Wild­flower su­per bloom spots daz­zle the county with color

The Tribune (SLO) - - Front Page - BY JOE TARICA, LIND­SEY HOLDEN AND MON­ICA VAUGHAN jtar­[email protected]­bune­news.com [email protected]­bune­news.com [email protected]­bune­news.com

Mother Na­ture is putting on an epic spring­time show across Cal­i­for­nia, and San Luis Obispo County’s two su­per bloom spots are as daz­zling — or more — as any­where in the state.

You’ve seen the up­close pho­tos of col­or­ful blos­soms and the satel­lite shots from space of hills blanked is swathes of yel­low and or­ange. But un­til you ac­tu­ally go, find a clear spot and plop your­self down in a sea of wild­flow­ers, it’s hard to re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate the spec­ta­cle.

Over the last few weeks, Tri­bune staffers have made pil­grim­ages to eastern SLO County’s flow­ers fields. Here’s what we found:


We set out to see the flow­ers on a Sun­day morn­ing, with two dogs in tow and a cooler loaded with sand­wiches and drinks.

Af­ter leav­ing Santa Mar­garita, the me­an­der­ing drive along High­way 58 quickly re­veals patches of wild­flow­ers but noth­ing to sug­gest the riot of yel­low, blue and or­ange blos­soms that greets you at Shell Creek Road, part of the Sin­ton fam­ily’s Ave­nales Ranch.

In some spots, the blooms are so in­tense the fields look like one in­ter­rupted splash of color. This is es­pe­cially true of the bright yel­low Cal­i­for­nia gold­fields flow­ers, which burst to­gether from the earth in great masses, like fans el­bow­ing for room in a sold-out foot­ball sta­dium.

In other spots, va­ri­eties of as­sorted wild­flow­ers erupt in a bal­anced sym­phony of color: Oc­ca­sional tiny pink flow­ers cling to the ground be­low a layer of baby blue eyes. Next come healthy sprin­kles of gold­fields and Cal­i­for­nia pop­pies. Fi­nally, pretty yel­low-and-white tidy tips fin­ish the scene, pop­ping up here and there to pro­vide tall ex­cla­ma­tion points.

You walk into the fields choos­ing a care­ful path. It’s all but im­pos­si­ble not to step on a flower some­where. You’d have as much luck walk­ing into your house try­ing not to step on the car­pet. The blooms are that thick.

Fields of yel­low blend into blue then into or­ange, in a scene dot­ted with oak trees and the name­sake creek that gur­gles through the mid­dle.

It’s a flo­ral Shangri-la. I defy you to find a more peace­ful or pic­turesque wild­flower spot any­where in the state.

Once you’ve taken all your pho­tos, def­i­nitely leave some time to sit and ab­sorb the scene with­out a screen in be­tween. It’s a

rare sight, and we never know when it will re­turn.

In con­trast to Shell Creek Road, the Car­rizo Plain Na­tional Mon­u­ment emerges in a great ex­panse out of the rolling hills to the west.

It’s a wholly dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence, wide open and far-rang­ing. It strains the imag­i­na­tion and calls on you to linger. I wished we could have stayed longer than an af­ter­noon, to see the val­ley in the morn­ing and evening when the light changes and the shad­ows lengthen.

From the Soda Lake Over­look, the Tem­blor Range range looks pos­i­tively spray-painted in yel­low gold­fields from the north end to the south, as far as the eye can see.

The yel­low hills rise up be­hind the salty lake, its shores a bril­liant white that up close looks as though some­one took a gi­ant sifter and sprin­kled it with a layer of pow­dered sugar.

But be care­ful how close you get to the wa­ter or you may sink up to your an­kles and leave look­ing like you’ve stepped in brownie bat­ter.

— Ed­i­tor Joe Tarica


I’m go­ing to tell you how to see unique views that few have the knowl­edge, inkling or ap­pro­pri­ate ve­hi­cle to visit.

I’m hes­i­tant to share my ex­pe­ri­ence with Su­perbloom 2019® be­cause I’m wary of big crowds hit­ting up sa­cred spots that most tourists don’t yet know about. How­ever, I’m also pas­sion­ate about pre­serv­ing pub­lic lands and I know the best way to do that is to cre­ate more pas­sion­ate lovers of pub­lic lands. To be hon­est, I get giddy when I see hordes of peo­ple in­tro­duc­ing their kids to the magic of wilder­ness.

So here it goes. Ex­plore the range of moun­tains on the west side of the Car­rizo Plain, where Caliente Moun­tain stretches higher than any other point in San Luis Obispo County. That’s where the views are 360 de­grees, the crowds are sparse and the birds soar be­low.

On this trip you will see row af­ter row of south­fac­ing hill­sides that aren’t vis­i­ble from the val­ley. Each is blan­keted in yel­low.

On the way up the hill, thick clus­ters of pop­pies grow in the foothills around fas­ci­nat­ing rock for­ma­tions, rem­nants of a time when the Car­rizo Plain was the floor of an in­land sea. You’ll con­tinue higher to see rare wild­flow­ers that pre­fer higher el­e­va­tions along the side of the road.

Dis­persed camp­ing is avail­able here, mean­ing you can wake in the morn­ing away from other peo­ple to see the yel­low flower floor of the val­ley and hill­sides il­lu­mi­nated by beams from the morn­ing sun. Or, watch Soda Lake trans­form from a shiny sur­face with salted river veins to a mir­ror of the night sky.

