Following welcome March rains, the hills are graced with an abundant mantle of flowers that will reign until summer's heat ends their moment of glory.
For the next few weeks there are colorful displays available to suit all three of the major classes of flower watchers.
The first of these types--the mobile flower fan--wants to log a quick panoramic peek at blooms en route to a faster-paced activity, such as having the car serviced, or browsing through a mall.
For the first type there are several options, some alongside major freeways where he or she needn't so much as slow down. As this is written, stands of purple Lupine backed by yellow mustard are blooming brightly along the Moorpark Freeway between the Ventura Freeway and Moorpark. And west of the Conejo Grade on the Ventura Freeway, giant yellow coreopsis cling to the hills on their tall, gray stalks.
For the ultimate mustard-watching experience, mobile flower fans can travel California 33 between Ventura and Ojai. As they pass through Oak View and look north across the valley, they can see hills drenched in the bright gold of millions of massed mustard plants, an inconsequential weed when seen by itself.
Mobile flower fans willing to wander off the beaten path, so long as it is paved, should take California 1 south of Point Mugu to the coastal canyons.
A Times survey (conducted by one reporter) revealed the best stand of wildflowers in the county to be along Deer Creek Road, five miles below Point Mugu. Here, hordes of tiny sunflowers struggle with Lupine to find a footing on steep sloping meadows.
But it will not suit true Category Two types, those reared on the work ethic. They value no flower that can be seen without hiking, preferably uphill. They'll be pleased to know that according to Sierra Club leader Irene Isgur, Santa Paula Canyon is now home to Brodiaea, Chinese Houses and yellow fiddleneck, most of them reached after wading the Santa Paula creek twice and scrambling up a rocky trail.
Thousand Oaks' Wildwood Park--a rolling acreage popular with joggers--offers easier access but a fair challenge in sighting Mariposa lilies, goldfields and purple Brodiaea among the tall grass.
Pairs of genuine "no pain, no gain" Category Twos might want to tackle a day at Anacapa Island. In a phone conversation, National Park Ranger Bill Faulkner explained that those braving the sea voyage must transfer from ship to skiff to enter the harbor, climb a 10-foot ladder to a landing, and scale 154 stairs to the island plateau. "Don't bring anything real heavy," he said.
Such athletes will enjoy Island Morning Glory, Island Poppies and what the park rangers consider the best stand of giant coreopsis seen in six years. "There are so many, you can almost see them from here," said Faulkner, who works out of the Ventura Marina.
The sight might not hold much appeal for the third class of flower seekers, those who value science over affect. With this group, flower knowledge is everything, and it can get downright competitive. Can you distinguish between a Wild Morning Glory and a bindweed? At how many paces? What is the greatest number of species you have logged in an afternoon?
Group three might be happier in the company of a specialist on one of the many guided tours in the area. Botanist Rick Burgess conducts such walks with the California Native Plant Society.
Burgess led a hike in Ojai recently to count the Fritillaria ojaiisis, a plant so rare it has no common name. His team found 61 specimens of the endangered species with its lily-like chartreuse blossoms.
Burgess, who throws Latin terms around like a Jesuit, doesn't so much care about a plain, old and bright Indian paintbrush--he savors the difference between the Castilleja marinii and the Castilleja foliolosa. A wishbone bush he recognizes as Mirabilis californica, and blue-eyed grass becomes Sisyrinchium bellum. On the rare occasion when Burgess forgets a flower's proper name, there are other enthusiasts on the walk who will be happy to supply it. Names such as angiosperms, dicots and umbels buzz through the air like terms on a biology exam.
But he never tires of answering questions, and he knows where the best flowers are. Those who choose his upcoming hike listed on this page can be assured of finding Eriogonum crocatum and Hemizonia minthornii. They look better than they sound.
Santa Paula Canyon. Access through the grounds of Thomas Aquinas College at 10000 N. Ojai Road (California 150) between Ojai and Santa Paula. Park in lot outside entrance, hike about one mile through the grounds, following signs to marked trail.
Wildwood Park. Take Lynn Road exit off Ventura Freeway in Thousand Oaks. Turn left on Avenida de las Arboles to end of road.
Happy Camp County Park. Take Walnut Canyon Road (California 23) north from Moorpark, turn right on Broadway, continue to end.