Tens of thousands of people converge on poppy apocalypse in California



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Like Dorothy in "Wizard of Oz," the town of Lake Elsinore in southern California is overwhelmed by the power of poppies.

About 150,000 people over the weekend flocked to see this year's flaming orange poppies lit by the rains illuminating the hills near the town of about 60,000 inhabitants, about an hour and a half drive away from San Diego or Los Angeles.

The Interstate 15 was a parking lot. People fainted in the heat; a dog digging in the fields was bitten by a rattlesnake.

A vibrant poppy field draws Dorothy into a trap in the "Wizard of Oz" when the wicked witch recognizes that no one can resist their beauty, poisons the wildflowers and that she slips into a fatal sleep until the good witch cancels the spell.

Lake Elsinore had been trying to prepare for the hordes of people attracted to super flowering, a rare event that typically occurs about once a decade, as it requires a wet winter and warm temperatures that remain above freezing.

It offered a free shuttle service to the main sights, but that was not enough.

The traffic on Sunday had become so painful that officials of Lake Elsinore asked for help from neighboring authorities in law enforcement. At one point, the city pulled the curtain and closed the access to Walker Canyon covered with poppy.

"It was crazy, absolutely crazy," said Mayor Steve Manos, who described this intervention as "apocalypse of the poppy."

On Monday, the #poppyshutdown announced by the city on Twitter was over and the road to the canyon was reopened.

And people were flocking again.

The visitors, young and old, from the Lake Elsinore area seemed just as thrilled to take a picture of themselves on the iridescent orange carpet.

Some people have contacted their friends and family during video calls so they can share the beauty in real time. The artists set canvases on the side of the trail to paint the superflowering, while the drones were buzzing overhead.

Patty Bishop, 48, from nearby Forest Lake, was her second visit. The Californian had never seen such an explosion of colors of the state flower. She struggled against traffic jams Sunday, but that did not deter her from returning Monday for another look. She arrived at sunrise and stayed for hours.

"There have been so many in one area," she said. "I think that's probably the main reason why I'm here, it's because it's beautiful."

Stephen Kim and his girlfriend arrived at Lake Elsinore even before sunrise Sunday to defeat the crowd, but there were already hundreds of people.

The two wedding photographers walked the designated trails with a couple of fiancees to take a photo shoot with the flowers in the background, but they were upset to see so many people coming off the trail and trash. They picked up as many as possible of discarded water bottles.

"You see this beautiful blank picture of nature, but then you look left and you will see Starbucks plastic cups and bottles of water on the trail, selfie sticks and angry people because some are walking more slowly, "said Kim, 24, of Carlsbad.

Andy Macuga, Honorary Mayor of the Borrego Springs Desert City, another hotspot for wildflowers, said he felt good for Lake Elsinore.

In 2017, a superflowering rain has attracted more than 500,000 visitors to the city, which has 3,500 inhabitants. The restaurants ran out of food. Gas stations ran out of fuel. Traffic has declined on a single road for 32 kilometers.

The city knows again an extraordinary flowering.

The crowd is back. The hotels are full. Last Saturday, more than 6,000 people stopped at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center, California's largest park, with an area of ​​2,590 square kilometers. .

But it is useful that the masses of flowers appear in several different areas this time and some sections fade, while others are lit with flowers, which helps to disperse the crowd a little.

More importantly, said Macuga, the city's businesses prepared this time as if a major storm was about to occur. Its restaurant, Carlee's, consumes on average more than 550 meals a day, compared to 300 on the usual March day.

"We were completely caught off guard in 2017 because it was the first time we had a flower season like this with social media," he said. "It helps now to know what will happen."

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Watson brought back from San Diego. Amanda Lee Myers, a writer at the Associated Press in Los Angeles, contributed to this report.

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This story was corrected to show that Dorothy had been saved in "Wizard of Oz" by a good witch after friends did not take her out of the fields.

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