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
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.
A Refreshing Breeze Was a Constant Companion
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.
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.