Wildflower season in Southern California usually peaks during a short window from mid-March through late-April, but it isn’t always a dazzling display. Many factors can affect the bloom, the amount of winter rain being the most obvious, but there’s also temperature (too much heat will dry up the flowers quickly), highs winds (too much blows away the petals), ongoing drought conditions, too many little critters chowing down, and even whether the previous year “used up” most of the dormant seeds under the ground.
This past winter, as you probably saw on the news, was a record-breaker for most of the West Coast and especially California…and MUCH needed! And despite the flooding and mudslides and people in the mountains having to climb out their their second story windows just to escape their homes under 25 feet of snow, all that water is precious after half a decade of way-below-average rainfall and severe drought.
And obviously, the wildflowers LOVE all that water!
As such, many folks in and around Southern California were crossing our fingers, hoping for a decent bloom and perhaps even one of those rare treats: a SUPERbloom. The last one of those we had was back in 2019, and it was a doozy! I myself got photos that year that looked like this…
Oh, did I mention I’m a nature photographer in addition to being a Trekkie? And I’m just as obsessed with both! During some superbloom years, I’ve driven literally thousands of miles in a matter of a few weeks, criss-crossing the map of Southern California going to all sorts of secret and not-so-secret places to photograph these beauties. All of the above images were taken in the Antelope Valley, part of the Mojave Desert near the town of Lancaster.
As it happens, a fan filmmaker named MATTHEW BLACKBURN, the creator the SURVIVOR series of Trek fan films, lives in the Antelope Valley. And back in 2019 while I was taking the above photos, he and his wife Katie were driving along Highway 138 when they saw the most magnificent field of orange poppies and another field of yellow coreopsis carpeting a grove of Joshua trees. Always thinking like a filmmaker, Matt stopped the car and changed into a Deep Space Nine jacket and tunic that was in his trunk (’cause we all have a Starfleet uniform in our trunk, right?). Katie was used to being Matt’s camera person, and they shot footage of him walking through the two fields, looking around, and falling backwards into the wildflowers. At the time, Matt had no idea what the footage would be used for, but at least he’d have it.
Ultimately, those clips made their way into LOST AND FOUND, a Star Trek fan film that Matt released two and a half years later in late 2021. The wildflower scenes appear during a hallucinogenic mind-scape sequence as Matt’s captain character battles a psychic entity trying to take control of him. You can see those shots beginning at 5:33 in the video below…
When I interviewed Matt about that release, I joked that I knew exactly where he was when he and Katie filmed those shots, and I talked about all of the “secret” places that I knew where most people (especially those who don’t have all-wheel drive) never bother going. During superblooms, tens of thousands of people from all over the country and even the world make their way to certain easy-t0-reach areas of the Antelope Valley while never bothering with the dirt roads that lead into the middle-of-nowhere. The dirts roads aren’t particularly challenging (I’ve done it without AWD), but most people prefer pavement. Go figure!
After that interview, Matt told me that he’d love to come along with me the next time I went on a wildflower excursion to see those “secret” places. Thanks to the years-long severe drought here in the Golden State, I didn’t have anything to photograph last spring. But this year’s mega-rains have led to an amazing superbloom all over the map of Southern California. And I was ready to take full advantage of it.
With 12-year-old Jayden in school Monday-Friday, my wildflower trips were limited to weekends and, more specifically, to weekend days when Jayden didn’t have Robotics Team practices scheduled. I ended up managing three wildflower trips this year during the brief window. On April 7, I drove a couple of hours to Hemet, CA and a lovely area called Diamond Valley Lake, where I got shots like these…
The following weekend, I drove three hours (each way) out to Carrizo Plain National Monument and meanders 30 miles along a VERY bumpy and uneven dirt road to get photos like these…
And yes, this blog is providing a convenient excuse to show off my wildflower photography (and if you want to see more, check out these posts on Facebook: Diamond Valley Lake part 1, Diamond Valley Lake part 2, Carrizo Plain part 1, Carrizo Plain part 2, and the Antelope Valley).
As you can see from the above links, my final wildflower trip took place on April 23 and was a return to the Antelope Valley. And as requested, I reached out to Matthew Blackburn a few weeks prior to see if he’d like to accompany me (and, as it turned out, my son Jayden, as well). Matt said that he’d love to, and we made plans for me to pick him up outside his home on Sunday morning around 9:30am. Sadly, his wife Katie has pollen allergies and wouldn’t be able to join us. So it turned into just a guy’s road trip…to look at all the pretty flowers!
