Carrizo Plain entrance

It’s a damn long drive to Carrizo Plain National Monument from the Bay Area (or any area, for that matter) to see this.

Must be why they call it a plain, eh? Then again, you can never tell a park by its front gate. There’s a lot happening out here, even if it’s not evident on first glance (but hey, if it were evident at first glance, the place would be mobbed with tourists and we wouldn’t want to be there anyway).

The biggest attraction in the plain is Soda Lake, 5,000 acres of alkali-frosted mud (operative odor: Laundromat of the Gods). It’s an active wildlife habitat while there’s still water in the lake, but once the water evaporates, the waterfowl go someplace wetter. A few pronghorn antelope populate the plain, along with a few wild pigs and coyotes, but mostly it’s a vast wind-swept expanse of hardy vegetation with low-lying mountain ranges on either side.

Soda Lake

The hills can host a riot of color from returning wildflowers when the conditions are right. It’s still a bit early, but I saw promising potential over the weekend. One sample:


“Yellow” is the operative color so far, with dashes of purple and options on orange.

More wildflowers

This bush is already blooming, but I saw hundreds more just like it full of buds ready to open. The hills are run rampant with them.

Selby Campground

Here’s Selby Campground, where we camped Friday and Saturday nights. Isn’t much to look at, truth be told, but it encourages campers to discover the lands beyond their campfire rings. (Requiring us to put down our beers and everything, alas.)


4WheelBob prowls the campground.


Tasha, Bob’s hound, keeps watch. Actually, some well-armed hunter types in the next campsite over had the most bad-ass looking dogs in the territory. We were very polite to them (I don’t see much survival advantage in provoking guys with side arms and pit bulls).

Cheryl, AKA Hike Chick

Cheryl, one of the Legendary White Mountain Support Crew, hangs out at my camp table.

Bob by the fire

After dark, Bob has hire in his eyes.

First thing the next morning, I went wandering for pictures to take advantage of the light. A few sightings:

Another shot of the same flower

A tidy-tip grows near Soda Lake.

Soda Lake landscape

Dead vegetation coated in alkali: picture heaven!


Barbed wire is rather photogenic at close range, provided there’s a mountain range in the background.

Later in the morning I set out with Cheryl and her husband, Greg, on a hike up to the ridge overlooking Selby Campground. The trail to the ridge is unmarked with no switchbacks — a rugged slog right up the hillside. It was sweat-inducing but it got most of the climbing out of the way early.


Spotted these lupines on the way up. That’s Soda Lake far in the background.

Enjoying the view

That’s our campground way down there. The Temblor Range is on the other side of the Plain. The San Andreas Fault runs along the range and is clearly visible in some areas. I didn’t make it over that way, but I’ll do that on a later exploration.

The hills on the hike back down to the campground were flower-rich in places.

Yellow flower

This could be the head of a fiddle-neck (I’ll never get this thing written if I have to track down all these flower species).

Poppies in the mix

California poppies surrounded by hilltop daisies.

Fuzzy purple phacelia

I’m told this fuzzy thing is called phacelia.

More purple fuzzies

Lots o’ purple happening here.

Another cool feature near the Selby Campground is a sandstone formation jutting up out of the plain. Here’s a field of poppies near one of them:

Big stone backdrop

Looks kinda like a frog from this angle.

Tafoni formations like this are very common in the  Bay Area

It was cool to see these tafoni formations, just like the ones we have in the Santa Cruz Mountains at Castle Rock State Park, Rock City at Mount Diablo and so many other close-to-home locales. (If there’s bird crap coming out of a strange hole in the rock, you know you’re in California.)

Saturday night campfire

Another 4WheelBob by the campfire shot, because one is never enough.

Tasha in the flowers

Next morning, Tasha pauses amid the fiddlenecks.

So those are the pictorial highlights. A few considerations if you’re thinking of camping here:

  • Expect high winds — you’ll need to stake your tent firmly and bring an extra layer to stay warm after the sun goes down.
  • Hunters like to hang out here — if that bothers you, well, go somewhere else. You could always make friends with them and try to wheedle some free firearms training.
  • Bring water and trash bags.
  • Trails are few and far between; dress for bushwhacking.
  • Bring the kids: a wild environment like this is a perfect way to get them interested in outdoors stuff because they’ll see things they’ll never see in a developed campground. A few families camped together near us with at least a half-dozen kids under 6, and they were having a fantastic time, as near as I could tell.

A larger photo album from the weekend is here. (It’s the same one I posted last night).

More facts from the Bureau of Land Management here.

Carol, who camped with us, took a bunch of great pictures in 2005.

Here’s a Google map for driving directions:

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