Carrizo Plain National Monument
March 12-13, 2005
I drove down to Carrizo Plain National Monument on Saturday morning to meet
4wheelbob, whom I'd gotten to know through Backpacker.com, for some exploring,
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
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
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.
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
what I believe was a San Joaquin Antelope Squirrel which is a threatened 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
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.
|Tidy Tips and California Poppies
|Coreopsis along Highway 58 wowed me as I
approached the Monument from the east
|California Poppies just west of KCL Campground
|Goldfields and Bob's there on the left edge
|Hyacinth, above and below
|Wild Onion, and it smelled like onion!
|Tiny bouquet of a Red Maid and a Filaree
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
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.
|I was taking pictures of this bush lupine when suddenly my flash
went off, it was very sunny so I'm not sure why it did, but the
photo with the flash on turned out to be the best! I'll have to
remember this technique in the future...
|Looking across the Plain to the Temblor Range, can you see how
extensive the Goldfields are on their slopes?
The San Andreas Fault runs along the base of the Temblors
|Cool rocks near Selby Campground
There is a very famous archaeological site at Carrizo Plain called
Painted Rock. I've never been there as this time of year it is closed
due to nesting birds. Some say it's the finest example of rock art in
|Pink cloud at sunset, maybe you can see the very slight
crescent moon in the upper left corner
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
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,
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
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!
|Soda Lake, we saw avocets near the shoreline
|Close up of Salt Bush which grows everywhere out there
|Recurved Larkspur, a BLM sensitive plant
I like how it was covered in dew!
|This one had a slightly different coloration
|Cream Cups Platystemon californicus
|Carpets of goldfields and filaree stretched on for miles
interrupted by interesting vernal pool patterns...
|Moth on a tidy tips flower