Our first stop was a “road” called Ash Tree Drive near Elizabeth Lake, which was reported on the DesertUSA website to have some “rainbow” hillsides. After a pretty steep and bumpy climb, we reached a spot with an amazing view and spectacular colors…
We all got out of the car, and Matt and I began taking lots of pictures. The day was perfect—mid-seventies, clear blue sky, gentle breeze—and the smell was intoxicating! With the slight exception of a swarm of a few hundred bees flying right past Matt (took about five seconds, during which time he was screaming loudly—Jayden was back in the car, and I was standing about 50 feet away), it was totally peaceful with no one else anywhere close. And considering that “road” we drove to get up there, I wasn’t surprised that we were totally alone!
A few minutes later, Matt informed me that he’d made an important decision: he was going to get into uniform! He’d brought it along in his backpack, thinking once again that he could get some footage for an upcoming fan film project. But he needed a cameraman.
Oh, twist my arm, why dontcha!?!
I actually love shooting video, so I was 100% on board. And so Matt directed the shot. He would start off lying on his back in a carpet of wildflowers. I’d start zoomed in on some of the flowers and then slowly pan over to a close-up on his face, zooming out slightly as he came to, sat up, and began looking around. Easy enough!
Actually, it wasn’t as easy as I would have liked. We couldn’t find the right button(s) to switch Matt’s Canon digital camera from screen display to viewfinder mode (the little eyepiece you look through). With the bright sunshine shining on the screen, I could barely tell whether or not Matt was in focus as I zoomed out, and the camera was set to manual focus. We did a little trial and error, pulling focus on some closeups and mid-range focal lengths, and I tried to remember with my fingers how much to dial the focus on the lens. Matt said I shouldn’t worry, but I’m a bit of a perfectionist. So we filmed the scene about four times until Matt and I both liked what we saw.
“Okay, next shot…” he said.
Oh, we’re doing multiple shots? Well, Jayden had his Nintendo Switch in the car, so sure, why not?
The next thing that Matt wanted to film was him standing up, looking around, and then talking to some alien entity(ies) in the sky or somewhere off screen. It was at this point that I learned that, unlike his previous footage from 2019, Matt knew exactly the scene he wanted to do and the storyline it would fit into. His captain character had been transported into something like the Nexus—or maybe it was a holographic reality or something (Matt) wasn’t sure yet. So in a very Jim Kirk-like fashion, Matt begins talking to the entities, trying to reason with them. At one point, he takes out a phaser and shoots it into the air to see if the simulation is real or not. Then, realizing that he is powerless here and at their mercy, he raises his arms, lifts his head to the sky, and let’s them “take” him. Then his body begins to seize up, and he finally falls backward.
Wow, that’s a lot of stuff to shoot!
Matt even had some lines in mind, speaking to the entity(ies), although he didn’t have an official script yet. So he was just kinda making up stuff as he spoke it, and I was told to shoot him from the back so that he could dub in his lines later and not have to match his lip movements. The lines he was speaking would just make sure that Matt would have enough footage to provide the time to fit in the dubbed lines that he would eventually speak in the final edit.
Before shooting, I had an idea. I suggested moving over to a different spot with the lake in the background of the frame. Since the shot would begin with Matt standing up, and the first angle was from the front and the next from behind, we could easily move to a new background. Matt liked the idea, and so we grabbed the next shot.
Okay, done? Hardly!
I had yet another thought. We could go a little more close-up on the captain’s face while he’s not speaking…for example, when he’s firing a phaser or letting the aliens take control of his mind. So Matt did the entire scene again. Then I said, “Okay, do it just one more time, starting off looking away from the camera. And then as you finish speaking, turn your head left slightly, and I’ll come around of get you looking up and raising your arms from the front.”
Matt liked that idea, too, and somehow I had become a second director! And as long as I was willing to stay out there with his camera and keep filming, he was happy to get the extra footage. We ended up having to do a couple of takes of that pan, as the first one accidentally panned too far, allowing some of the houses near the lake below to sneak into the frame.
All in all, we spent about 20 minutes shooting. Then we spent another 5 minutes looking for Matt’s cell phone, which had fallen out of his pocket at some point while he was lying on the ground. But we found it and headed back down to lake level, where we took 3 Points Road (nice and paved this time!) back to Highway 138.
The great thing about the Antelope Valley is that it’s mostly flat, and you can see exactly where the best patches of wildflowers are from the main two-lane highway. Just visually scan for an area in the distance that looks like someone spilled orange paint all over the ground! I find it amusing (although very fortunate) that few other people do this. They all congregate close to the paved roads and crowd into small patches of poppies trying to get selfies and the such. But the vast openness north of Highway 138 is still accessible through a series of north/south and east/west dirt roads. You can’t really get lost, as the Tehachapi Mountains are north and the main road is south. Easy-peasy.
