Photos by Cheryl Landes
Updated March 5, 2020
The winter rain in central California’s high deserts delivered beautiful spring scenery. Carpets of yellow and purple flowers cover hillsides, mountains, valleys, and meadows.
Nature’s show at Carrizo Plain National Monument is absolutely brilliant. The flowers started blooming in mid- to late March and are now at peak. In many parts of the plain, the colors stretch as far as the eye can see.
I spent a day at Carrizo Plain a week ago, driving the length of Soda Lake Road, the main route through the monument. This 32-mile road, a combination of pavement and dirt, crosses the plain from California Highway 58 on the north to California Highway 166 on the south.
I explored several short side roads off Soda Lake Road. My first stop was at a viewpoint with a panorama of Soda Lake.
The 3,000-acre lake is the remnants of an ancient sea and among the largest undisturbed alkali wetlands in the state of California. The lake doesn’t have an outlet. When the water evaporates, a film of sodium sulfate and carbonate salts remain behind. The powdery residue feels like soda.
There’s another parking lot at the bottom of the viewpoint, where a boardwalk provides close-up views of the lake. Another spur road past the boardwalk runs parallel to the south and east sides of the lake, where more flowers covered the landscape. I stopped at several pullouts along that road to enjoy the views, explore the short trails to the lakeshore, and make pictures.
From there, I continued driving south on Soda Lake Road to California Route 166. Most of the flowers I saw were yellow and blue, with occasional bursts of orange California poppies and purple owl’s clover.
I also spotted some unusual white flowers. If anyone knows what these are, please post a comment.
The Carrizo Plain National Monument is 100 air miles northeast of Los Angeles in a remote area with no services nearby. There are some primitive campgrounds, but the spots fill quickly. Sometimes roads or sections of roads are closed, so check the conditions before you go.
The monument also has a visitor center. On the day I was there, it was closed. I saw some porta-potties and picnic tables, and parking was limited. I didn’t stop, because the parking lot was full.
If you go, make sure you’re prepared. Leave with a full tank of gas. Bring water, food, and extra clothing in case the weather changes. When I was there, the weather was warm and mostly dry, but heavy rains arrived mid-afternoon and continued after I left.
Vehicles with low clearances are not recommended, because the dirt roads are rough. I rented an SUV at the airport for my trip and could navigate the dirt sections of Soda Lake Road and the side roads around the lake without any trouble, because the weather had been dry long enough before my arrival. But many sections on the south end of Soda Lake Road were like driving over a washboard. There were also potholes from washouts.
Some travelers I met during my trip tried to drive on the roads in the higher elevations. They said they had to turn back, because the roads were closed from washouts or too muddy to navigate. One couple almost got their van stuck in the mud.
Visit the Carrizo Plain National Monument page for more information and updates on the wildflowers.