To get there, you need a high-clear­ance ve­hi­cle, pa­tience and good eti­quette to man­age the boom in traf­fic on the rut­ted, one-way dirt road. Re­mem­ber, ve­hi­cles go­ing up hill have the right-ofway. You may need to ne­go­ti­ate the road in re­verse to find a turnout so oth­ers can get by you.

Near the south end of the lake on Soda Lake Road, turn west onto Selby Road. A cou­ple miles in there will be a fork in the road. Selby Camp­ground is to the left. You are go­ing to stay right.

I also recommend ex­plor­ing the Tem­blor Range, where you can see clear ev­i­dence of mas­sive land move­ment at the San An­dreas Fault, where the Pa­cific Plate meets the North Amer­i­can Plate. There you can pon­der how tec­tonic move­ment ef­fects our ex­is­tence and per­haps see the source of the next big earth­quake.

Fi­nally, if you are trav­el­ing from San Luis Obispo, don’t take High­way 58 from Santa Mar­garita to the Car­rizo Plain. For ad­di­tional ad­ven­ture and to see more na­ture, take Pozo Road through Los Padres Na­tional For­est. The road is wind­ing and scary, a lit­tle dan­ger­ous, and beau­ti­ful.

Be sure to stop to eat at the Pozo Sa­loon. A sign says no dogs al­lowed, but it’s a lie.

Drink a brown ale or stout. Or­der a cheese­burger, a side of ranch and onion rings and you’ll be set.


I’ve vis­ited the Car­rizo Plain twice this sea­son, once for a story on a Thurs­day and again with friends dur­ing the week­end.

It’s im­por­tant to note here that I’m from Illi­nois. I’ve lived here for three years, but Cal­i­for­nia still has the power to leave me in awe af­ter grow­ing up in a Mid­west­ern land­scape that’s so dif­fer­ent.

Once in the mon­u­ment, the ex­panse of the val­ley floor looks like a sea of yel­low stretch­ing in ev­ery di­rec­tion. When you stand some­where amidst the flow­ers, they sway and bob in the wind like a real body of wa­ter.

When I first saw the Car­rizo Plain, I men­tioned to Tri­bune pho­tog­ra­pher David Mid­dle­camp that it re­minded me of a land­scape I’d only seen in the tele­vi­sion west­ern “Bo­nanza.” (Yes, I’m aware “Bo­nanza” is set in Ne­vada, but I think the com­par­i­son is still apt.)

The Car­rizo Plain cov­ers 250,000 acres — it’s so big, it’s easy to find some un­oc­cu­pied spots where you can have a small part of the ex­pe­ri­ence for your­self.

And while the flow­ers are spec­tac­u­lar, my fa­vorite part of these sorts of ex­cur­sions are ob­serv­ing other vis­i­tors. Parts of the mon­u­ment — such as Over­look Hill and the board­walk along Soda Lake — draw clus­ters of peo­ple hik­ing up the slope or kneeling near the flow­ers for their new so­cial me­dia pro­file photo.

Spring­time on the Car­rizo Plain def­i­nitely isn’t as crowded as Dis­ney­land, but it seems to draw a sim­i­larly di­verse crowd on the week­end — one you would ex­pect to see at Hearst Cas­tle, not a re­mote area of the county.

Some vis­i­tors ar­rived dressed for a trip into na­ture, com­plete with hats, hik­ing boots and back­packs. Oth­ers were clearly there for photo shoots with a flo­ral back­ground, decked out in brightly col­ored sun dresses, crop-tops and flipflops.

My friends and I opted to drive down Soda Lake Road, a bit away from the more crowded ar­eas near the en­trance of the mon­u­ment.

Past the Good­win Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­ter, we found some spots with fewer peo­ple and set up a pic­nic on a small hill with panoramic views of the moun­tains and val­ley.

Be­low us, pur­ple flow­ers dusted the val­ley floor, while the Tem­blor Range rose in bril­liant yel­low in the dis­tance. A few groups of peo­ple hiked by, but it was sur­pris­ingly quiet oth­er­wise.

We also checked out Soda Lake, the edges of which are soft and crusted with salt. One of my friends even tasted the white flakes to con­firm.

The mud­di­ness of the lake’s banks made reach­ing the wa­ter too chal­leng­ing for us — as ev­i­denced by a sin­gle white shoe some­one left be­hind in the muck.

— Staff writer Lind­sey Holden

JOE TARICA jtar­[email protected]­bune­news.com

Masses of gold­fields and Cal­i­for­nia pop­pies make for a pic­turesque dog por­trait back­ground along Shell Creek Road.

MON­ICA VAUGHAN [email protected]­bune­news.com

Patches of pop­pies can be found among rock for­ma­tions along Selby Road on the Car­rizo Plain.

MON­ICA VAUGHAN [email protected]­bune­news.com

Wild­flow­ers are abun­dant in spring at the base of the Caliente Range, look­ing south to­ward Selby Camp­ground.

MON­ICA VAUGHAN [email protected]­bune­news.com

Kirk Bar­ron and Sir Rock­e­ford Vaughan-Bar­ron III walk on a dirt road in the hills to the east of Car­rizo Plain Na­tional Mon­u­ment. The Tem­blor Range of­fers bursts of wild­flow­ers in spring. The San An­dreas Fault is par­al­lel to the range to the west.

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