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Carrizo Plain Flower Status, 2017

I had a Saturday morning double century lined up on Saturday March 18. As Murphy’s Law would have it, on Friday morning March 17 the ignition switch on my SUV failed (102K miles), rendering it unstartable, which took me out all of Friday getting it to the dealer and stuffing all my gear into a Nissan Versa rental (uggghhh).

I completed the double century a hour slower than I ought to have but having felt lousy for some weeks I consider it a roaring success. And included in that time, I did stop and wait for the women’s winner (former cat 1 rider) to fix a flat, who I 'pulled' for 150 miles (she drafted me). As is my wont, I took no draft. It took my body two hours to get into the groove, but then I settled into a decent pace thereafter... maybe seasonal allergies had been pulling me down and hormones when riding start to counteract any allergy lethargies.

Anyway, the double century done, and dealers shut for the weekend, ignition switch diagnosis and part ordered on Tuesday and fixed and back in my SUV late Wednesday.

Carrizo Plain Flower Status, 2017

I lost 4 shooting days and had to do a rush job at Carrizo Plain National Monument. Here’s a quick status using iPhone 7 photos. The Santa Barbara area and Carrizo Plain area did not get good rain until mid-February. Also, conditions were very cold (frost last night!), so the season looks delayed by a week or so. Whether recent substantial rains will encourage additional blooming I do not know.

  • Good bloom but modest compared to superbloom years, but a paucity and near absence of reds/pinks/oranges (isolated patches in only a few places).
  • Large patches of yellow, and some good blue/violet large fields in a few places; looks like more to come.
  • Poppies just starting to emerge at lower elevations, such as Crocker Springs Rd just past oil pumping fields east of the Plain.
  • A few small patches of brilliant orange something off Elkhorn Road near north end.
  • South end of Elkhorn Rd should hit its peak in a few days (the part up the grade to miles-long meadow).

With only a few isolated patches of orange and red and pink in a few places, the colors this year are strongly dominated by two types of yellow flowering plants, the one variety favoring slopes shown here, which I much prefer over the very small dark yellow weedy type which dominates many of the flat areas. The hills visible along Elkhorn Road and the hills east and west of the main road show this type of pattern.

Elkhorn Road grade, just east of Carrizo Plain National Monument
f2.8 @ 1/1000 sec, ISO 20; 2017-03-24 11:37:45
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 6.6mm f/2.8 @ 57mm (6.6mm)

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Just off the main road, about 5 miles south of Soda Lake, Carrizo Plain National Monument
f1.8 @ 1/5000 sec, ISO 20; 2017-03-24 14:21:09
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm (4mm)

[low-res image for bot]
Main road through Carrizo Plain National Monument, about 8 miles south of Soda Lake
f2.8 @ 1/3400 sec, ISO 20; 2017-03-24 10:08:53
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 6.6mm f/2.8 @ 57mm (6.6mm)

[low-res image for bot]

My SUV has about the best traction system available (real 4WD, independent on each wheel). I know from experience in Death Valley that it can out-perform even modified jeeps in mud/snow/sand (excluding the oversize tire variants of course). But with winter snow tires, this sticky clay goo (bentonite?) just coats tires with a half-inch thick slurry that has the car sliding sideways and all sorts of directions. Extreme caution advised in the clayish areas when wet.

The main road through Carrizo Plain was fine, but Elkhorn Rd in a few places was still very gooey on Thursday, much improved on Friday, but more rain was headed in for Saturday. For those with SUVs and good 4WD and tires, the entire Elkhorn Rd can be very nice, with some excellent side canyons particularly approaching the northern end.

I had not yet switched from my snow tires to my all-terrain A/T tires; the A/T tires shed mud and bite into this sort of stuff much better. All that said, it was much warmer on 24 March by mid-day, with things drying out very quickly. Still, crossing Panorama Drive was a deceivingly risky bet, with water just below the seemingly dry surface—attempt at your own peril and only with excellent tires and 4WD until the goo dries. I went in 100 meters or so and decided to back out, which was a rolicking back-and-forth slip-n-slide show. A few days should dry it out and while I probably could have made it across with the the 4WD system cranking at it hard and a lot of slipping and sliding, it was just not worth it and that lowest wettest middle section held unknown muddy 'fun' which might be loads of fun sinking into it. And more rain was on the way by mid-afternoon, and I was out of food, so I headed home, already 3 days delayed.

Extreme Caution Advised in Clay Soil Areas
f1.8 @ 1/300 sec, ISO 20; 2017-03-23 11:27:01
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back dual camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm (4mm)

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By 14:00 Friday March 24, clouds were massing rapidly, portending rain, which I encountered as I headed north to home.

Soda Lake appears to have much more water in it than 2016, and considerably more than the salt-pan conditions of 2015.

Soda Lake, Carrizo Plain National Monument
f2.8 @ 1/1800 sec, ISO 20; 2017-03-24 15:11:40
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 6.6mm f/2.8 @ 57mm (6.6mm)

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