Carrizo Plain Just Gets Better!

April 3, 2019 at 3:21 pm (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, San Luis Obispo County, Wildflowers) (, )

I have viewed wildflowers in many parts of the country, from the giant lupines in Maine to the sub-alpine bouquets of Mount Rainier, the bluebonnet and paintbrush fields of Texas, and the superbloom in the California deserts. But I have never seen the type of expansive floral bounty as I have in the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

The Temblor Range bordering State Hwy 58 to the east, and the Caliente Range to the west cradle a vast valley floor now full of lemon goldfields and daisies, goldenrod-tinted fiddlenecks, and patches of purple phacelia.

Caliente Range

I am so enamored with the expanse that I’ve stitched together a number of shots into a 5 or 8-image panorama. If these were enlarged to wall decor, the detail would be far superior to taking one wide-angle image and cropping it. I’ll only put one super-pano here, though, because the individual sections of the panoramics are more impressive on the “small screen.”

Temblor Range

The Temblor Range is the most accessible to visitors, who just detour off Hwy 58 into the monument. Patches of phacelia are spreading in the lemony hillsides, and a few patches of nascent orange poppies are making an appearance.

Several expanding fields of phacelia looking toward the Temblors can easily be seen from Soda Lake Road and the dirt roads that go into the Caliente Range, giving a bird’s eye perspective. As the sun warms the landscape, heat waves create distortions that decrease sharpness, and are magnified with a 500mm telephoto.

To avoid the weekend mobs, I arrived around 5 p.m. Sunday for an overnight stay at a dispersed campsite, of which there is a nearly unlimited supply. As a photographer, I am out photographing until sunset, and get into place before the sunrise, so I don’t need (or even like) the amenities and neighbors of a designated campground. Even that late, there were still many, many tourists, some taking family portraits in the wildflowers long after the sun had set!

Fortunately by morning, most were gone. I had the place to myself for several pleasant hours. I saw the crescent moon rise behind the Temblor Range, and a hint of peach in the sky as the sun followed.

One of the prettiest early morning spots was the road to the Van Matre Ranch.

There was an immense field of lemon flowers enroute, and a couple of guys were running a drone to show its immensity in an aerial view.

Thank goodness it hasn’t been trampled to death

A couple of obliging birds posed for me. The most numerous songsters seemed to be the horned larks, with their light and tinkly melodies.

Western kingbird
Lark Sparrow

The Elkhorn Road had been fenced off before the Panorama Road turnoff, much to my surprise, and probably had to do with the cattle roundup in progress. (This was from the left fork, both of which say Elkhorn Road on my GPS). I found the road closed on the right fork, which I assume is the main road. Sure wouldn’t want to try to make room for five of these big trucks on a narrow dirt road!

Cattle roundup

It must have been tough driving those huge trucks loaded with cattle over those bumpy dirt roads.

There are remnants of dozens of ranches (and some still-active ones) all throughout the monument.

My little Nikon Coolpix allowed for some closeups with decent depth of field to show the landscape as well.


I used the Nikon D600 with 80-400mm lens for the mid-range images, but for the sharpest of all I stuck with the very heavy Nikon 200-500mm lens on the D750 body. It’s amazing how many landscape and bird photos I take right from the car!

Looking toward Caliente Range

As morning wore on, more folks showed up, but it was nothing, NOTHING like the weekend mobs. I kept thinking how lucky I was to be enjoying the peace and amazing richness of a land I’ve seen mostly wearing a brown and wheat-colored wardrobe.

Since I have mobility issues thanks to my unwilling marriage to Arthur Itis, I can’t do much hiking, but one doesn’t need to venture more than a couple of feet from the road to photograph some amazing flower-filled landscapes and blossom closeups.

At the end of February this was an untrammeled hillside. Now it is scarred. People ignore the chain and “private land” sign for their selfies.

I don’t understand why so many people feel the need to wander among flower fields, which then become carcasses that will never make seeds for the next generation, when they can get exactly the same photographs right next to the road. Seriously!

Even the local TV channels promote this bad behavior. The Leave No Trace ethic needs to be part of our overall ethos when out in nature. Leaving footprints can encourage more footprints, which become a social trail.

Soda Lake received a blessing of water for the last several weeks, but it is quickly returning to its usual state as an alkaline salt bed. Simmler Road cuts through Soda Lake and now that it’s been dry, is an easy road to travel.

A juvenile red-tailed hawk and a courting red-winged blackbird in the fiddlenecks weren’t intimidated by being outshone by the wildflowers.

An ever-changing quilt

I don’t know how it can get any more beautiful, but I was told by several people who had seen Carrizo in the 2017 superbloom that it, indeed, was.

I guess I’ll have to brave the crowds to see the unfolding changes, until the flowers go to seed, the land dries up, and the dormant seeds remain hidden until the next super-soaking.

