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Spring on the Carrizo Plain 2019

A couple weeks ago, I headed to the Carrizo Plain, not quite making it to the Carrizo Plain National Monument.  The drive was gorgeous with gold splashed across the Temblor Range.

Even if there were no color, the Carrizo Plain is incredible to behold.  It is the largest single native grassland remaining in California.  It stretches approximately 50 miles long and up to 15 miles wide.  Viewing the open vistas of the Carrizo Plain is like looking into the past, when much of California was undisturbed grasslands.  It boggles the mind!

Today’s drive was dreary and cloudy, but still remarkable. There were some shifts and additions in the color evident in the hills. The golds were still there, but purple and magenta were also popping up demanding attention.  Alice Walker’s famous quote could really apply to all the vibrant colors that dance across the hills in the spring:  “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”

Some California Poppies

Fiddleneck

Phacelia

Goldfields

The intersection of Highway 58 and Seven Mile Road still offered a great display of yellow splashed across the Temblor Range.  This is where this year’s first drive ended.

On this second drive, I continued on Highway 58, heading toward Soda Lake Road and the Carrizo Plain National Monument.  It was a dreary overcast day with heavy cloud cover.  But the roads were still fun to drive, the vistas were magnificent, and the flowers demanded attention.

Owl Clover

A Refreshing Breeze Was a Constant Companion

Milk Vetch

Owl Clover

Munz’s Tidytips

What eventually became the National Monument started in 1988 when 82,000 acres of the Carrizo Plain were purchased in order to preserve the grassland.  In 1996, the area was officially labeled the Carrizo Plain National Area.  Then, in 2001, President Bill Clinton officially made the area a National Monument.  By that time, the preserved lands had increased to almost 250,000 acres.

 

Baby Blue Eyes

This is a distant view of the Temblor Range from the far end of Seven Mile Road where it intersects with Soda Lake Road.

Aerial View of Soda Lake
Google Image

A major feature of the Carrizo Plain is Soda Lake, which is located on the southwest side of the Plain’s northern section. The lake—when full—covers an area of 4.6 square miles. It sits at 1,900 feet and is comprised of two large basins and 130 smaller pans.  Officially, Soda Lake is “a shallow ephemeral alkali endorheic lake.”  Basically, it is one of the largest alkali wetlands in natural condition left in California.  When the water from a wet winter recedes, a salty crust is left on the surface. Soda Lake Road, itself, parallels the lake and stretches from Highway 58 in the north to Highway 166 in the south, covering at least 25 miles. You can hike out toward the lake, if you are so inclined.  I am impressed enough just driving along it for miles and miles.

Below is a distant view of Soda Lake from the intersection of Highway 58 and Seven Mile Road.

Soda Lake Road is an intense drive: some sections are paved, but most of it is hard-packed dirt covered by ruts and potholes and even some washboard sections. Drive carefully but enjoy the scenery!

I saw and heard several meadowlarks, but they refused to be photographed.  This sparrow did cooperate for a few photos.

As I headed home, it began to rain. Refreshing end to a nice day!

If you have never visited the Carrizo Plain, add it to your bucket list.  There is still some time this year when the color should stay vibrant.  Or put a visit on your calendar for next spring.  Of course, any time of the year you can hike and appreciate the open grasslands, including seeing some painted rocks left years ago by indigenous tribes or wandering literally on a section of the Andreas Fault. It’s an incredible place.

This is a helpful article about traveling to the area. Johna Hurl, Manager of the Carrizo Plain National Monument, does not use the term superbloom. Instead, she simply says, “It’s springtime in Carrizo.”

NOTE:  I have identified the names of wildflowers when possible.  I am not 100% certain all my labels are correct.  There are several that I would just call “pretty flowers.”  If you can share some names or corrections, please do so.

