful motivator to continue hiking! We did our longest single-day hike to date just so we could keep finding more beautiful patches of color. We walked over 10 miles, but only had about 2 hours of sleep! The beauty of a super bloom is one of the best motivators there is to keep on exploring.
The biggest threat to wildflowers
What is the biggest threat to these gorgeous annual visitors? Aside from climate change, the gravest danger is humanity. Humans can be a powerful ally to mother nature, but sometimes people’s urge to take photos with the flowers can be the biggest threat to them. They are being hugged to death. A few years ago, Walker Canyon and Lake Elsinore in SoCal were swarmed by “Disneyland-like parking” and mobs of Instagram photographers trying to cash in on the event. It was madness. The park rangers were overwhelmed and frustrated. It’s not an isolated event either! Pretty much every location that becomes popular on social media faces destruction in the future.
The impact of social media
The advent of social media has driven millions of people to plan their adventures around what pictures they are going to take. It’s done wonders for the photography industry and increased attendance to the nation’s national parks by an increased 300% in some places. This has been great for park revenues and has driven many people to find a new passion. The downside is that it has also taken a toll on the natural features of these public lands. Many beautiful parks and naturally beautiful places have had their ecosystems irreversibly damaged by tourism.
In one recent visit to a park, many hikers were seen deviating off-trail and trampling the flowers for photos. Please remember that your pictures are not important enough to permanently kill the natural beauty that is there for everyone else to enjoy. It not only kills the live flowers but stops others from growing in their places for many years, or never at all again. Hikers were seen clipping flowers by the handful and taking large quantities of them home as bouquets. Not only is this illegal in some states, but it goes against the core beliefs of the Leave No Trace principles. On top of that, the flowers quickly die and are not good in home gardens!
Tagging wildflowers responsibly
Many people on social media are now refusing to tag the locations of their photos because they have seen the damage that can be done by drawing crowds to new locations. When hikers and photographers don’t act in a responsible manner, it can effectively ruin a place for generations to come. Worse, many places have been closed or destroyed by those that are supposedly there because they love it. Big Sur’s forestry roads, the 2017 Soberanes Fire, Graffiti in Antelope Canyon, and the destructive social trails at Lake Elsinor during the 2018 super bloom are good examples of this.
The first thing you read when you check out the Leave No Trace principles is “plan ahead and prepare.” What does this mean? First and foremost, it means that you should be planning your routes, knowing where to go, what closures may affect your plans and which parts of popular trails are actually off-limits. We have noticed a lot of high-traffic routes that lead you into private property or other places that you’re not supposed to be. A great example of this is the Haiku Stairs in Hawaii. Make sure to also carefully read the trail signs when you arrive before starting your journey.
Another important part of planning is figuring out where the bathrooms will be and where you can get fresh water if you need it. Make sure to carry out whatever you carry in!
Stay on the trail – don’t step on wildflowers!
The next principle for Leave No Trace is that you should always travel on durable surfaces. How does this relate to wildflowers? Simple. Just stay on the trail. If you feel tempted to go off-trail for any reason, just don’t. Riding mountain bikes off-trail is even more harmful and can damage the terrain for way longer than normal foot traffic. Also, staying on the trail means watching out for dangers along the way. In many places, the presence of Rattlesnakes means that you have to keep an eye on where you are putting your feet! Don’t let the colorful beauty around you be TOO distracting. Heather once saved Mike from stepping on a rattlesnake! They blend in extremely well so take caution!
If you’re bringing your beloved pup on a wildflower trail that does allows dogs, take extra caution and keep them leashed. The environment is delicate and even if they don’t mean to, our pooches can do a lot of accidental harm. Make sure to always pack out their waste as well.
Leave what you find
“Leave what you find” is another rule that applies directly to the blooms of wildflowers. It goes without saying, please don’t rip these fragile plants from the ground just to take them home with you or to take a photo. Chances are, they will be dead in a short time- not only will they most likely never grow back, but now other people that come after you won’t be able to enjoy them as well. This ties into the last of the Leave No Trace principles, “Be Considerate of Others.”
❀ Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints ❀
One last LNT rule that applies to wildflowers: “Respect wildlife.” The flowers are not only alive themselves, but also part of a wider and more fragile ecosystem. Many creatures depend on them to stay alive, so every effort to save them from harm is an effort made in good faith. Bees need their nectar and in turn they pollinate them, herbivores love to eat them, and countless other species depend on their impact for life. Save the bees!
California Poppy Day
The California Poppy is the official state flower. California Poppy Day happens annually on April 6th. In general, the pretty orange flowers will be out in full force during the time of spring. The poppy wildflower is a well-known symbol of California and you can often see it displayed on the scenic-route highway signs.
Fun fact time! Ancient Egyptian doctors would have their patients eat seeds from a poppy to relieve pain. Poppy seeds contain small quantities of both morphine and codeine, which are pain-relieving drugs that are still used today.
If you are going to visit a park to see wildflowers, please make sure that you pay any day-use fees that are required–it helps the land management teams in the state keep the place beautiful. It also helps them maintain the trails and parking areas so that everyone can enjoy them. If everybody works together to keep these parks beautiful, everybody wins! Aside from Leave No Trace, Nature First is another great resource for photographers to learn more about outdoor ethics and minimizing your impact on the natural world. Make sure to always be a good steward of the land and set an example for others. We all need to care and put in the effort to keep nature first. Here are the Nature First Principles:
▶ Prioritize the well-being of nature over photography.
▷ Educate yourself about the places you photograph.
▶ Reflect on the possible impact of your actions.
▷ Use discretion if sharing locations.
▶ Know and follow rules and regulations.
▷ Always follow Leave No Trace principles and strive to leave places better than you found them.
▶ Actively promote and educate others about these principles.
Thanks for reading!
Looking for another awesome west coast location?