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LAKE ELSINORE, California (Reuters) - Southern California's deserts and hillsides are ablaze with color after a wet winter spurred what scientists say is the biggest wildflower bloom in years.
Golden California poppies, the state's flower, blanket hillsides along busy high-desert roads and freeways around Lake Elsinore in Riverside County. At Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in San Diego County, the desert blooms with purple Canterbury Bells, red Monkey Flower, white Desert Lily and more poppies.
"Plentiful rains in December, January and February have encouraged the development of a spectacular showing of annual plants in the flower fields north of town, along trails in western canyons, and even in the badlands," naturalists wrote on Anza-Borrego's website.
Before the state's devastating five-year drought, Southern California families often made an annual trek to see wildflowers at Anza-Borrego and other destinations - some as close as a freeway exit in the high desert. Now that storms have replenished dry desert land, the tradition has returned in force.
So many people are visiting Anza-Borrego, the state's largest park, that officials on Tuesday warned of traffic jams and urged flower-lovers to bring plenty of water to avoid dehydration in the hot, dry weather expected this week.
On the steep hillsides of Walker Canyon in Lake Elsinore, people snapped pictures of wildflowers and gathered blooms as they strolled through the gently waving sea of color. Children played and dogs romped through the high stands of poppies as traffic whizzed by on the freeway below.
Reporting by Alan Devall in Lake Elsinore, California and Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California; Writing by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Dan Grebler