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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.

AN AFTERNOON DRIVE: Carrizo Plain

IMG_9678It 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.

IMG_9723Heading 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.

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IMG_9658Today, 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!  

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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.

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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).

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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.

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Is there a hidden gem near you that you love to visit and wish more people knew about?  

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