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Carrizo Monument Shows a Different California

In Central and Southern California the region between the Coastal ranges and the San Joaquin Valley is seldom visited and virtually unknown to the vast majority of the State’s residents and visitors.

But here lies one of the U.S.’s newest National Monuments. It is called the Carrizo Plain National Monument and it provides a look of how some of the State’s terrain looked before settlers arrived.

Carrizo Plain National Monument

The veld-like Carrizo Plain, some 50 miles long, lies between the Temblor Mountains to the northeast and the Caliente Mountains to the southwest and covers almost 250,000 acres. The area has a rich history, first as a hunting ground for Native American tribes like the Chumash and Yokut, then as grazing land for large herds of Coast Missions cattle.

Then homesteaders started dry-land farming in the late 1800s and farming continued there until World War ll, a somewhat risky enterprise since the rainfall only averages about seven inches a year. Now it has been given back for recreation.

This writer finds it a most fascinating place. At about 150 miles from the San Fernando Valley it is the closest area to see Prong Horn Antelopes in the wild. A small herd was recently introduced to the Monument and we actually saw one on our first visit and again most recently.

There is glistening Soda Lake in a basin that is a white sheet of salt simmering under fierce sunlight most of the year. On the Soda Lake Road one drives along the clearly visible San Andreas Fault for a number of miles.

Carrizo Plain National Monument

At another point on the Road there is the Traver Ranch, now part of the Monument but still with its original buildings and, adjacent, a display of farming equipment that was used in the region. There is a brochure and signs on each piece of equipment stating the years it was used and the purpose.

Further north on Soda Lake Road there is the KCL Campground, again at the site of an old ranch and still further north, the Education Center. The Visitor Center offers interesting exhibits of the many birds and animals that are native to the region. Adjacent is a pleasant picnic area. On one visit, coming from Paso Robles where we had acquired a bottle of excellent chardonnay, we opened it here to go with some cheese and crackers.

This is a remote area and no services are available. At the Center guided tours are conducted at certain times of the year to Painted Rock, which has some of the best Native American rock painting in the world.

Winter and Spring are the best times to visit Carrizo Plain. For our March visit there was a dazzling display of green mountains and the Plain looked like one vast meadow. Yellow flowers and purple lupines tinted the slopes ringing the valley.
Carrizo Plain National Monument
We again visited the Carrizo in May to find summer already making its mark with hillside slopes turning to their customary tawny brown. Then too on this latest visit we had a strong wind that swept down from the northwest with all bending before it. Of particular interest were the dust devils whirling above Soda Lake, in this instance white instead of their customary brown.

From the south, access to the plain is from Highway 33. There is a sign west of Maricopa pointing to Soda Lake Road. From the north, access to Soda Lake Road is off Highway 58.

Carrizo Plain is jointly administrated by the Bureau of Land Management, California Fish and Game and the Nature Conservancy. The Goodwin Education Center is open from December through May, Thursday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For information call 805-475-2131 or BLM in Bakersfield at 661-391-6000. In wet weather call first, since some roads may be muddy and impassible. On the web at www.ca.blm.gov/bakersfield/carrizoplain.Previously appeared Vittles, Vintages & Voyages

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