& The Super Bloom
Photo by Gabe | Fuji X-E2
In the past few years, we’ve made a total of three trips to the Carrizo Plain National Monument.
This amazing park is the largest single native grassland remaining in California, at some 50 miles from north to south and about 15 miles across. One of the reasons we keep coming back is because the Plain is so vast. Even on our fourth trip here, we keep finding new and beautiful places to explore.
Since the “super bloom” is in full swing all across California, we made plans to visit. For anyone in California, it’s easy to get to, sandwiched between Highways 5 and 101. From our home, it’s about a 3.5-hour drive, about 50 miles west of Santa Maria down Highway 166. It’s remote, and there are no services here, so when you visit, be sure to bring food and water. Also, refuel once you leave the major highway. We’ve taken this road before, twisting as it climbs through the hills passing through canyons strewn with oaks. As we got closer to the Caliente Range of mountains that border the park, we started to see streaks of yellow along the road and all over the hills… a hint of what awaited us inside the Plain.
We entered from the south side of the park in search of a suitable site to camp. Since we wanted to make the most of our time there, we decided to camp overnight and spend the next day in search of flowers. There are only two small “official” campgrounds here, and we assumed they’d be full. They were. The great thing here is that dispersed camping is allowed most everywhere. You can drive off on one of the many dirt roads that climb into the hills, find a spot and plunk down your tent – just what we did. As the sun set, we found an area overlooking an incredible and incredibly massive rock formation and set up camp. Campfires aren’t allowed outside of the two campgrounds. We braced for the cold, bundled up and bedded down for the night.
We awoke before sunrise and headed out to take photos in the beautiful morning light. With a big day ahead of us, we quickly packed up the car and headed down into the valley. As we’d seen on the way in, there were incredible pockets of flowers blooming all over the place. As the light of day began to break across the park, we realized just how spectacular this bloom really was.
A sea of purple as far as we could see, and in the distance, the Temblors covered in yellow
With the bloom at full tilt, there were flowers wherever we stopped. Sometimes small patches, and other times hundreds of acres. Bright yellow Monolopia, Purple Phacelia, Coreopsis, yellow and white Layia Platyglossa, vibrant yellow Lasthenia and many more flowers whose names we just don’t know.
One great thing about Carrizo is that there are dirt roads that climb the hills and criss-cross the plain. Head out on any of them, and you’re bound to find something interesting. The size of this park is truly overwhelming, and these roads give you access to areas off of the main drag and away from the center of the action. Whenever we turn off on one, we feel like we’re starting a great adventure! And even now, on our fourth trip, there are still roads that we haven’t yet explored.
Our first stops were in fields of yellow flowers that seemed to go on forever. We trekked across one such field to the edge of a lake that formed with the recent rains. There, we caught the reflection of the Temblor Mountain Range to the east in the lake’s mirror-still waters.
Road leading down into the valley
Photo by Gabe ~ Fuji X-E2
A field of Coreopsis in the early morning sun
Photo by Gabe ~ Fuji X-E2
An endless field of Monolopia
Photo by Gabe ~ Fuji X-E2
When heading down from our campsite, we’d seen one steep hillside washed in a blanket of yellow flowers. We meandered north on the road until we got in front of that same hill to snap some photos. The hill lies next to Soda Lake, the dominant feature of the Plain. At roughly 3,000 acres, this usually dry lake was filled with water.
In the years that we’ve been coming here, this was indeed a rare sight.
While photographing the hill and its flowers, we discovered a dirt road that headed to the top, so we ventured up. We parked, went through a hiking gate and forged a trail to the top. Once there, we had an incredible view of Soda Lake and the valley spreading out below us. Simply beautiful! We’d never seen the park so colorful and lush.
Nearing the north end entrance to the park, we finished our hilltop hike and went south again. Turning off the main road, we drove back up to where we’d camped the night before. There’s another road here leading to the top of Caliente Ridge, the highest peak in San Luis Obispo County. On the way up, we discovered more incredible views and, perhaps more important, several new potential campsites for our next visit! This road was tough, rocky, narrow, rutted in many spots… a wild ride. Once up top, the entire valley and beyond were in view. We could also see valleys and canyons adjacent to the park covered in wildflowers. Actual backcountry, with neither hiking trails or roads. Had we not climbed to the top of this mountain, we never would have seen this! We had lunch up here and made the trek back down, frequently stopping, enjoying the many views of the park.
On our way into the park the night before, Gabe saw a vast field of purple flowers off in the distance, and we were determined to find that as we headed south through the valley. After a while, purple started to appear on the horizon, so we found a dirt road and headed in that direction. Once we parked, we walked close to a mile and ended up in hundreds of acres of purple flowers. A sea of purple as far as we could see, and in the distance, the Temblors covered in yellow. Combined with a cloudless blue sky, this view took our breath away.
As the day wound down, we made our way back to the southern entrance of the park to head home. Before we reached the exit, we came across yet a few more hillsides completely covered in yellow. When something is this beautiful, you simply can’t drive by, so we got out to take our day’s final photos.
After twenty-four hours in the park, it was time to bid farewell. We made our way back to Santa Maria, stopped for dinner and headed home.
Whatever you’re doing now, you should be making plans to see this phenomenal super bloom before it ends. There’s something about the Carrizo Plain. The more we visit, the more we want to keep coming back. We think you’ll feel the same!
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