I drove down to Carrizo Plain National Monument on Saturday morning to meet 4wheelbob whom I've gotten to know through Backpacker.com for some exploring and photography and to camp overnight down there. This is an amazing spot to go to this time of year because of the variety and abundance of wildflowers that bloom there, but again, this is a phenomenal year for California wildflowers. If you are within driving distance of any of these places which typically have good wildflower displays, well this year they're over the top incredible, and you should definitely go! I went to Carrizo Plain two years ago and it was quite nice but this year it is amazing!
Carrizo Plain National Monument is huge, 250,000 acres, and it's taken care of by the BLM and is located in the Coastal Range in eastern San Luis Obispo County. This is a very rural part of California, there are a few ranches out there but that is it. There is no gas, no store, and no water available within about 50 miles of Carrizo Plain. There are two designated camping areas but I found out you can also legally car camp along the Elkhorn Road. Most of the roads in the Monument are unpaved and are impassable when they are wet. Fortunately it had been dry for over a week so we didn't have any trouble getting around.
This is how much of the central part of California used to look. Because much has been developed Carrizo Plain is special. There are more threatened and endangered species of vertebrates here than any other part of California. There are also an array of rare plants.
I met Bob at KCL Campground, which is also where I camped two years ago. It's a primitive campground, there are two toilets and tables and fire rings but that is it. It is also a free campground but there is a donation box out there if you feel generous. Bob had staked out a spot in the corner of the campground and we put up our tents then set out to explore the valley uphill from the campground. I could spot one technicolor patch of California poppies up there. It's amazing how neon-bright those flowers can be and how they just pop and stand out from the grassland around them!
This is also a very noisy campground - there are birds galore that hang out here! Red-winged Blackbirds and Meadowlarks were the noisiest!
For the first part of our journey we followed an old road. As soon as you get a few hundred feet from the campground you start seeing more and more patches of poppies and other flowers including tidy tips, goldfields, fiddleneck, red maids, filaree, cryptantha, and mustard. Then we started making our way up the left side of the valley which also had quite a few species of flowers including wild onion, broad-leaf gilia, locoweed, owl's clover, hyacinth, wild parsley, and bush lupine. Altogether we counted about 20 species on this short excursion alone! There was also an abundance of little white mushrooms that were growing evenly spaced which I thought was neat to see in a relatively arid area. Bob also encountered a snake! It wasn't a rattler, it had a red head, and he tried to catch it but it was too quick!
We made our way back to the campground, circling around it on the old road. We saw at one point what I believe was a San Joaquin Antelope Squirrel which is a relatively rare species. Then we came up to two locked gates that we had to find a way to get past. I was able to squeeze between two upright fence posts but it took a little more work for Bob to get himself and his wheelchair through. But we did it pretty easily with a little bit of maneuvering.
Once back at the campsite we ate lunch and a BLM Ranger pulled up to chat. I'm pretty sure that if you look up BLM Ranger in the dictionary that there will be a picture of him there. Big cowboy hat, badge, and tattoos on his arms, lol He was very nice and Bob asked him about where the pronghorn antelope were hanging out. The ranger said they're harder to spot because they've separated, the females apparently go off by themselves to give birth to their babies.
After lunch we decided to go over to the Goodwin Visitor Center. It's worth the stop, they have some very nice displays and they have a stuffed condor flying from the ceiling. This one was one of the first condors that was re-released into the wild but it died by hitting a power pole. They are such huge birds!
The lady who works in the visitor center has been living out there since 1976. I overheard her telling someone else that this is one of the best years for wildflowers since she's been out there.
We then made our way out to Selby Campground, I took a few pictures out that way, then we headed back to KCL. We made dinner and started a fire and stayed up a few hours chatting and trying to keep warm as a rather cold breeze was blowing through now and then. A Great Horned Owl flew into the Eucalyptus Tree nearby and began serenading us. We also heard coyotes pretty close by. A rustling noise near Bob's tent made him turn on his headlamp and we saw a very cute and big-eyed giant kangaroo rat! The first one I've ever seen, and they get big, up to 14" tall! He scampered away after recovering from that rat caught in the headlights moment, lol
The night was very peaceful and I slept well. This was also the first time I'd used my new Insul Mat and it is very comfy! My synthetic bag, however, which I use for car camping in mild weather, has lost most of its warmth despite being kept always unstuffed in a big cotton sack, and it took me a while to warm up. It's a Sierra Designs 0* bag and it's never kept me warm when it's below freezing and now it's not even keeping me warm when it's below 50*! In the early morning it seemed to get warmer outside and I got up to use the restroom to find that a fog had moved in. It was still foggy when we woke up, made ourselves breakfast, and packed up.
We decided to drive over to the edge of Soda Lake where there is a boardwalk. It was a nice walk, we had it all to ourselves that morning. I was excited to find two new species of wildflowers out there, a little as-of-yet unidentified yellow flower and a larkspur, a beautiful larkspur, which I later looked up and found that it was recurved larkspur and it is a BLM sensitive plant that's only found in a few specialized habitats in a few counties in California.
Bob and I parted ways after that. He headed over to the Visitor Center again and I headed up to the Soda Lake Overlook. There I found another species of sunflower and I enjoyed the view from up there.
There are lots of other very interesting places to see at Carrizo Plain, but I'd visited these areas two years ago. I'd definitely recommend driving up to Caliente Ridge and over to Wallace Creek where the San Andreas Fault has dramatically displaced the creek bed.
I then started to head home. I took the Seven Mile Road which cuts back over to Highway 58. The flower displays along this stretch of road are incredible! There are billions and trillions of goldfields, fern-leaf phacelia, filaree, and tidy tips out there, colorful carpets stretching for miles! I spent a lot of time out there just wandering around. There was dew on all the flowers and my shoes and pants from the knee down soaked through. I'm sure all that moisture is a very good thing for all the flowers, though!
Highway 58 just east of the Monument is covered with flowers right now and it's a wonderful curvy road, what my family would say is a "Car Commercial Road." And, sure enough, they were filming a car commercial that day on it! I got stopped for a few minutes by a CHP officer who then led the traffic past where the commercial was being filmed.
Anyway, it was a great weekend - beautiful wildflowers, a few neat animal encounters, and good company. I hope to hike with 4wheelbob again, maybe I'll join him in his excursion up to White Mountain Peak in August!
Trip Report with lots (more!) pictures!
The mountains are calling and I must go. ~ John Muir ~ www.tarol.com