Spring 2023 California Road Trip – Carrizo Plain National Monument

Visit Date: April 29, 2023

As I wrote in my last post, California was awash in rain this past winter. The storms caused a lot of crop and property damage but it did loosen the vise of drought the state has been going through and it provided the conditions for a “superbloom.” A superbloom is a biological phenomenon that occurs when the desert sports carpets of wildflowers; it only occurs when enough rain has come at the right time in the spring. You can read this Wikipedia article for more details. For some stupendous pictures do an internet image search for the term. I remember them from my youth on the edge of the Mojave desert and the news reports told us superblooms had been prevalent throughout the desert regions. Brian and Marie pointed us to the Carrizo Plain National Monument as a place we might see it. We knew we were a week or two late for the full effect but figured it would be worthwhile to visit the Monument on our drive down to Santa Barbara.

The Carrizo Plain National Monument is not on the way to anywhere. When you think of California you may immediately think of Los Angeles, Hollywood, San Francisco, redwoods, Yosemite, beaches, wine country, or agriculture. Let me tell you; there are still plenty of regions that are much more remote. Our destination is a long valley between the coast range and I5: north of Los Angeles, west of Bakesfield, east of Pismo Beach and north of Santa Barbara. You have to want to go there.

Carrizo Plain National Monument (that little red pin on the upper center of the Google Maps screen shot)

Here’s a closer look. Notice Soda Lake (a salt lake) in the Google Maps view; it’s usually a dry lake.

Carrizo Plain National Monument

The valley was created by the action of the San Adreas Fault – more on that in a paragraph or two. We headed down US 101 from Palo Alto and turned east on California 58 until the turnoff. Our first pleasant surprise was that Soda Lake actually had water in it! Look at all that yellow on the other shore.

Soda Lake at Carrizo Plain National Monument

Another view of the lake.

Even though we missed the superbloom there was plenty of color.

Remnants of the superbloom at Carrizo Plain National Monument

I’ll let the pictures do the talking for a bit.

Wildflowers at Carrizo Plain National Monument.

If there are flowers you know I’ll be getting a closeup.

Wildflowers at Carrizo Plain National Monument.

My favorite picture of the day.

Carrizo Plain National Monument

We drove south for a bit until we reached the modest visitor center at the south end of the lake. We had a choice to make: back the way we came – directly opposite of our stop for the night, or south for 25 miles of dirt road to hit a highway that would eventually get us to our motel in Santa Barbara. We were in the Subaru Outback and had plenty of water so we continued south.

My childhood home in Palmdale was the (then) last street of a housing development in the desert. From our backyard my dad would point out a ridge a few miles away with different colors of dirt on either side. That was the San Andreas Fault. As we continued driving down the valley I noticed a feature that reminded me of that fault line.

San Andreas Fault in the background

That’s exactly how I remember the view from our house back in the day. See how the closest ridge is much lighter in color than the mountain ridge behind? It’s not just the wildflowers. That’s the result of the earth being pushed around. Let’s zoom in.

San Andreas Fault

I did some internet research and sure enough the San Andreas Fault runs along a line on the eastern side of the valley.

It took us quite a while to get to Santa Barbara; we had to stop for dinner well before we got there. But the side trip was definitely worth it.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.