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

Feel free to reblog or share


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  1. Ro Webb said,

    I love your blog and the beautiful pics. So informative! I’ve lived out here in the valley since 1972. We love it. Our yard is all yellow. We’ll have to mow it down as soon as it dries, unfortunately, but the flowers always come back.
    Thanks so much for sharing.

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