24-26 April 2023
Carrizo Plain National Monument,
Highway 58, Sequoia National Forest, Inyo National Forest
Ever since I dedided to get off the PCT I have been itching to get back out to see this year’s superbloom.
But where to go?
One location in particular keeps coming up online: the Carrizo Plain National Monument. It lies to the northeast of Los Angeles and I have never been there before, so I decided to do a road trip.
Guppy graciously lent me her van, and then I was off!
I drove through Lake Elsinore first, but the poppies there are already done for the season.
And then I headed to Ojai where I hoped to start my journey through the mountains. But when I got there I discovered that highway 33 is closed due to the winter flooding.
That meant another two hours of driving up to Santa Maria and then across to Cuyama.
But the Cuyama Valley itself was quite beautiful, teasing what was to come.
I didn’t make it to Soda Lake Road until almost 6pm, but there was still enough light for me to get started into Carrizo Plain National Monument.
At first it wasn’t as mind-blowing as I thought it would be, but there were nice pockets here and there.
I discovered there are many dirt roads leading off Soda Lake Road that you can use to get closer to the action.
The pictures don’t really capture what it feels like to be immersed in all this color. You’ll have to bear with me, I took a lot of them.
Soon the sun set and it was time to find a place to park for the night.
It’s not exactly clear in the National Monument where you are allowed to camp. There are two campgrounds and dispersed camping is allowed in “in the foothills” but I was never quite sure if I was far enough from the main road to be in a legal spot.
On my first try I went down a road to an abandoned cattle yard, but I discovered I was within view of one of the established campgrounds, so that didn’t seem right.
I then checked out the campground, but it was full.
On my third try, I went down a road that was actually clearly labeled: “No Camping.”
And then, as it was getting dark, I finally found a side road where an RV had already parked halfway from the main road. I drove past them to the end, where there was a locked gate saying no vehicles were allowed on the other side, but it didn’t say anything about camping.
So I stayed put!
In the morning, I had to go out and do it all again.
I turned off the main road to go check out Panorama Point in the middle of the valley. There are signs warning that the road is impassable after rain, but it’s been a few days since the rain stopped so it was dry.
After that I drove up to Selby Campground and the trailhead for Agua Caliente mountain to scout flowers and get some nice views. The road was rough but I took my time.
At the campground some folks asked me what kind of van I was driving. I said “I’m not sure, a friend lent it to me.”
And they said: “That’s a great friend! I want a friend like that.”
After that I drove to the Visitor Center and then to the western side of Soda Lake, where there’s a nice boardwalk with interpretive signs.
I thought I was done, that I had seen all the good stuff. But I wanted to drive back around to the east side of Soda Lake.
And that is where my mind was blown.
Every 100 feet I had to stop, wade out into the flowers, take pictures, and just stare.
After spending some time in all that color, I decided to drive up to Wallace Creek, which has been steadily displaced by the San Andreas Fault. It flows down to the fault, takes a sharp right turn in the fault, then a sharp left turn to continue flowing where it originally started a little over 100 years ago.
So I thought I was done. I was just a little disappointed because I never got the immense hillside views that I had seen in some of the pictures online.
Maybe I was here just a little past the peak?
As I turned on to Highway 58 and headed for Bakersfield, the surrounding ranchlands continued to show signs of color.
But nothing prepared me for the colors I would see on Highway 58 itself. The hills where completely covered in technicolor dazzle.
I kept pulling to the side of the road, and I leap-frogged with another middle-aged tourist and her husband. I’m not sure where she was from, but I yelled to her “Can you believe this? I’ve never seen anything like this!” And she smiled and replied “Maybe it’s because many rain this year!”
I was sad to leave those hillsides on the western side of the summit on Highway 58. After that it turns into normal grasslands and then the industrial hell-scape of the Bakersfield oil fields.
But it was fine. Too much beauty all at once can saturate.
After a meh Mexican lunch in Bakersfield I drove up to Kernville to see the Kern River. It is already raging, and the melt has just started.
I planned to camp in the upper Kern, but — wait for it — the road was closed!
So I pressed on.
And little did I know, I would get one last technicolor show right at the Pacific Crest Trail.
I stayed overnight in Ridgecrest (lovely town!) and then explored the Eastern Sierra the next day. The 395 was alive with color, and I stopped first at Fossil Falls.
I drove up to the locked gates on both Horseshoe Meadow Road and Whitney Portal Road.
I intended to get breakfast at the Alabama Hills Cafe. But they are closed on Wednesday.
So I just started driving back home.
But the color kept going, all the way to Adelanto.
I pulled off at the road to the abandoned Boron Federal Prison to look around. There’s a No Trespassing sign at a gate, so I stayed on the publicly-accessible side to admire the flowers.
On the drive south I saw my first fire of the year. It seems so early, especially in the wet winter we just had. By the time I stopped in Adelanto, it was becoming clear that the fire was actually really close to the Pacific Crest Trail near Wrightwood.
Later in the day I learned that it was called the Nob Fire, and it had already burned about 200 acres. The Forest Service closed the trail in that area to keep hikers safe.
It must have been quite stressful to be on trail today, loaded down with winter gear, ready for the snows of the Angeles Crest, and suddenly you are diverted by fire.
And it was a strange way to end my superbloom road trip.
It’s going to be a crazy year.
2 Comments Add yours
Incredible – – – so happy you were able to experience this super bloom!
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Such beautiful photos!
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