Wildflowers in the Fallbrook Burn Area, 2003

Note for the Southern California Botanists Field Trip on May 31: I have switched the primary and optional trail for this trip. We will begin with the shady south Santa Margarita River Trail, with an option to do a portion of the north Santa Margarita River Trail afterward. I switched it for the following reasons:

I walked the trail Tuesday, May 27, and will update the plant guide to that trail by Friday. I'll print out five copies or so of that guide in booklet form; if you let me know you're coming, I'll reserve one for you.

The Fallbrook burn area along the south-facing banks of the Santa Margarita River exploded into bloom in March 2003. I strongly recommend you make every attempt to observe this stunning bloom sometime in March or April 2003.

Such a bloom explosion is what usually happens after a burn, as long as there is adequate rainfall and no foolish attempts are made to seed the area with grasses. Nutrients locked up in older vegetation were returned to the soil from the fire, and the entire landscape was opened up to sunlight with the removal of that older vegetation.

The bloom has a large number of fire-following species that have not been seen for many years, or not seen in nearly as much abundance. (Interestingly, the bloom on the shady south side trail is about the same as usual, with virtually no enhancement at all from the fire.)

The best time to see these blooms is ~10 a.m. to ~3 p.m. on a sunny day, since the poppies and a few others close their blooms early or late in the day, or on cloudy days.


Here is a guide to where to go, and where the pictures were taken.

To get to downtown Fallbrook from I-15: take I-15 to the Mission Road exit, turn west on Mission Road, and follow the road into town. (On the west side of the freeway, Mission Road will curve north before heading west.) You'll pass through a stoplight at Stagecoach Drive, with a "Welcome to Fallbrook Avocado Capital" sign at a real estate office, continue winding through curves, and go through another stoplight near downtown at Brandon Road and head up a small hill. On the way down from that hill, the speed limit will change to 25 mph, and you'll pass through the stoplight at Main Street. The next block also has a stoplight, Pico Avenue, with a sign "to De Luz Road".

Take Pico Avenue north from its intersection with E. Mission Road. Pico Avenue turns into De Luz Road in one block, and you descend into the Santa Margarita River canyon with ~8 curves or so, and immediately at the bottom, junction with Sandia Creek Drive on your right.

To get to the parking lot for the Santa Margarita River Trail, which is a good place to start your exploration and get your bearings, go right on Sandia Creek Drive (it is almost like going straight, since De Luz Road curves left there.) Follow Sandia Creek Drive for 1-2 miles along the river, and just before it curves left to cross the river on an Arizona crossing, turn right into the parking lot for the Santa Margarita River Trail. There is a stream gauge in a concrete block building with an antenna on it in the parking lot.

The location of the pictures below is given here:

The pictures in Set 1 were taken by Tom Chester looking north from De Luz Road, from a turnout about a mile west of the intersection with Sandia Creek Drive.

The pictures in Set 2 were taken by Tom Chester immediately north of Sandia Creek Drive, just after it crosses the River and turns west.

The pictures in Set 3 were taken by Beth and Charlie Cobb, and Joe and Jane Comella, from the North Santa Margarita River Trail.

As of 5 April 2003, the bloom is still great up close, but no longer produces riots of color that fill a photograph taken from a distance or with color so intense that it hurt the eye. But once you hike into the south-facing slopes of the burn area, you will still be delighted with the amount of color that surrounds you, and the many pretty blossoms you can view up close.


  1. For the stunning bloom, ignore the Santa Margarita River Trail head on the east side of the parking lot. That trailhead stays on the south side of the river, and doesn't have the major bloom until after about two miles of trail. (There are plenty of pretty blooms along that trail, including some you won't see on the north side trail, such as Chinese Houses, but there is not the stunning show on that trail seen in these pictures. For a preliminary plant guide to that trail, see SMR Trail.)

  2. Walk across the river on Sandia Creek Road. You can then immediately enjoy the bloom right there on the north side of the Road, which is where the pictures in Set 2 were taken. To view the flowers there, cross to the other side of the chain link fence on its east side, or take the use trail on the west side of the chain link fence.

  3. To see the location of the pictures in Set 3, turn right, and walk along the north side of the river as the road curves north. After about half a mile from the parking lot, there will be a chain link fence on the right, with an obvious opening on its left and a trail, but no hiker-friendly sign. The only sign is "Severe Fire Hazard Area, ... SDSU". Hikers are ok to enter this area; this is Fallbrook Public Utility land, open to hikers just like the trail on the south side. There is parking for a few cars at this area, if you wanted to drive to this point and miss walking along the river.

    Here is a preliminary plant guide to this North SMR Trail beginning at this point.

    Take that faint trail for a tenth of a mile, when it will junction with the obvious main North Santa Margarita River Trail. Go left, and within minutes you will be enjoying the bloom.

    A loop trip is possible that stays on the north side of the river by continuing on that trail for about a mile, then going right on the trail that descends a ridge. At the bottom of the ridge in the riverbed area, the trail will curve right and return you to the junction with the faint trail from the trailhead. The total loop is about 3 miles.

  4. You can also drive west on De Luz Road (to do this first, don't turn off on Sandia Creek Drive), and enjoy the bloom shown in the pictures in Set 1 on the north side from your car. (This no longer gives much of a show from afar on 3 April 2003.)


Thumbnails are displayed below. To see larger version of any picture, click on the picture.

Set 1 (pictures by Tom Chester on 3/12/03)

Remember, these pictures were taken from the road, some distance away from the blooms. Up close, each of these patches looks like the pictures in Sets 2 and 3.

Set 2 (pictures by Tom Chester on 3/12/03)

Set 3 (pictures by Beth and Charlie Cobb on 3/12/03)

Set 3 (pictures by Joe and Jane Comella on 3/11/03)

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Copyright © 2003 by Tom Chester, Beth and Charlie Cobb, Joe and Jane Comella.
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to us at this source:
Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Updated 29 May 2003.