So we drove over more dirt (yeah, my car was gonna need a MAJOR washing after this!) to an amazing field of poppies that seemed to go on forever…
I even took this fun photo of the poppies reflected along the side panels of my car…
As soon as Matt walked out into the field (being careful not to step on any poppies, of course!), he said, “Man, this is even better than the first location! Would you mind filming me again?”
How could I say no? This vista was magical and surreal! If you wanted a fan film to be set in an impossibly idyllic Nexus, this would be it. These flowers would be mostly gone in another week, so carpe diem…or carpe carpet of flora!
Matt changed back into his uniform, and we set up shots just like last time, with Matt lying on his back, sitting up, looking around, standing, having his conversation, shooting at the sky, and finally raising his arms up and falling backward…
But since we had a different terrain with more space to “travel,” Matt also wanted do a couple of longer angle shots, with him walking toward the camera from a distance and then another of him walking away into the distance. And as usual, I had some suggestions of my own that Matt was willing to try, including one where I slowly transitioned from a telephoto zoom to a wide angle as Matt got closer. This would make it look as though he was walking toward the camera but not getting any closer until the very, very end, at which point he would pass just out of frame. I only have a still that he sent me, but when Matt looked at the footage of that approach after I shot it, he pumped his fist and shouted, “YES!”
We dropped off Matt back at this house about seven hours after picking him up. And it was such a fun day! Matt’s a middle and high school history teacher who occasionally uses movies, and even sci-fi and Star Trek movies, in class. For example, want to put the cold war into perspective? How about Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home? Over the years, Matt has shown his students 2001, Contact, The Wind and the Lion, The Truman Show, The Dark Knight trilogy, Gettysburg, Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, The Neverending Story, Legend (Director’s cut), Superman: The Movie (according to Matt, “That one has a GREAT comprehension page we made that covered everything from Physics, to biblical references, to plate tectonics/periodic table”), Magnificent 7 (original), The Searchers, 13 Days, The Count of Monte Cristo, What Dreams May Come, Glory, The Fugitive, and The Princess Bride. He switches it up every year, but some of those titles got good rotation over the last 8 years or so. What a cool teacher, huh?
Anyway, with Matt being no stranger to kids just a little older than Jayden, the two of them got along great. And of course, Matt and I are both Trek fan filmmakers, so we had LOTS to discuss. As often happens when Trekkies get together, we chatted about almost everything (and now I can barely remember any of it!).
But perhaps the best thing about having Matt along is that I finally had somebody available to take a picture of Jayden and me together. Man, that kid is getting so tall…!
6 thoughts on “Unexpected fan filmmaking happens among the California wildflower SUPERBLOOM!”
I lived in the antelope valley. Wildflowers are amazing.
Indeed they are!
Clearly the flower force was with you.
I trust my feelings…but not always my aperture settings! 🙂
Another late comment from me (sorry). Beautiful pictures and wonderful colours, thanks for sharing. Pardon my ignorance, when not in bloom how does the landscape appear? Is there any greenery at all or does it become more barren? I guess the answer might be that it depends.
I’ve been to the Western US and we covered 2000 miles one summer. It was all magnificent and the vistas were both dramatic and varied dramatically e.g. Bryce canyon, Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Big Sur. There were others too, I’m sure you know them better than I do (I hope I’m remembering them correctly). We even stumbled on where they shot Generations.
Oh, and yes, we went to the Grand Canyon too and all I can say is that it is jaw dropping in the truest sense of the word.
During the rest of the year–and during years with drought or weak blooms–the Mojave desert can look quite brown and barren. The same is true for Death Valley, which is amazing. And during good rain years, parts of the valley floor can turn into a sea of yellow wildflowers. But the rest of the year, it’s just rocks, dirt, and sand. There’s still a beauty there, and Joshua Trees n the Mojave Desert (not in Death Valley) don’t shrivel up or anything. But the flowers literally last for weeks, eventually being gobbled up by hungry, hungry caterpillars.
I have indeed been to all of the parks you cited…with the exception of the Valley of Fire, where “Generations” was filmed. One of my favorite places on the planet is southern Utah–Zion Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Cedar Breaks, Escalante, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands. It’s all truly like walking on another planet, and the beauty is breathtaking. In fact, after visiting the Grand Canyon, we next hit Zion, and I said to my girlfriend at the time: “Well, the Grand Canyon is big. But Zion Canyon is a work of art!”
Oh, and if you can ever get to Banff National Park west of Calgary in Alberta, Canada…well, as one of the locals said to me while I was there last, “Yeah, I truly believe that if God could choose to live anywhere, it’d be here.” I can’t say I disagreed! 🙂
BTW, another former girlfriend I had was born in the U.K. and moved here when she was five. She told me once, “The main difference between Europeans and Americans is that Europeans think 100 miles is a long distance, while Americans think 100 years is a long time.” Feel free to use that humorous observation as you see fit.
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