Weekend Outing: Carrizo Plain Super Bloom

I’ve always had a thing for wildflowers; they’re my favorite sign of spring.

I love driving along the country highways this time of year, windows down and taking in the unmistakable scent of lupine lining the roadside, or hiking Valencia Peak in Montaña de Oro State Park and collecting flowering species along the way to create my annual coastal bouquet. Each year I complete the trek with a fist full of Indian paintbrush, yarrow, lupine, California buttercup, sage, poppies, California Indian pink, sticky monkey flower, blue dicks, California morning glory and others, and every time it makes for a captivating floral composition.

I've also spent spring weekends in the California desert, just to take in the incredible display of inflorescence; a profusion of tiny, electrifying signs of life, somehow thriving in an otherwise desolate landscape. There's nothing that can quite compare to the contrast of stark, dry, sandy expanses interwoven with a colorful tapestry of wildflowers.

It could be a single mariposa lily among the sagebrush, a little patch of Johnny jump-ups, baby blue-eyes or shooting stars, or a Figueroa Mountain hillside covered with fluorescent California poppies; it doesn’t really matter. There’s something about the short-lived burst of beauty and color that evokes an even deeper sense of appreciation for Mother Nature, with her intertwined systems that constitute this amazingly complex environment that surrounds us, varying hour to hour, day to day, season to season and year to year.

This spring, as I’m sure you’ve heard (and have probably seen photos of by now, many times over, maybe even from space), the Carrizo Plain in southeast San Luis Obispo County is experiencing a rare super bloom, thanks to our first wet winter after several years of severe drought. A couple of weekends ago, I ventured out to the Carrizo Plain National Monument to experience the super bloom in person, and it was well worth the trip.

The Temblor Range sets a perfect backdrop for the valley floor, with its southwest faces aglow with hillside daisies, just like they’ve been heavily marked up with a highlighter. Upon entering the monument the concentration of wildflowers intensifies, and by the time the road reaches Soda Lake, masses of hillside daisies, tidy tips, and fiddleneck form a never-ending sea of yellow, only interrupted by the occasional punch of purple from a cluster of valley phacelia or recurved larkspur.

All throughout the valley, swaths of vibrant blooms wear petals of golden hues, creating carpets of sunshine, blowing in the breeze for a brief moment in time before they’ll melt back into the earth to rest up for next spring’s show. If you don't want to miss out, don’t put off your visit any longer; according to the Theodore Payne Wildflower Hotline (an excellent resource with weekly wildflower updates throughout the state of California), the peak has passed and the flowers are quickly beginning to fade.

If you haven't already, get out there and appreciate this beautiful world where we reside... it's never too late to celebrate Earth Day!