After a traumatic weekend at the poppy fields, Lake Elsinore, California, city officials have shut down Walker Canyon to the public.
The western Riverside County city of near 66,000 people saw thousands of visitors arrive in droves to see the Super Bloom, grid-locking Interstate 15 and city streets around the trailhead.
The city called it a public safety emergency using hashtags like #PoppyShutdown, #PoppyNightmare, #IsItOverYet, and #HanginthereLE, according to an announcement on their Facebook page.
No shuttles or visitors will be allowed into Walker Canyon.
“This weekend has been unbearable,” the Facebook post said. “We will evaluate all options next week including ways to shut this down. …We know it has been miserable and has caused unnecessary hardships for our entire community.”
The poppies did not pop up on a flat stretch of land, but instead found home on the steep sides of the canyon. This did not deter visitors. Wildflower-seekers slid and fell down the side of Walker Canyon that was never meant to be hiked on, though some managed to do so anyways — even in very chic wedge heels. Families and Instagram-influencer wannabes alike attempted feats of free-climbing and scrambling as large boulders toppled down behind them as every step kicked more rocks loose, threatening to squish children or seniors who couldn’t lunge out of the way fast enough.
And it was hard for some to make a quick lunge while attempting to push a baby stroller up the canyon, carrying a puppy that clearly didn’t want to participate in the photo shoot or balancing light reflectors to capture the perfect Instagram shot.
At least one injury was reported Saturday afternoon, though ambulances were continuously driving to and from the canyon.
But people wanted to soak in the history-making Super Bloom, regardless of the chaos.
Darian Williams, 24, of Anaheim made the spontaneous hour-and-a-half drive with her parents. Williams grew up in Southern California but doesn’t remember ever witnessing a Super Bloom that came close to this one.
“People were pulled over on the side of the road to see the flowers as we drove here,” Williams said. “It was amazing to see the number of flowers grow as we got closer.”
Sara Pierce, 28, of Venice was with two of her friends. Two of the girls didn’t plan their outfits ahead of time, they just happened to wake up looking Super Bloom-chic. The third friend said she for sure planned her outfit in preparation for their poppy adventure.
Effortless sundresses and practical, stylish sun hats were popular choices. Other popular fashions included sunburned shoulders and noses, crying children and scraped knees from falling down.
“We wanted to see what the poppy fields look like and take photos and see nature that we’ve never seen before,” Pierce said.
Pierce was one of the many waiting in line for the VIP shuttle service — the start of a trek that paralleled a religious pilgrimage.
The city announced on Thursday they would offer the $5 shuttle service from the Outlets at Lake Elsinore, running from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, in hopes to mitigate traffic. Police shut down roads and lanes just for the shuttles, allowing the shuttle riders to get quicker access to the trailhead. On Saturday, the wait for shuttles was about 45 minutes to an hour, but the city set up portable toilets in anticipating of the long wait times. On Sunday, the wait time increased to about an hour and a half as the demand increased.
“We decided to offer the shuttles because of the crazy traffic,” said Vicky Saavedra, Lake Elsinore community services employee, who was working the shuttle ticket booth on Saturday. She said the city experienced a Super Bloom two years ago, but the public interest wasn’t as intense.
There also was an increased presence of police and code enforcement officers to direct traffic at Lake Street and Nichols Road, and issue citations for anyone parking illegally on the side of the road. City employees worked seven days straight, 12 hours a day, trying to handle the influx of visitors. The city also reached out to neighboring cities, California Highway Patrol and the California Department of Transportation for assistance as well.
Though officials originally anticipated offering the shuttles for proceeding weekends, the plethora of problems, including traffic congestion, safety concerns and damage to the poppy fields, has caused the city to shut down everything.
Desert Sun reporter Nicole Hayden covers health and healthcare in the Coachella Valley. She can be reached at Nicole.Hayden@desertsun.com or (760) 778-4623. Follow her on Twitter @Nicole_A_Hayden.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Poppy fields in Lake Elsinore, California, shut down to public amid Super Bloom apocalypse