Get Fujifilm X-Pro2 at B&H Photo.
This is my final report on the flowers at Carrizo Plain National Monument; I left the morning of 23 March.
On 23 March the skies were clear, with little prospect of rain. Flowers on less well watered slopes were visibly stressed. Without more rain, the bloom seems likely to become more and more stressed, except perhaps on higher slopes or localized areas that were wetter to begin with. There can be very localized rain: on 23 March at 6 AM I awoke to isolated spatters which became a good solid pounding rain for a few minutes. I raced to get out of a side canyon, fearing the bentonite clay roads, but by 6:20 or so it was all over, so I stayed and had a wonderful day.
This report is organized by location and is intended mainly for my loyal subscribers, without whom I could not spend time preparing such things—thank you.
If planning a visit, READ THIS:
- Main road (Soda Lake Rd) is fine for all vehicles (except wet). Other roads can be done (Panorama Rd, San Diego Creek Rd
- SUV with 4WD strongly recommended in order to explore side canyons that hold delights that 99% of visitors won’t see. Sedan-style vehicles can enjoy a few of these roads, but at some risk, particularly front-wheel drive vehicles that tend to dig themselves into loose soil. Have a full tank of gas and pay attention: there are a maze of wonderful roads, but so many that a few mistakes can burn a lot of fuel. Some steep side roads reach 20° or so incline which which most SUVs with 4WD won’t even handle: know your vehicle.
- These roads NOT recommended for anything but SUVs: Hurricane / Crocker Springs Rd, Simmler Soda Lake Road, most side roads, Elkhorn Rd (some parts are fine but see road damage notes). If you take a sedan on side roads, take extra food and water and something warm, just in case your car becomes the motel.
- Beware rain: many roads become slick as oil when the bentonite clay gets wet. Not even the best 4WD vehicle can do anything but slide right off the road in such conditions.
- Road names are confusing. For example, Soda Lake Road is the main road that runs north/south (roughly), but it also runs east/west just south of Soda Lake, and there is also Simmler Soda Lake Rd which runs eastward to Elkhorn grade.
- Beware road damage on Elkhorn Rd for a few miles approaching Hurricane Rd: 2-4 foot dropoffs right outside the tire tracks (storm damage). You will not be going *anywhere* for a day or two if you get distracted at the wrong moment. Elkhorn Grade Rd also has road damage coming from Maricopa, but mainly 3-8 inch ruts. Still these could damage or strand a sedan if not paying attention; put those tires in exactly the right place and do not let your attention stray.
About the descriptions
Note that I never supply GPS coordinates as this in my view is antithetical to the spirit of exploration and self-motivated delight of discovery. Not to mention trampling and damage to highly sensitive areas. Actually, I rarely even record GPS as I don’t need it and don’t want it. In this case, there are no secret areas; these are all well-known locations.
Hillside flowers, south end of park
Take the “Road Closed” road just a mile or two after entry from the south (SUV only). The road is not actually closed to get to the flower areas and may not be closed at all. Explore a side road or two for blooms, all within a mile or so. The blooms vary from yellow to blue to orange.
Looking north from southern end of park.
Growth is advanced given the relatively early time of the season, but there flowers will mature quickly so by the looks of it the rainfall was enough for a good but not spectacular bloom, as compared to 2007 when I was there in a superbloom (year uncertain).
At a distance, I took this orange flower for a California Poppy, but it is not and yet it grows close to poppies, but seeming to need a bit more dampness in the soil.
Main road, 3-5 miles from entry
Entering from the south, drive down Soda Lake Rd. There are some nice blooms here and there. If you have an SUV, explore side roads and you may find fields like this one, though actually it is just over a rise (not readily visible) and the field just prior near the road is trampled by tourists; this one was pristine. GET OUT AND HIKE!
Central/south side roads
Get up into the hills (SUV only). This is off Quail Springs Rd. Sinuous roads branch off in many directions and dusk is a beautiful time (I sleep in my SUV and thus have no schedule to get back to a motel).
Hurricane Rd, just east of summit
SUV suggested, sedan possible with care: take Hurricane Rd to the summit, proceed east. This is the very best hillside show anywhere in the park (I scoped things out from a variety of summits).
Approaching summit, looking west at the ascent of Hurricane Pass Rd:
South / East
Below, displays near Simmler Soda Lake Rd, very close to the junction with Elkhorn Grade Rd (from Maricopa). Traffic is very light here as generally only SUVs arrive. Passenger cars possible with car (a guess), but take extra water and food and some camping gear in case a night under the stars is in the cards.
North near Soda Lake
This area is popular with tourists as it is not far from SR58 in the north, and for that reason I’d stay away. These pictures taken in the morning as I was leaving. But it is easily and quickly accessible and so may be the ticket for some wishing for a quick look.
This shot looking south towards South Soda Lake (my name). While Soda Lake proper has no water, South Soda Lake has some and it may be worth a hike to get closer and explore, since 99% of tourists venture at most 100 meters from their vehicles—so you can have the place to yourself. Get there at 6AM.
Parsimonious rains were not enough to produce visible water in Soda Lake this year, but given last year’s moonscape, I’ll take it.
Maybe hiking in Soda Lake is not a great idea.
North of Carrizo Plain
There are quite lovely flower displays in the area north of Carrizo Plain, but this is all private property and fenced, so it’s of little photographic use. Along SR58 there are beautiful oaks just leafing out along the creek, and some flower displays too—good for roadside shooting. SR58 to the east may also hold good stuff, but I did not traverse that route this year.
Just north of Carrizo Plain itself are many solar farms (250-MW Solar Ranch, 550-MW Topaz Solar Farm), huge in breadth and depth—approaching a gigawatt in total. Apparently, Topaz Solar Farm is the world’s largest solar farm as of 2015 at least. Rooftop (home solar) never made sense to me given the economies of scale of large solar farms which should be obvious here (rooftop would make sense in national security terms if/when when the grid goes down it were actually useful, but it stands or falls with the grid as implemented). Still rooftop solar is at least more localized than these huge farms, which require transmission grids which the Bad Guys could sever.
Aside: artifacts from the Fujifilm X-Pro2 are hideous on the solar panels, but that’s another story. They are not visible in reduced size.