Our spring wildflower sojourn had yielded a brilliant carpet of color at the Poppy Reserve, and dazzling individual blooms interwoven into intricate floral tapestries at Anza-Borrego. We really didn’t know what to expect at Carrizo Plain National Monument – the road less traveled on the super bloom trail. I suppose we expected more of the same.
Wrong again! What we found was was a floral cascade of brilliant yellow California goldfields, accented by purple lupine, yellow-orange fiddlenecks and occasional patches of baby blue eyes, flowing from the mountain tops and pooling into the Carrizo grasslands across miles of the rugged Temblor Range.
It was unique. It was stunning. And we nearly had the plain to ourselves! We were among maybe two dozen travelers along the 10-mile drive through the national monument itself. The approach through the mountains was deserted. Back home, a non-scientific poll of Coastside friends and the ususal suspects at the Wine Room in Moss Beach yielded blank stares and slow blinks – not a single sign of recognition.
Why so anonymous? Our best three guesses are location, location, location. The Carrizo Plain is nestled amid four hundred square miles of mountainous wilderness that make up the California Coast Ranges. It’s hard to get to, and on the road to nowhere in particular.
As we left the tangle of oil rigs, pipelines and the occasional road house that make up the Midway-Sunset Oil Field – California’s largest – at the southwestern corner of the San Joaquin Valley – a highway sign offered a clear description of what wasn’t ahead: “No Services next 70 miles.”
No worries. We had lunched and bath-roomed 40 minutes earlier at the Fort Tejon In-N-Out Burger (the drive-through is faster, FYI). So we boldy motored up the east side of the mountain on Highway 58. The higher we drove, the windier, steeper and narrower the road got. (We swear, the road got narrower!) And the panoramic views of the Valley at cliffside switchbacks were giving MontaraManDan the heebie jeebies.
But we also captured our first glimpses of brilliant yellow splashed across the folds of the mountains against a canvas of soft green grasses. By the time we crested the mountain and began a more gradual descent, we found ourselves stopping at just about every turnout for an even better picture. So much for getting home before dark.
But the coup de gras came as we reached the Carrizo Plain National Monument and looked back at the view of the range across Soda Lake. Magnificent. Mesmerizing. Memorable, and so many other superlatives that begin with “M.” Wow.
Not bad for a super bloom afterthought. Would we go again? Let’s review: Closer to home, less crowded, more super than the rest. Hell yeah. We’ll be back next year. But we have a favor to ask. Don’t tell your friends. Let’s keep this our little secret.