The Carrizo Plain and foothills that border it were popping with sweeping displays of wildflower in yellow and purple hews. It was a heck of a long, one day drive from the Oakhurst area but it was so worth it! If this sounds like a drive that you want to take, you had better do it quick because it won’t last much longer. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that we had a couple of surprises on our adventure!
Where: Carrizo Plain National Monument managed by U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the California Department of Fish and Game and The Nature Conservancy
Date: April 10, 2017
Dog Hike? Maybe, depending on your dog
The Carrizo Plain Natural Area became the Carrizo Plain National Monument in January 2001 by presidential proclamation. The Monument is about 250,000 acres and has unique geologic features such as the San Andreas Fault and Soda Dry Lake, archeological sites, and wildlife. The park is the largest remaining remnant of the original San Joaquin Valley habitat. The Monument still encompasses private land holdings that are used for limited cattle ranching and farming.
Heading west from McKittrick on Hwy 58, we drove through rolling foothills that were soon putting on a show of yellow flowers in the morning and in the afternoon on the way back we spotted a few poppies in this area. I imagine just about everyone driving by this windmill stops and takes pictures of it. And how could we resist not stopping, with those striking yellow hills behind it. I couldn’t decide which windmill view that I liked better.
We headed down 7 Mile Road and wildflowers of all colors were in the flats. Tidy tips were the prevalent flower but owl’s clover, larkspur and other flowers were beautiful. We walked out among the flowers, following the paths created by others to not disturb the area any more and also to keep an eye out for rattlesnakes. A friend of mine had been out the week before and had taken a picture of a nice one. That picture was in my head whenever we ventured out of the vehicle but the cooler weather on the day that we visited might have been in our favor.
When we reached Soda Lake Road, we continued southeast on it. We would have stopped at the Goodwin Education Center but it was closed on the day that we visited. The San Andreas Fault runs through the Carrizo Plain and Soda Lake is located in the low spots. There is no outlet for these waters, creating the largest remaining natural alkali wetland in southern California and the only closed basin within the coastal mountains. Soda Lake concentrates salts as water evaporates, leaving white deposits of sulfates and carbonates that look like baking soda. Soda Lake usually dries up in the summer months but in wet years, a couple of the larger pools of water remain.
The road took us along the flats that were pretty much a solid mass of yellow goldfield flowers and the Caliente Range had sweeps of yellow.
Deb was definitely in her happy place as she took pictures.
We saw some new flowers that had never run across such as these desert candles.
And we saw some beautiful flowers that we didn’t know the names of.
We never know what kind of surprises we will find on our adventures and what a big surprise it was for us to see these two beautiful Saddledbred horses pulling this Yellowstone Coach. They told us that they were doing a photo shoot for a calendar.
And who doesn’t recognize a great photo op when we see it?
And we all know that every cowboy has a good dog.
And our next surprise was seeing 3 antelope in this golden field of flowers. They were moving away from us slowly but Deb managed to capture a nice shot of one of them. The highest concentration of threatened and endangered wildlife in California are located in this area and include California jewelflower, San Joaquin kit fox, mountain plover, blunt-nosed leopard lizard and the giant kangaroo rat.
As we made it to the South Entrance, another small part of Soda Lake remained.
Grazing horses contrasted beautifully with the yellow flowers on the hill.
We turned around, retracing our route but taking a few dirt roads to check out what we might find. We did find a dandy lunch spot with a view of the yellow splashes of color on the Temblor Range.
After lunch, we continued exploring those dirt roads.
We spotted a purple area and followed dirt roads to see what was creating this, then followed a path that passed through yellow flowers and there it was!
And here is the flower that was responsible for purple splash of color.
We drove across the Carrizo Plain to the other side and followed a dirt road called Elkhorn Road, admiring the masses of yellow flowers along the way.
We could see some purple with the yellow up on the side of a hill and decided that we needed to see what that was all about.
We followed a dirt road.
Then another dirt road til we hit the right area.
Then we took a short walk.
And admired the views.
We solved the mystery and this was the flower creating this brilliant color splash. I think it is called purple tansy flower.
And here I am trying to get that closeup.
Soda Lake Road, which bisects the 37 mile length Carrizo Plain National Monument, is the only reliable road. About 18 miles of Soda Lake Road’s length is paved, the remaining 19 miles is dirt. The dirt portion of Soda Lake Road is south of the Goodwin Education Center. Soda Lake Road is well maintained and safe for low clearance vehicles, but you need to be alert to unsigned curves, cattle guards and loose gravel.
From Fresno take CA-41 south to Interstate 5. Continue south approximately 17 miles to exit 257 – State Highway 58. If coming from Fresno, once you arrive at the junction of Interstate Highway 5 and CA-58, continue west on CA-58, 16.2 miles until it intersects CA-33. At CA-33 turn left, as you pass through McKittrick turn right to continue on CA-58 west. In 27 miles turn left (south) on Soda Lake Road toward California Valley and the Carrizo Plain National Monument. In 7.6 miles you will arrive at the boundary of the Carrizo Plain National Monument. As you travel south on Soda Lake Road be sure to pull off at overlook hill and the Soda Lake boardwalk. Seven miles from the boundary, watch for Goodwin Education Center sign, a dirt road heads west (right) 1/2 mile to the center.
Carrizo is best accessed via Soda Lake Road, which intersects with CA-58 on the north end of the monument and CA-166 on the south. Soda Lake Road, which bisects the 37 mile length Carrizo Plain National Monument, is the only reliable road. About 18 miles of Soda Lake Road’s length is paved, the remaining 19 miles is dirt. The dirt portion of Soda Lake Road is south of the Goodwin Education Center. Soda Lake Road is well maintained and safe for low clearance vehicles, but you need to be alert to unsigned curves, cattle guards and loose gravel.
Rain and erosion each winter leaves many roads impassible even for four wheel drive vehicles. Panorama and Simmler Roads are usually impassable due to mud long after the last rain. Once the roads have dried out, gullies, ruts, rock-slides and wash-outs often render roads impassable, especially for low clearance vehicles.
This area is a remote one. Don’t head out here unless you have plenty of fuel in your vehicle and water for drinking. You won’t find any gas stations on the Carrizo Plain. If naviating with a GPS unit, your should compare information on GPS unit with a map to ensure GPS unit is routing you to the correct location.
Dog Hike? Maybe.
If you take your dog along for this adventure, I would recommend that you keep them on leash and bring plenty of water. You will probably be doing more driving than walking though if you want to cover the territory. Although there are wide open fields of grass and flowers, there are plenty of rattlesnakes. Cattle graze many of the areas and you need to keep your dog under control and not chase them or the many tourists wandering around.
Here is a great link for an interactive map of the Carrizo Plain: Carrizo Plain Interactive Map