Can you say flower power?
We happened upon the Carrizo Plain not by chance. In fact, more than one person insisted we make the trip. Headlines like “Serengeti of the West” and “Super of Super Blooms” were used to describe it.
What we found was a magic carpet alive with butterflies, bees, and birds, lifting off with flowers. The valley (50 miles long and averaging 15 miles wide) was off the chart. It was everything we had heard and more. And I was left asking myself how did I manage to live in California all these years and never hear a peep about it? How am I just making this discovery?
And we weren’t the only ones. The first bend in road upon entering the plain was flooded with people. All of them in awe and busy capturing images and selfies of an event that lasts just a few weeks and may not come again for years (code for Climate Change and drought).
No matter the crowds and that sense of not knowing where to look first because it was all so extraordinary, we had walked into absolute wonder.
Coreopsis, delphiniums, tidy tips, fiddlenecks, goldfields, and phacelia stretched as far as the eye could see. Stopping only at the edges of Soda Lake and bisecting dirt roads.
The back story behind this gold filled find starts with a camping trip that was planned the day we left. I had just returned from a fabulous week at California Spring Trials, discovering a whole set of other plants, and my daughter was on break, free to play for the week. We had to make the most of it. So, in classic Emily and Bones fashion (my husband’s nickname is Bones — because he was a skinny toddler, aka “Bag of Bones”), we packed the pop-top, pulled out our maps, and hit the road.
I had been stewing about missing the super bloom in the desert, but had heard rumors about this place we had to visit just east of San Luis Obispo (Carrizo Plain). So we put in on the list, but first made our way down 395 (just east of the Sierra Nevada) to hit some hot springs, petroglyphs, and any place that was beautiful plus kid and dog friendly. (See more images on my Instagram feed.)
Fiddlenecks or Amsinckia
It was quite honestly a lucky string of events that brought us here. We met friends along the way, came across amazing geological features, my car didn’t break down, and we met a naturalist by the name of Michael Ellis who could explain the whole crazy, beautiful thing to us.
Coreopsis & Phacelia
I was told this was mountain dandelion, but still working it out to be sure.
Visiting Carrizo Plain
The Carrizo Plain is a national monument run by the BLM. There are two, small improved campsites, otherwise it’s very rustic. If you’re prepared and have a sturdy all-wheel drive vehicle, it’s possible to camp off the main road, up from the valley. It’s also possible to visit for the day if you stay in a neighboring town, but plan on an hour drive each way to get in and out of the valley.
There is running water and bathrooms at the improved campsites and visitor center, otherwise you’re on your own. Be sure to enter with a full tank of gas, plenty of food, and water.
The habitat is incredibly sensitive, so please take care. But soak it up. There’s no other place like it. Plan to see wildlife like pronghorn, song birds of all kinds, diverse plant life, and archeological sites like Painted Rock.
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How very amazing Emily, thanks for sharing this. I love the pictures of your pop-up at night!
Thanks so much, Cindy! Was such a special couple days, pop-top and all. (We love our van too, so thank you!) I just wish we could have stayed a little longer. It felt like a once in a lifetime experience. Happy spring! Emily
I live very near this, but so far have only had a chance to go see the wildflowers once. Life always seems to get in the way during the proper season. Maybe next year.
Hi Barbara, thanks for writing! I’m just a few hours from the Carrizo Plain and this was my first visit, so I completely understand. Life happens and we do the best we can. Hopefully, next spring will be more favorable for you and the flowers. 😉 All my best, Emily
Your photographs are gorgeous. I am so glad you posted them because I will not be able to visit the superbloom. By reading your blog, I feel less like I’m missing out. I heard that the superbloom was not just of native flowers, but also of noxious and nuisance weeds too. Did you notice that when you were there?
Hi Ashley, the super bloom was amazing!!! So happy you found this post and images. I was on the lookout for non-natives, and while there were a few like geraniums here and there, all of the bloom was native flowers — which was a wonderful sight! The Carrizo Plain also holds the largest remaining native grassland. It’s quite impressive. My guess is that, because it’s remote with no reliable natural water source, it’s fairly undisturbed. However, I imagine that will change. There are some neighboring solar fields and farms. Eventually the mustards and other plants will find their way.