A Delightful Spring Afternoon

It was the second day of Spring, and I was not incredibly optimistic about having a good day looking for wildflowers.  It had rained the day before and was—in fact—still raining into the morning.  The rain was expected to stop by about noon, but it was still cloudy.  My goal was to get out to Carrizo Plain National Monument, but since it is traversed by a combination of paved and dirt roads, I knew I would not drive on those roads until they had time to really dry out.  Afterall, four cars were stuck in the mud last week.

The best I could do would be to head towards the Carrizo Plain National Monument  and just see what I could find.  I started on some county roads heading out to pick up Highway 33 near McKittrick; that road becomes Highway 58 as it heads out toward Seven Mile Road.

I drove about 65 miles to get out into the beautiful hills.  Some more color started to appear in the fields as I moved closer to McKittrick.

The color on the early part of the drive was nice but not really spectacular.  The clouds, however, were incredible–they made it a good afternoon even if that’s all I saw.

The greatest color was evident around the intersection of Highway 58 and Seven Mile Road.  Yellow seemed to be everywhere, with occasional spots of purple, white, and orange.

There were no poppies and lupine on these hills.  They are my favorite, and I should see them when I visit the Poppy Preserve in a few weeks.  In these hills, Goldfields, Great Valley Phacelia, Common Fiddleneck, and Milk Vetch provided the color.  They are pretty!

Fiddleneck

Some Nice Little Purple Flowers

Goldfields

Milk Vetch

Great Valley Phacelia

It ended up being a wonderfully colorful afternoon.  I look forward to driving out to Carrizo Plain National Monument in the next couple of weeks.  This year’s bloom could rival the 2017 Super Bloom.

SEARCHING FOR SPRING, PART 4: Carrizo Plain National Monument

CARRIZO PLAIN NATIONAL MONUMENT

“Spring is Nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s party!'”   Robin Williams

“The day the Lord created Hope was probably the same day he created Spring.”  Bernard Williams

The first time I visited Carrizo Plain National Monument was in April 2016.  At that time, I was impressed by its vastness and stark views, and I enjoyed the occasional blossoms alongside the road.  The history and geology of the area are fascinating as well.  The park ranger advised I come back in March next time if I wanted to see more flowers.

She sure was right.

I visited the Carrizo Plain a couple times in March 2017, once with a friend.  (Our photos are intermixed a bit in this presentation.)  The flowers were absolutely tremendous. I drove in from the north, taking Highway 58 to Highway 33 into McKittrick.  Soda Lake Road runs through the park, eventually connecting to Highway 166 and the drive home.   Near and far, color was everywhere.  This year’s wildflower display is surely a Super Bloom!

The main road through the Carrizo Plain wanders back and forth between paved and unpaved, but—no matter what—flowers are strewn along the way adding color and variety.  Wind was a constant companion as well.  The breezes really kept the flowers and grasses dancing across the hills.

The hills, of course, are alive with color.  I especially like the occasional patches of pink and orange that popped out amidst the more typical yellow, green, and varying shades of blue and purple.

Soda Lake is at the heart of the Carrizo Plain, There is a hill that offers an overlook of the lake as well as a boardwalk that lets visitors stroll lakeside.

 

I have not identified all the flowers in bloom on my visits, but some of the main ones include Brittlebush, Blue Phacelia, Creosote Bush, Fiddleneck, Milk Vetch, Baby Blue Eyes, and then some sort of Daisy, something pink, and perhaps California Bluebell.  Lupine and California Poppies finally started to blossom along Highway 166.

Blue Phacelia

Brittlebrush

Fiddleneck

Baby Blue Eyes

Milk Vetch

Some Sort of Daisy? Maybe a Version of Desert Dandelion?

Juniper Berries

Creosote Bush

California Bluebells?

I Love the Grasses

These Lupine and California Poppies were captured on the steep curves of Highway 166.

If you have not yet visited Carrizo Plain National Monument, get there fast.  You might catch the end of this year’s Super Bloom.  Definitely add visiting here to your plan for next spring.

NOTE:  I am never 100% confident in my flower identifications.  If you can make corrections, please share your expertise in the comments.  Thanks.  Whether I can name them or not, these wildflowers are incredible!

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