March is a very special time in Arizona. If someone has good luck it might be possible to find treasures here, such as a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, guided by a leprechaun, or the lost Dutchmen’s gold mine in the Superstition Mountains, or golden poppies on a hike in the Sonoran desert. All of these gold treasures are difficult to find except for the latter. Typically, lucky hikers can find a few golden poppies along a trail. Not this year. There is an abundance of golden poppies in bloom in Cave Creek Regional Park this spring.
Overton trail is a moderate 3.4 miles hike and it is surprisingly beautiful with golden poppies and other wild flowers this spring. There is no need to scan slopes. There are millions of golden poppies everywhere. They grow along the trail and adorn the mountains’ slopes. They bow their sunny heads quivering under the gusts of wind in ravines. They mingle with other flowers such as delicate lilac woolystars, purple lupines, and pink fluffy Indian brush. They stand out amidst the fields of yellow tiny balls of dogweed flowers which cover the hills. Golden poppies crowd around boulders and break through crevasses and rocks. They peak out from under creosote bushes. They shine their golden delicate petals growing in clusters or covering the mountain slopes entirely.
The Nature Center in the park has friendly staff. Rangers are always willing to share their knowledge about the park, its plants, and wild life. There is also a gift shop, and a large glass showcase where rattlesnakes live in the settings which resemble the natural desert environment. Outside of the Nature Center there is an interpretive trail with signs next to desert plants and trees, naming those plants and trees. There is also an amphitheater, where rangers’ talks take place and a small preserve with a drinking pool. A desert tortoise named Piccolo lives in that small preserve, in a cave under a tree and goes out to have a drink of water every day at the same time in the afternoon. The pool is also a watering hole for deer, coyotes and bobcats.
Overton trail has great panoramic views of the town of Cave Creek, of the Sonoran desert and of mountain ranges. Teddy bear cholla and high rising saguaro cacti are one of the most frequent sights of the trail. Most of the plants are very prickly.
There is a fascinating story associated with golden poppy. Its scientific name is Eschscholzia californica. It was first discovered and described by Johann Friedrich von Eschsholtz, an assistant professor of the University of Dorprat, Livonia, (now Tartu, Estonia). Dorprat, Livonia was a part of the Russian Empire at that time. He participated as a naturalist and a surgeon on a Russian expedition around the world onboard of the ship Rurik. His friend and colleague botanist Adelbert von Chamisso accompanied him.
Johann von Eschscholtz collected specimen of plants and insects from every place the expedition visited. He recorded his observations and some flora in California flora, including the golden poppy. It was the first scientific description of plants in California. Adelbert von Chamisso gave the scientific name to the golden poppy after his friend, the scientist who first described it.
Spanish conquistadors called the golden poppy “the cup of gold” and the California coast “the land of fire” due to a showy display of golden poppies during the bloom season on the coastal seaside hills. It helped them to navigate their ships.
Native Americans used it for medicinal purposes to treat headaches, toothaches and also as a sleep aid for children.
Golden poppies are native to California, but they also grow in Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Baja California, and Sonora, Mexico. Since 1903 the golden poppy was adopted as a state flower of California.