If you’re (un)lucky enough to be alive 100 years from now and your grandchild asks you what the United States was like before global temperatures rose by 6 degrees, just tell them about the couple who landed a helicopter in the middle of the exploding poppy fields of Antelope Valley, California, on Monday, March 25, during the 2019 super bloom.
People aren’t content to see a beautiful thing; they feel the need to ruin a small part of it in the process.
We know nothing about these two chopper-bound sightseers, other than that they fled the scene before rangers could identify them. On another weekend, they might be driving up the coast with a “Live Simply, So Others Can Simply Live” bumper sticker on their Model X. Or maybe their 7,000-square-foot house in the hills has a living room full of safari trophies and a card on the fridge from their dear friends the Mercers.
Whatever they do when they’re not landing helicopters in poppy fields doesn’t matter. This couple, whoever they are, just dropped in to become the worst example of people bahaving badly in the middle of the Mojave bloom boom.
Most visitors abide by the rules, but others have ventured off the trail and destroyed part of what they came to see. But even those scofflaws weren’t directly endangering the safety of others.
“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 in the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve,” officials from the reserve, which is part of the California State Park system, said in a since-deleted Facebook post.
A super bloom usually occurs once a decade, but this is the second one in the last three years. The area was overwhelmed during the 2017 bloom, the first one of the social media era. Park staff were more prepared to direct the crowds this time around, but that hasn’t alleviated many of the problems that come with the massive influx of visitors.
Throngs of people—described on the Lake Elsinore, California, official Instagram account as “Disneyland-sized crowds”—have swarmed super bloom sites in California like Antelope Valley and Walker Canyon this month. Lake Elsinore declared a public safety crisis and shut down access to Walker Canyon on March 17, after the town was inundated with 150,000 visitors in a single day. Traffic jams have turned area roads into something more akin to the 405 in Los Angeles. Parking lots are full, and local officials have had to ask visitors not to park their cars on the interstate.
The most common offense has been leaving the trail. Someone steps off the path to get that perfect selfie and stomps out a small patch of flowers in the process. Another person comes along and pushes off the trail just a little further at that spot, killing more flowers and threatening wildlife in the process. Then another, and another, and so on.
Others have skipped the trails altogether and jumped over the barbed-wire fencing and straight into the poppy fields.
Getting off the trail also comes with its own risks. At least one visitor and a dog have been bitten by rattlesnakes this year. Another was hit by a falling rock after venturing off the path in Walker Canyon.
A few of the overeager flower stompers this year received an extra souvenir from rangers in the form of a citation. That’s a less effective deterrent than a snake bite or a boulder to head, but it is at least more punishment than what the helicopter couple received.
Telling people to stay away from super blooms and packed national parks isn’t exactly realistic. But there are other ways to alleviate the problem, like creating more parks and monuments, increasing the number of park staff on hand, and being more thoughtful tourists.
Most of us aren’t rich or stupid enough to consider landing a helicopter in the middle in a field of poppies, but it shouldn't be too much to ask anyone to bring just a little self-awareness when they visit these places.