Sunday, March 28, 2010

Carrizo Plain, The Temblor Range and Beyond...

About 5 years ago I received an email with a photo entitled, "God Spilled the Paint" (Pictured left). As you can see, it is a spectacular image with unreal color and plenty of inspiration. After seeing this, I knew I had to go there! The problem was, I didn't know where "there" was. The only thing I knew was that is was taken near Bakersfield. (A note about this photo, many people have tried to take credit for it, but the credit for this beauty goes to Frank Kee, www.keesphotos.com. He gave me permission to use the image for this story. Thanks Frank!)

As many who know me know, I keep a pretty busy schedule and for the past several years as springtime approached, I never forgot about the photo, but also never tried hard to find this elusive spot. Last year I had a successful wildflower expedition along the Merced River Canyon and Hite's Cove Trail, and as spring approached this year, I was certainly looking forward to more poppies and Yosemite. I warned my wife and boss (the one at work too) that I was planning on taking time off work when conditions were right for wildflower season. The rains kept coming and in the beginning of March, I started doing research checking out Carol Leigh's Wildflower Hotsheet and Theodore Payne Wildflower Hotline. I still was planning on a trip back to Hite's Cove, but the reports further South were more encouraging. I started thinking again about how "God Spilled the Paint" and decided that this was the year I may venture south and try to have my own colorful experience.

I started to research the aforementioned photo and found it was taken in the Temblor Range and that the Temblor Range (pictured left) was located on the eastern edge of the Carrizo Plain National Monument. The best part about that, was the promising reports about Carrizo Plain that were popping up and even more, fellow hiker and Backpacker friend FourWheelBob was planning a trip to Carrizo and I was welcome to join him and the other Backpacker.com forum followers for the weekend.

A week out, my plan was set, Thursday was to be a day trip to Hite's Cove, the rest of the weekend, Carrizo Plains and the Temblor Range. Every day I looked at the latest Wildflower reports and my plans changed daily too! On Tuesday, I saw some photos from Hite's Cove and it really wasn't close to what I experienced there last year. I also read a very promising report from another photographer, Andrew from lightandpictures.com, about a location near Carrizo called Cottonwood Canyon (pictured right). I emailed Andrew and he strongly encouraged me to check out Cottonwood Canyon and after seeing his photos, I agreed. So, two days out, I decided to ditch Hite's Cove and Yosemite to focus on the southland.

With camping and camera gear loaded up (and plenty of junk food), I headed out 0-dark-hundred and in what seemed like no time (4+ hours) I was with camera in hand on the corner of Shell Creek Rd and HWY 58 (Tidy Tip pictured left) taking in lots of flowers and color. I moved on and slowly wound my way to Carrizo Plain with lots of expectations. When I arrived, I was blown away with all the color and flowers, not just in the plain, but the hillsides surrounding the Carrizo Plain and Soda Lake were covered with bright yellow and splotches of purple.

Somewhere out there in that color was where "God Spilled the Paint". What I didn't realize was that the Temblor Range, right in front of me, was over 20 miles long and seemed way off in the distance, a colorful distance, but still a ways away. I set up camp and headed to Cottonwood Canyon for the late afternoon light while checking out the possibilities along Soda Lake Rd for the rest of the weekend. Cottonwood Canyon and the Caliente Range along HWY 166 was awesome and just about everything Andrew had said it was.

Friday, I focused on Carrizo and started out photographing a cool barn in early morning light, then headed for an expansive field of Hillside Daisies (Monolopia, pictured left). The wind was picking up which always makes it challenging for photographing flowers, but I managed to deal with it! My plan for the day was to explore and just see what I could see. I kept eying the Temblor Range as I headed out towards Soda Lake. I found plenty of places to stop and try out my new Macro lens and photographed plenty more Hillside Daisies and phacelia (cool purple flowers) and Tidy Tips and Lupine and Baby Blue Eyes and many more.

Gradually, I was heading east and getting closer to the Temblors. They were taunting me with purples and bright yellows and a little orange here and there. I made it to Elkhorn Road which follows near the base of the Temblor Mountains and started venturing the many narrow offshoots leading closer to the the tempting colors higher up to the east. The first road I took ended at a locked gate but I was still too far away to really see "God's Paintbrush" as I wanted, so I found myself over the gate and left my car way behind to get up close and personal with the Temblor Range.

It was thrilling! The CF card in my camera began filling up with views from a ridge just below a beautiful hillside. I knew this was nothing like what Frank Kee had seen, but was excited none the less. I made it back down to the car and journeyed south, taking every dirt road that brought me closer to the Temblors. Some vantage points were better than others, but one thing I noticed was the color was getting better! I managed to get on one side road that brought me up so close to the color that I was ecstatic. Not far above and in front of me was a series of ridge lines filled with deep, bright yellows (Hillside Daisies) to the right and an expansive purple (Phacelia) patch to the left. Time to put in a new memory card in my camera!

I continued my journey south finding more great overlooks and vantage points of the Temblor Range. I was thrilled with what I had seen and captured and knew this trip was a success. I left Carrizo Saturday morning and headed out to discover more places (more to come later on that). God certainly spilled paint this year, like He does every year. I feel fortunate that I had a chance to get out there to see it.

Notes to know before you go: There is no cost to enter the Carrizo Plain National Monument and camping is also free, but at a first come first serve basis. The campgrounds are rustic and dry. The standard vault toilets are available, but you need to bring in all your water and pack out your trash. The two main roads, Soda Lake Rd & Elkhorn Rd were mostly dirt roads but in good conditions. Conditions could quickly turn for the worst after a rain.

For more photos, check out my Smugmug Gallery.

Below is a map showing a variety of places I visited and more photos from the trip. Check it out! Feel Free to contact me if you have any question.


View Wildflower viewing areas near Carizzo Plain in a larger map

My favorite Hillside of the Temblor Range


Carpeted and Colorful Hillside of the Temblor Range


Colored patches of Hillside Daisies, Phacelia and Poppies on hills of the Temblor Range


Cream Cups (Platystemon californicus)


Hillside Daisies and Sky Lupine on Cottonwood Canyon Road


Tansy Leaf Phacelia


Baby Blue Eyes


Painter Anita Hampton at Shell Creek Rd.


Sky Lupine up close in morning light