April 08, 2017

What a Difference a Superbloom Makes

The first time I visited Carrizo Plain National Monument six years ago, it was May, and I'd missed wildflower season by a few weeks.

Circa 2011

It was pretty brown and craggy, and there were barely any tourists to be found.

But this year, I found myself in the thick of a superbloom—and I could barely recognize where I was.

Circa 2011

Though the skies that had once been blue had turned gray for the day...

...everything else looked digitally colorized.

Circa 2011

Six years ago, I'd been lucky to find a couple of blossoms here and there, nestled in the dead grass.

This year, there were so many that I could barely decide where to point my camera.

And, even though it's already April, there are still more to come.

I don't make it up to this area of western Kern County / eastern San Luis Obispo County often, but not because I don't love it.

It's just that, at 164 miles north, it's a pretty big commitment.

There are no services nearby. The closest hotels or motels are over an hour away.

Of course, that's also part of the beauty of this place.

As you head west along the Blue Star Memorial Highway, you see some plots of land for sale between the private ranches...

...but, save for a few dwindling remnants of the oil industry that keeps cities like Bakersfield and Taft afloat, it's largely undeveloped.

And, as you turn down Seven Mile Road to get to the north entrance of Carrizo Plain, the only signs that anybody has laid claim to these lands are a few wooden stakes and a bit of barbed wire.

It's kind of amazing that a bloom this super is still largely undisturbed—unlike the rest of Southern California, which has been trampled by the masses.

And although I visited on an unusually rainy day, I still needed to shield my eyes from the blinding color display.

The densest wildflowers by far could be found along Soda Lake Road by Selby Campground, south of the Goodwin Education Center...

...but you really can't beat the view from the Soda Lake Overlook.

From up there, it really looked as though the valley were some kind of painted canyon.

And, while you'd swear this place is a desert if you were to visit during the summer, a wildflower explosion like this can remind you why it's actually considered a semi-arid grassland.

The Temblor Range of mountains was particularly spectacular, rising above the San Andreas Fault...

...but somehow, I couldn't take my eyes off the lake below, which—though considered a "seasonal" lake—has always been dry every other time I'd seen it.

But it wasn't just wet this time. Its cracked, salt-stained surface was downright submerged. Soda Lake actually looked like... a lake.

It was like an entirely new place to me.

With the rain coming down more heavily, and having seen all the rain-soaked flowers I was going to see, it was time for me to drive the three and a half hours back so I could get home before dark.

I missed last year's superbloom in Death Valley. I'm not going to make that mistake again.

Related Posts:
Offbeat Travels in the Offseason: Carrizo Plain
A Desert Reappearance
Photo Essay: Birding Anza-Borrego During the Superbloom
Springing Forward in Search of Wildflowers

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