California Super Bloom Visitors Cause 'Poppy Apocalypse' Public Safety Crisis

A small city in Southern California declared a public safety crisis over the weekend and was forced to close off a canyon carpeted in a rare, dense spread of wildflowers as officials struggled to cope with the number of visitors heading to the site.

Lake Elsinore is among spots in Southern California and Arizona to be blanketed in flowers, after a combination of a wetter than average winter and unusually cool February created the perfect scenario for a so-called super bloom event.

According to NBC affiliate San Diego 7, orange poppies are thriving in the hills beside the 15 Freeway leading to the lake.

The flowers first appeared in late February, and a community services officer was put in place to control traffic around the Walker Canyon Trail super bloom hot spot on Saturdays and Sundays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. But that wasn't enough to prevent the chaos locals and officials have been dealing with since then.

Over the weekend, visitors ignored last week's pleas by Lake Elsinore officials, who said the city is "not made for Disneyland-size crowds," and headed to the Walker Canyon Trail anyway. By Saturday evening, the city had called on locals for help in a Facebook post, which said, "This is a public safety crisis so we ask your support."

As many as 500 vehicles were illegally parked on Interstate 15 at one point on Sunday, San Diego 7 reported, citing the California Highway Patrol. The road was clogged with vehicles throughout the weekend, according to the news outlet.

Dubbing the incident #PoppyShutdown, Lake Elsinore City Hall closed off Walker Canyon on Sunday after the situation "escalated beyond our available resources," according to its Facebook page.

Anticipating next weekend's chaos, the city hall said it would consider all options to maintain order, including closing the area off. "We know it has been miserable and has caused unnecessary hardships for our entire community," the city said on Facebook.

Adding to the stress caused by the hellish traffic, a hit-and-run driver struck a city employee, and a visitor was bitten by a rattlesnake, Steve Manos, Lake Elsinore's mayor, wrote on Facebook.

"Residents have been screaming at the people directing traffic," he said, calling the situation insane. Manos described the swaths of sightseers as the "poppy apocalypse."

In the run-up to the weekend, the city tried to prepare for the expected chaos by providing a shuttle service to Walker Canyon, increasing police and code enforcement officers' presence, and enlisting the help of California Highway Patrol to stop people from parking on the freeway.

Lake Elsinore City Hall urged flower fans to head to the trail on a weekday, if they have to visit at all.

Lake Elsinore isn't the only location that is a victim of its super bloom popularity. Randy Solis, a Riverside County Habitat Conservation Agency patrol officer monitoring sightseers at the nearby Temescal Mountains, said he saw people trampling blooms, the Los Angeles Times reported.

super bloom wild flowers california getty
People visit a "super bloom" of wild poppies blanketing the hills of Walker Canyon, near Lake Elsinore, California, on March 12. Heavier than normal winter rains in California have caused a rare, dense spread of wildflowers in various locations in the state. Mario Tama/Getty Images