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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Desert Birds

March 30, 2019 at 3:06 pm (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildlife)

The black-throated sparrow is my favorite sparrow, and the first place I ever saw one was at Big Bend National Park, Texas. They are also common in Southern California, too.

This one’s bushy “eyebrows” look quote comical.

The males often perched on cholla spines to make themselves and their songs more obvious to potential mates. I don’t know how their little feet didn’t get poked.

Several years ago I had photographed them in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park’s Mine Wash, along with some blooming cactus. I went back in early March and the cactus had yet to perform, but the sparrows were in full force.

Phainopepla male

The phainopepla eats mistletoe berries. In Big Bend it was juniper mistletoe. In areas of California where oak trees grow, it’s the oak mistletoe. I even have a pair that visits my yard in Paso Robles now and then, and presumably they have found mistletoe nearby.

Gambel’s Quail

The male Gambel’s quail is just as handsome as its cousin the California quail, the latter of which is found in western California up through the Pacific Northwest. This bird and the rest in this post were at Joshua Tree National Park.

The Gambel’s quail prefers the arid regions of the Southwest and Southern California.

The California scrub jay isn’t exclusively a desert denizen. I also have them in my yard, but they are quite handsome.

California thrasher

Although I was in the desert for the wildflower bloom, I was surprised there wasn’t much bird activity in the places I visited. However, another winged creature was almost an invasion – the painted lady butterfly.

Many people mistook them for monarchs, which migrate in large numbers, but honestly, they don’t look a thing like monarchs. There were hundreds of thousands of them, moving fast to whatever destination their little hearts desired. Unfortunately, many of them wound up as yellow splats on windshields and fenders. I’m wondering which plants their caterpillars will be eating when they all hatch. The wildflowers should be finished blooming by then, I hope!

Male phainopepla

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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Coachella Valley Wildflowers

March 30, 2019 at 2:11 pm (California, Mojave Desert, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildflowers) (, )

Blue skies and sunshine are nice, but often lack mood and character. Leftover fog and showers from an overnight rainstorm in the California desert a couple weeks ago gave me a surprising landscape.

Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve

I had visited the Coachella Valley Preserve’s Thousand Palms Oasis about 25 years ago, and remembered it as being a shady forest of native California fan palms with the old, brown leaves folded down around their trunks.

A few fan palms near the visitor center have been trimmed. There are several trails that wind through various palm oases.

The road to and from the oasis had some amazing wildflower landscapes, especially since three large mountains were covered with very fresh snow.

One of these peaks was Giorgino Mountain, but I don’t know which one.

The combination of beautifully sculpted mountainsides, the fog and ever-changing shadows along with the wildflowers was a stunning landscape.

Next: Joshua Tree National Park’s Cottonwood Canyon Entrance Wildflowers

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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More Superbloom

March 29, 2019 at 6:41 am (California, California Central Coast, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildflowers) (, )

Cottonwood Canyon Road off Hwy 166, New Cuyama

I discovered a very pretty hillside two weeks ago when I exited the southern end of Soda Lake Road in Carrizo Plain National Monument, and took a short drive to explore.

I love the soft curves of the grassy hills in Central Coast California, and am still wowed by the brilliant greens which we hardly saw last year. But add in the vivid yellow hillside daisies, and the goldfields belly flowers, and I’m in loooooovvvveeee with the landscape.

I’m hearing of other lovely wildflower spots that haven’t been as highly advertised, but may be more locally known. I suspect there are many hidden gems this year, each with a different sort of palette.

Hwy 166 New Cuyama

I am also enamored with the drama of rock formations, and when they are decorated with rare color, it’s an opportunity I can’t pass by.

Carrizo Plain

The Temblor Range bordering the Carrizo Plain is quite distinctive and has some of my favorite rock formations.

From Soda Lake Road

The power lines in the above image mark this as the northern end of Soda Lake Road, looking east.

The erosion patterns are mesmerizing. I am fortunate to have discovered the Nikon 200-500mm lens as it is THE sharpest lens I’ve ever owned. It’s brutally heavy, though, but the detail in these landscapes or bird photographs, even when heat waves cause distortion, is worth the pain.

While a nearly fluorescent yellow is the dominant color (and my favorite), the goldenrod tones of the fiddleneck are nearly as plentiful, albeit not as stunning. However, when paired with other paints in the palette, they add a lovely variety.

Mustard, phacelia, fiddlenecks

The greenish-yellow mustard is an exotic, but even though it paints many Central Coast landscapes, it is uncommon in the Carrizo Plain. This patch is backdropped by purple phacelia and goldenrod tinted fiddleneck.

March 24

Some patches of phacelia have spread on the hillsides, adding a sense of unreality to an already unreal landscape.

