It’s been a few months since our last travel log to Horsebird, but I promise we didn’t forget about you guys! We’ve been getting battered with seemingly endless winter storms with record rain and snowfall, and while we’ve still been taking trips for product research and development, the conditions have made for very difficult content creation. Now that spring has rolled in, we’ve been taking more trips to take advantage of the nicer weather.
We have a number of other travel logs in the pipeline, but seeing as this one is more time-sensitive, we’ve bumped this log on the Carrizo Plain National Monument up to the top. As of the writing of this post, peak wildflower blooms are projected to hit in a week or two (end of April), and many people have asked us for some pointers. Hopefully this post will answer most of your questions!
For most of the year, the Carrizo Plain National Monument is quiet. During rainy years, however, the wildflower blooms attract swarms of visitors. Roughly three hours northwest from Los Angeles, the Monument is managed federally by the Bureau of Land Management, and was designated relatively recently in 2001. Minimal development exists in the Monument, with no services for water, food, or fuel. Weather is fairly consistent with what you would expect of Southern California grasslands – dry and hot in the summer, wet and cold in the winter. The season changes can see warm daytime temperatures and chilly overnight temperatures. Our visit saw mid to high 70’s in the day (with a high UV index), and overnight temperatures of low 40s.
Riding along the infamous San Andreas Fault, the Carrizo Plain National Monument is navigated by a number of key points-of-interest. To the north of the fault line lies Temblor Range. Caliente Range lies to the south, and the vast grasslands span in between. Soda Lake sits near the northwestern mouth of the Monument. Access within the Monument is dictated by two main roads, Soda Lake Road and Elkhorn Road. These are mostly primitive roads with some sections of paved asphalt. Rains can cause ruts and trenches to form, but maintenance of these roads is usually pretty good. At the time we visited, the roads were maintained enough that any regular passenger car could pass. Some sedans, however, had to pass very slow and carefully – a frustrating experience considering how vast the Monument is. 4x4/AWD with high clearance would allow you to more comfortably venture off the main road away from the crowds, especially if dispersed camping.
There are two main ways into the valley with the two flanking mountain ranges. The most direct way enters from the southeast via SR-166 onto Soda Lake Road. The second way loops around Temblor Range by taking SR-33 and SR-58 and linking up with Seven Mile Road. There are very few gas stations along the way. To avoid gouging prices, I highly recommend filling up at Wheeler Ridge. At the time we visited, peak bloom was right along the intersection of SR-58 and Seven Mile Road, so we optioned to loop through Taft on our way in. Although the loop is longer than via SR-166, I would still recommend entering from this side as it provides a greater variety of scenic views without backtracking. Travelers entering from the southeast may be less-inclined to visit the photogenic mountain pass through SR-58.
After entering the valley through SR58, we branched off onto Seven Mile Road to visit the named POI in the Monument. Seven Mile Road is a well-graded dirt road with some small side roads meandering through the grasslands. It intersects with Elkhorn Road at the north, and Soda Lake Road at the south. Elkhorn Road provides access to the short hike of Wallace Creek, and passes through the Elkhorn Plain and Panorama Hills. It’s also the path to take to access the dispersed campsites along Temblor Ridge Road. As we were looking to visit Soda Lake, we proceeded down towards the south and turned left onto a dirt section of Soda Lake Road. Proceeding straight down, we stopped by the Soda Lake Boardwalk and the corresponding Overlook Hill. It was fairly packed with visitors. During most of the year, Soda Lake is a dry lake bed of white alkali. In wet years, however, the lake fills with shallow water, enough to provide a mirror against the rim of mountains around the Monument.
Continuing down south along Soda Lake Road, we stopped by the Goodwin Education Center. This is where you would make reservations for guided tours to Painted Rock, a historical Native American site. The area around Painted Rock is a strictly off-limits with required registration to enter. There is no running water at the Education Center, but there are vault toilets and a few picnic tables. Also a great place to pick up any small souvenirs.
There are two maintained campsites within the Monument. Selby Campground, close to Painted Rock, and KCL Campground, right off Soda Lake Road, are both free first-come-first-serve sites maintained by BLM. We don’t stay in established campgrounds, but they could be good options for new campers and first-time visitors. There are no utilities or running water, although vault toilets, fire rings, and tables are provided. Dispersed camping is permitted in the Temblor and Caliente Ranges. There appear to be fewer sites available in the Temblor Range, and many of the sites are smaller with steep drop-offs. We opted to set up base camp in the Caliente Range. The BLM brochure has a map that identifies the boundaries of dispersed camping areas.
After setting up base camp, we explored and hiked around the nearby ravines before returning to prepare dinner. There are a number of named springs at the base of the mountains in the Caliente Range that make for perfect campsites. They were pretty packed at the time of our visit, but are normally quite accessible.
As night fell, temperatures dropped quickly. Despite shorts and sunhat weather in the day, we still needed to hot tent overnight for a comfortable sleep - a great final test for our new cabin tent available soon. The next morning we scouted out Traver Ranch, more of the canyons in the Caliente Range, then circled back to down via SR-166.
Locals that have lived their entire lives in the area are convinced this year’s bloom will be the biggest ever. Remember to respect road closures, fences, and private property. Thanks for reading and hope you catch some wildflowers!