When I ask people if they’ve been to Carrizo Plain National Monument in California, I sometimes get a quizzical, Where exactly is that? Or, they light up with an enthusiastic Yes! If you haven’t yet been, go see for yourself just how awesome this place is during a Superbloom!
One of the largest remaining grasslands on the West Coast, antelope and elk used to roam the landscape in troves. It’s not the size it once was before California was settled, making it all that more important to preserve and protect.
If you go in the Springtime, ideally after an incredibly wet Winter like the one we had this year, your eyes, soul, and heart will thank you deeply. I hadn’t been to Carrizo Plain until two years ago in 2017, also a Superbloom year (read that post here). I was so moved the first time I went, I knew I had to back again. I relished a gorgeous bike ride up Caliente Ridge with sweeping views of the valley; I’ll always remember it vividly. After the epic rains we received this year, I knew this Spring would be on fire!
I set out on Monday, April 1, 2019, for this trip, about a three and a half hour drive South of Santa Cruz. Driving in on Highway 58 from the Paso Robles area, the hillsides began to explode with fluorescent, vibrant colors. I kept pulling over to look at the scenery, and joined a few others at Shell Creek Road. I’d heard about this spot online; that it was a beautiful street near the Plain that was known for its own impressive blooms. It was surely a gorgeous sight, with a cool creek meandering through it, and the warm 80ºF weather inviting me to relax. It was totally worth the stop!
About thirty minutes further down the road is Carrizo Plain. Along the way, I noticed several large solar arrays. It’s strange to see them dominating the landscape.
I started out at the Wallace Creek site first, a geological wonder where the San Andreas Fault has offset the creekbed over the years. It’s a short hike, and a welcome stretch after sitting in the car so long. I love Plate Tectonics, and it is always a treat to visit Ground Zero for our state’s greatest landbuilding feature, the 800-mile long San Andreas Fault.
After Wallace Creek, I drove down Simmler Road , which leads you down a dirt road into the Soda Lake lakebed that centers the valley. By late Summer, this will be a dry, dusty, alkaline lakebed; the water will evaporate quickly under the baking Summer sun. There were few visitors here today, and plenty of room to pull over and park along the road to take pictures and take in the sights.
After driving through Soda Lake, I went to the Visitor’s Center. I hiked up toward Painted Rock, enjoying relics of farming equipment on display.
I continued West along the southern edge of the plain, pulling off a few more times to savor the intensely vivid landscape. The pictures here do not show the magic! It’s almost a religious experience being here; the silence, the vast plains, and the psychedelic kaleidoscopes of colors make you feel like you’re in paradise. It’s something I highly recommend you experience at least once in your life! Now that I’ve been only twice, I plan many more visits in the coming years. There are numerous unique wildflowers and animals that call this place their home. Go enjoy it firsthand – and soon!
I saw some Bison on the way home along Highway 58!
Here is a video of the trip: