Wildflowers spring to life following winter rains
As you wind your way along State Route 58 through the eastern ranges of San Luis Obispo County, intense bursts of yellow and blue start to consume the surrounding hillsides. As you drop down the other side onto the Carrizo Plain, the entire terrain is soon ablaze in a kaleidoscope of color.
It was a wet winter in California and the spring wildflowers are celebrating by putting on one of the most dazzling displays in years. And there is no better place to experience this picturesque super bloom than the Carrizo Plain National Monument.
Situated approximately 120 miles north of Santa Barbara, the valley and surrounding ranges are in full bloom. For those who have already made the trek through the area, it is hard to believe the bloom is only going to get better.
“We heard the flowers were going to be amazing this year, so we came up here to see for ourselves,” said Janice Middleton of Santa Clarita, who was picnicking beside a field of blazing purple Phacelia with her husband, Stanley. “It really is spectacular, isn’t it? We were talking to the ranger and he said that more and more flowers are blooming every day. Looking at this beautiful display, that’s hard to believe.”
For the past few weeks, hillside daisies, California goldfields, tidy tips and various types of Phacelia have been opening up and turning the plain into a stunning cavalcade of color that is expected to continue until the end of the month.
The most spectacular way to enter Carrizo Plain National Monument is from the north, as one of the most dazzling displays of hillside flowers is taking place at the intersection of State Route 58 and Seven Mile Road. Here, the surrounding hills are saturated with various species of wildflowers producing an array of colors.
Seven Mile Road leads directly to Soda Lake Road, which runs the length of the reserve from State Route 58 in the north to Highway 33 in the south and offers direct access to some of the best wildflower hotspots. But bear in mind, the park is remote and isolated. It offers no services, so make sure your gas tank is full and you have packed plenty of water and snacks. Sections of Soda Lake Road are gravel and dirt, and while many vehicles can make the passage in the dry, don’t attempt to do so if it’s wet.
Heading south down Soda Lake Road from State Route 58, the first vantage point is Overlook Hill, where a short hike to the top will offer a sweeping view of Soda Lake set against a backdrop of the colorful Temblor Range. Across the road from Overlook Hill is a boardwalk that takes you along the lake’s edge.
A mile or so south of Soda Lake’s southern tip is the Goodwin Education Center. Open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, it gives visitors the latest updates on the blooms. The center also offers insight into the plain’s rich natural history and has the added bonus of being one of the few locations in the park with restrooms.
After about a mile continuing south on Soda Lake Road, you will reach Selby Road. Here, rangers maintain a whiteboard that they update daily specifying what flowers are blooming where. It is also at this intersection that you will see one of the most breathtaking displays of yellow California goldfields imaginable. Stretching east from the road to the distant mountains, the land is a sea of yellow flowers.
Dirt tracks run from the main road deep into the colorful fields and provide the perfect opportunity to surround yourself with flowers. Upon closer inspection, you will also find that scattered throughout this seemingly never-ending expanse of goldfields are sprigs of tidy tips and Phacelia. If you have a camera, it is impossible to walk away without a stunning photograph.
As the road turns from pavement to dirt, it continues to wind its way south through fields of yellow with the Temblor Range to the east and Caliente Range to the west, both also ablaze in color. Just south of the KCL Campground, Soda Lake Road navigates a rise where, on the other side, the valley floor turns to a sea of purple.
About three miles south of the campground, just before you reach the Traver Ranch information kiosk, is a hill that offers a stunning view of the flower fields surrounding Van Matre Ranch. It is even more stunning once you make the one-mile drive to the old ranch and walk out among the blooms.
The concentration of Phacelia here is so great and intense you could be forgiven for thinking you are stepping into a deep purple lake.
Soda Lake Road terminates at Highway 33, where you can return to Santa Barbara by heading west and following State Route 166 through New Cuyama and Santa Maria or staying on Highway 33 through Ventucopa and Ojai — or head east to Interstate 5 for a stop at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve State Natural Reserve.
Located in Lancaster, the reserve is about 20 miles east of Interstate 5, just south of State Route 138, and is now carpeted with California poppies. The bloom is expected to continue until the end of the month and the reserve’s eight-mile network of hiking trails offer myriad perspectives of the dazzling orange flowers. The reserve is open sunrise to sunset, daily, year-round, but get there early. The super bloom is luring people from near and far and the entry line to the park gets insanely long. The entire region east of Lancaster offers bursts of poppies and there are plenty of outcrops to be impressed by alongside the road on the way to the park.