LANCASTER, California — The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve has a few rules: Don’t bring your dog to the park, don’t eat food along the trail, don’t fly drones overhead. The most important one? Stay on the trail. But that's the one that hordes of people have been breaking for the past few weeks, just so they can get a shot in the golden-poppy super bloom.On a typical day, the park sees about 60 visitors. During the super bloom — a semi-rare outbreak of poppies in the spring — that number has skyrocketed to around 2,000, including swarms of kids, families, and models posing for Instagram among the delicate wildflowers.
"They don't care if they're damaging the habitat; they just want their picture," said Jean Rhyne, a longtime interpreter at the reserve who's vocal about the long-term impact on the park’s natural wildlife.“This park was created specifically because of the poppies that are here,” Rhyne said. “And if they get stepped on or sat on to take a picture in […] it compacts the soil and then the roots from the seeds of the next year can't get in. So we'll have scars in the habitat for many years to come. ”Super blooms in California tend to occur about once a decade on average, dependent upon heavy rainfall and favorable temperatures, but this season is the second super bloom the reserve has seen in three years. In 2017, there was what Rhyne calls the “Apopalypse,” when park staff first saw a significant and unexpected rise in visitorship, most of whom were drawn there for social media.Since then, the reserve has tried to adapt, hiring staff from other California State Parks, providing numerous trails and walkways, and even using their hashtag #DontDoomTheBloom to inform people about the potential harm before they visit.But this hasn’t deterred people from getting their perfect shot. Fewer than 300 Instagram posts have the #DontDoomTheBloom tag while more than 147,000 are tagged #superbloom. 45,000 have the hashtag #CaliforniaPoppies.This year has also brought some unique problems. In March, a pair landed a helicopter in the middle of a field of poppies. When a park ranger approached the couple, they ran back to the helicopter and fled. The reserve responded to the incident in a since-deleted post on Facebook: “We never thought it would be explicitly necessary to state that it is illegal to land a helicopter in the middle of the fields and begin hiking off trail. We were wrong.”Rhyne, on the other hand, was not surprised. “You just never know what's going to happen out here,” she said. “People do weird things.”This segment originally aired April 2, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.