After five years of severe drought this winter has been the wettest in California in over a hundred years. And it was sorely needed. In the age of instagram the springtime super bloom in California’s desert climates has flooded the internet and Carrizo Plain has one of the best displays of wildflowers in the country.
Carrizo Plain National Monument is a vast native Californian grassland with two mountain ranges stretching down either side, Temblor Range to the east and Caliente Range to the west. In the middle there’s a large alkaline lake which dries out during the dry periods. Most of the year it’s a harsh and desolate landscape, but during the spring it turns green and color floods down the sides of the mountains and across the plain.
The land is managed by BLM and contains many dirt roads. There’s only one long maintained trail in the monument, which stretches down the ridgeline of Caliente Range. For the first half it borders a wilderness study area and follows along a dirt road, the second half is entirely inside the wilderness study area and becomes a single track trail right up to the ruins of a World War 2 lookout hut at the Caliente Mountain Summit.
I ended up doing the trail as an overnight to split the two legs of 5 hours of driving to get to the monument. The monument was teaming with picture takers and the campsites and many spots along the road up to the trail were full of campers, but in the late afternoon and early evening hiking along the trail I only saw a few other hikers. The trail is completely dry and I had to lug in all my water, but the climbing is gentle, and until the last mile it’s mostly flat going.
I got to the peak just before sunset and backtracked a little to find a flat place to pitch my tent. While the sky was clear, there was a pretty strong wind in the afternoon. It died down a little at sunset but picked up again through the night and the noise of my tent flapping wasn’t exactly conducive to sleep, even with earplugs in.
During the night I was beginning to question whether camping out on the ridge was actually a good idea, but the morning more than made up for it. The wind died down at dawn and the sunrise and early morning hiking was really beautiful. I dropped back down into the valley, through the arriving throngs of picture takers, and five hours up the 101 to home. Carrizo Plain in the springtime is well worth it.