It was a great afternoon drive. I did not expect to see many wildflowers at all on this little excursion. Maybe—if I were lucky—a few blooms would still be holding out. But it was a glorious day for a drive, so I took off anyway. I had never been to Carrizo Plain National Monument, even though it is less than 100 miles away from my home in Bakersfield, California. I started driving east on Highway 58.
Heading northeast across the Temblor Range, I eventually drove down into the Carrizo Plain. The main road across this largest remnant of the original habitat of the San Joaquin Valley is Soda Lake Road. Parts of the road are not paved, but they are pretty well maintained. Although the area can look dry and harsh, it really is home to abundant flora and fauna now and in the wetter climate of the past. Native tribes have lived in the area since at least 10,000 years ago and homesteaders started moving into the area in the early 1800s.
Today, a few wildflowers were evident on my drive as well as lots of birds (black birds, ravens, meadow larks) and a few small scurrying squirrels. Of course, only the wildflowers were willing to pose!
Soda Lake was intriguing as it stretched for what looked like miles across the hills. The white crust atop its 3,000 acres is comprised of sulfates and carbonates, resulting from the evaporation of mineral-laden surface water. The winds stirred up a white dust devil swirling across the lake.
I was able to visit the Carrizo Plain this spring because steps have been taken to preserve the area. In 1988, a joint effort of the United States Bureau of Land Management, the California Department of Fish and Game, and the Nature Conservancy pulled resources to buy about 82,000 acres within the Carrizo Plain. In 1996, an official joint initiative was started to work on preserving the location. Finally, on 17 January 2001, President Bill Clinton designated the area as the Carrizo Plain National Monument and soon after its area increased to its current size of almost 247,000 acres (about 50 miles long and 15 miles across).
If you have not visited the Carrizo Plain National Monument yet, plan a trip. The area contains several interesting geological features such as a clear view of the San Andreas Fault along Wallace Creek; Painted Rock, a 4,000 year old sandstone formation that is covered with native pictographs; and Soda Lake, a dry lake bed that covers almost 3,000 acres. On today’s visit, I did not take any of the hikes out to view these specific features; some of them are only accessible via guided yours. Next time. Probably in March, when more of the wildflowers might be in bloom.
Is there a hidden gem near you that you love to visit and wish more people knew about?