Sprague Hill Road

There are some nice patches of phacelia along the Sprague Hill Road just inside the north entrance. The good thing is they are behind fences, since the property belongs to Carrizo Ranch, and they won’t be swarming with people smushing them.

Sprague Hill Road winds through a little “pass” filled with hillside daisies and silverbush lupines, and looks down on the valley floor toward the Temblor Range.

Silverbush lupine, fiddleheads, hillside daisies

The entire length of Soda Lake Road is decorated with goldfields, fiddlenecks, and patches of phacelia. At the southern end is a view of a huge patch of phacelia. However, be careful when traveling any of the dirt roads as they can remain soft for awhile after a rain (which we have gotten nearly every week this year) and many people get stuck.

The area is considered remote. Gas stations and tow companies are about an hour away, and there are only a few restrooms along Soda Lake Road. Bring a lunch. And please don’t lay down in the flowers for a selfie, or trample them. There are a couple of spots where the daisy-covered hills are very accessible, so please walk lightly among them.

Owls Clover

Park rangers have set up info booths in popular areas along Soda Lake Road. I asked one of them how this year compared to the 2017 Superbloom there. She said 2017 was much more dramatic. I don’t see how! I can’t imagine it being any better than it is right now.

The plain is bordered by two mountain ranges, making it a unique and lovely spot, even when the hills and fields are brown and dry.

Hill of fiddlenecks

A few times I’ve driven from Paso Robles to Hwy 58 via Shell Creek Road, which is a known wildflower spot. While it doesn’t have the drama of Carrizo, it is still lovely.

Silverbush lupine

Silverbush lupine is beginning to bloom in various places on the Central Coast. I’ve seen all sorts of lupine – in the subalpine meadows of Mt. Rainier, the tall pink and purple blooms in Maine, the bluebonnets of Texas, but I’ve never seen lupine actually growing on a bush.

Tidy tips is a lovely flower along Shell Creek Road, and the baby blue eyes are prominent as well.

Enjoy your visit to California’s amazing flower fields. They are a rare sight, especially after years of drought, but be respectful of the bounty.

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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Carrizo Plain Wildflower Feast

March 26, 2019 at 8:30 pm (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, San Luis Obispo County, Wildflowers)


For some reason, people seem to think the purple wildflowers are the most desirable, or at least the best colors to set off the sunshine yellows of the goldfields and hillside daisies at Carrizo Plain National Monument.

State Hwy 58 bordering Carrizo Plain

Me, I’m a fan of yellow. Lemon yellow. The most brilliant yellow that has carpeted the hills and fields of this area. I do love it when a smattering of purple shows up, however. Yellow, green, purple. Sometimes goldenrod where there are the fiddlenecks. If I could get orange California poppies added to the quilt I’d be in wildflower heaven.

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A Wildflower Adventure – Part 3

March 17, 2019 at 7:14 am (California, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildflowers) (, , )

At the risk of having repeats, I’m going to extol the virtues of a wildflower bloom in the Anza-Borrego desert, mainly by letting the photos speak for themselves.

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A Wildflower Adventure-Part 2

March 16, 2019 at 7:57 am (California, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildflowers) (, , )

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Rather than wait for all of my Anza-Borrego photos to be edited, I’m putting up a sampler, starting with the last image I made in the 2-1/2 days I was there.

Flower field S-22

These images were made alongside the S-22 road between mile markers 30 and 31. This immense flower field is dominated by the lovely sand verbena.

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Salton Sea Birds

March 16, 2019 at 6:00 am (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, National Wildlife Refuges (US Fish & Wildlife), Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildlife) (, , )

Burrowing Owl male

One of the great joys of living in California four years ago was discovering the burrowing owls at the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge on the Salton Sea in Southern California’s Imperial Valley.

On my trip to view the wildflower bloom in the desert, I stopped by specifically to look for them. I was not disappointed.

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A Wildflower Adventure – Part 1

March 15, 2019 at 11:18 am (California, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildflowers) (, , )

California poppies and chia

I missed out on the 2017 California “superbloom” because I was living in Oklahoma, but it’s always been a dream of mine to see and photograph the desert in crazy bloom.

Lake Elsinore

However, there is a very spectacular area in Southern California that is chockablock full of orange California poppies, and I made a stressful detour to see it.

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Carrizo Plain Wildflowers-March 3

March 6, 2019 at 6:44 am (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, San Luis Obispo County, Wildflowers) (, , )

Yellow hillside daisies at Carrizo Plain National Monument

It only took a week and a little more rain and cool weather, and the yellow splashes on a few hillsides spread like wet paint splattered on the landscape. While most of the wild color occurs just outside the Carrizo Plain National Monument, it is clearly visible from Soda Lake and Seven Mile Roads.

I love clouds that add depth and an ever-changing light show, and because the plain is skirted by two rows of hills, the clouds were held back just enough to allow sunlight to dapple the soft hills.

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