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April 1
2004 - Last day in Sacramento for Sen. Pete Knight, who succumbs one month later to a sudden onset of leukemia [story]
Pete Knight

Take a Hike | Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Mar 22, 2015

DianneErskineHellrigelThe Carrizo Plain National Monument was created in 2001 by President Bill Clinton. Carrizo Plain is about 100 miles north of Los Angeles near the oil-rich towns of Taft and Maricopa. In the Spring, there is usually an amazing assortment of flowers, and the entire plain is covered in all directions with colorful blooms. The more rain we see, the greater profusion of blossoms. The average rainfall in the Carrizo Plain is 9 inches.

In addition to a diverse mass of flowers, you can also find much wildlife, including 13 endangered species such as the San Joaquin kit fox, the San Joaquin antelope squirrel, the California condor, the giant kangaroo rat, the blunt-nosed leopard lizard, the lesser sandhill crane and the greater sandhill crane. You might also see tule elk, pronghorn antelope, coyotes, and jackrabbits during your visit.

Carrizo2The San Andreas Fault passes through this area, and you can amaze your friends by standing in the fault itself and documenting the great event with photos. The San Andreas Fault has moved mountains and carved valleys through here, and in some cases, especially along the Wallace Creek Trail, you can match up the areas of movement.

The scenery is spectacular, as well. The plain is surrounded by mountains on both sides. There are basically two roads that go from south to north skirting these mountains, so you can make a loop in one long day and see everything Carrizo Plain has to offer.

The mountains to the northeast are in the Temblor Range. The mountains to the southwest are in the Caliente Range. Things to see along the way include the Soda Lake Overlook, the raised pathway along the shore of Soda Lake, the visitors center, Painted Rock, the San Andreas Fault, Wallace Creek Trail and, of course, billions of flowers.

IMG_0345Soda Lake is an alkaline lake and is in the center of the plain. The visitors center is like a small museum and the place to go for information. Painted rock is filled with Chumash and Yokuts rock art. The plain itself is the largest single remaining native glass land in California. Wallace Creek is the best spot to go to see impressive movement and surface fractures of the San Andreas Fault.

The Traver Ranch is another interesting place to visit at the south end of Carrizo Plain. This area of about 800 acres was used primarily to grow barley and wheat. Many of the farming tools used there are still on display on the location. The Traver farmhouse currently houses pallid bats and western small-footed bats. A total of seven species of bats live on the Carrizo Plain.

IMG_0391Visitors are not allowed to enter into the Traver Ranch House area due to the fragile nature of the bat habitat inside. When I visited, there was evidence of vandalism; a window had been broken out of the ranch house. The farming equipment is accessible, however, and worth the short walk to see them all.

Do you like to camp? There are two semi-primitive campgrounds: KCL and Selby Campground. KCL offers fire pits, tables, pit toilets and corrals for horses. Selby is much more primitive but does offer tables with shade structures, as well as an outhouse.

The best time to go is in the Spring. Spring is when the flowers are in full bloom. Summer and fall are nice times to take an out-of-the-way drive through the plain. I would not advise a winter trip because many portions of the main road and all of the smaller roads are dirt and are often closed and impassable when wet.

For a map of the Carrizo Plain, click [here].

California monuments include: California Coastal National Monument, Carrizo Plain National Monument, Fort Ord National Monument, Santa Rosa and Jacinto Mountains National Monument, and the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.

Visit them all. They all have something unique and wonderful to offer.



Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. If you’d like to be part of the solution, join the Community Hiking Club’s Stewardship Committee. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.


carrizomapIMG_0436 IMG_0355 IMG_0349 IMG_0319 Carrizo Plain, CaliforniaAerial-SanAndreas-CarrizoPlain Tidy Tips and Poppies

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  1. Kevin Schafer says:

    Dianne, thanks for helping people learn about the Carrizo Plain. It’s a very special – and important- place. In fact that’s why I’m sorry you didn’t even mention the catastrophe that’s taking place there now. After four years of profound drought , wildlife populations have crashed, with kit foxes down 90+% sine 2011. I’ve just been there – and it is like a wildlife ghost town.

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