Carrizo Gold: “Nature’s Hardest Hue to Hold”

Spring in “California’s Serengeti

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Awaiting sunrise over the Temblor Range from Soda Lake Overlook
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Looking north on the Carrizo Plain from near the KCL campground. Caliente (left) & Temblor Range (right) in late winter

Soda Lake

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Carrizo Fiddleneck (Amsinckia tessellata var. gloriosa) blooms on Soda Lake Overlook
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Western Meadowlark with breakfast. Courtesy: Linda Abbey
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California goldfields (Lasthenia californica) amid spiny saltbush (Atriplex confertifolia)

Painted Rock

“Don’t stray off the trail. There’s rattlesnakes!”

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Aerial view of Painted Rock. Courtesy: John L. Wiley http://flickr.com/jw4pix

Traver Ranch

On returning to the visitor center, I was intrigued by the mechanical ingenuity evident in an exhibit of vintage farm equipment. Stout wire lines tethered the towering skeleton of a decaying, wooden grain elevator against the constant wind. Relics of giant grain harvesters, mechanical dinosaurs, loomed over us. Years of exposure have transformed scrapers, disks, ploughs, and tractors into weathered sculptures. Dusty reminders of settler’s dreams of agrarian prosperity.

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This early 1900s grain harvester required 10 workers to operate

Life on the Plain

Coyotes, foxes, badgers, and other small mammals survived the farming era but hunters long ago cleared the land of everything large and edible. In 1985, the area was one of the first in the state to re-introduce pronghorn and tule elk. Elk herds now exceed several hundred animals and are thriving. Pronghorn, sometimes call the American antelope but whose closest living relatives are giraffes and okapi, are not doing so well. Few fawns are fast enough to outrun coyotes and, although they are the fastest native animals in North America, adults cannot leap barbed wire fences to escape. Alden Loucks lives nearby in Maricopa and returns to help volunteers open the land to wild life.

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Pronghorn photographed in 2016.

Wallace Creek

I continued driving on a dusty, unpaved road east towards the Temblor Range and into the heart of the super bloom. Random purple spears of owl’s clover penetrated a yellow ocean of goldfields and tidy tips. Closest to the salt, intense yellow goldfield predominated. On higher ground, tidy tips’ white-edged petals cast a lighter lemon hue. Towards mid-valley, the floral extravaganza faded into dense areas of immature Carrizo fiddleneck, their fuzzy leaves pregnant with buds ready to erupt into orange-tinged blooms. Occasional roadside clumps of frilly Lemon’s mustard glowed pink against this solid field of green.

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Tidy tips (Layia platyglossa) and California goldfields (Lasthenia californica) stretch to the horizon
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Elkhorn Road in the Temblor foothills in early summer
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Wallace Creek’s distinctive offset stream bed attracts geology pilgrims from around the world
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Western slope of the Temblor Range clothed in Hillside daisies with dried skeletons of the prior season’s spiny saltbush shrubs in the foreground

If you plan to go

The Carrizo Plan is located about 70 miles east of San Luis Obispo in Central California. The northern entrance is from Highway 58, the southern from Highway 166. Allow 4-plus hours driving time from San Francisco or Los Angeles.

Acknowledgements

[1] All photos by the author except where otherwise noted.

Written by

I photograph and write about Gardens, Nature, Travel, and the history of Silicon Valley from my home on the Monterey Peninsula in California.

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