Carrizo Plain National Monument

Spring wildflowers can be spectacular in Carrizo after a wet winter.

Carrizo Plain National Monument is a United States National Monument located about seventy-five miles inland from San Luis Obispo in the Central Coast of California.

Understand

History

Native American people have occupied the Carrizo Plain for at least the last 10,000 years. The Carrizo Plain National Monument lies primarily within the historical territory of the Chumash people. The Salinian, who lived north of the Chumash along the coast to the Salinas Valley, and inland within the Coast Range, also visited the Carrizo, as did the Yokuts who lived in the San Joaquin Valley to the east. The presence of pictograph sites like Painted Rock and other Native American spiritual sites on the Carrizo Plain indicate that this region has long held special values to these people. Their descendants continue to revere these places and visit them to conduct ceremonies and rituals.

Flora and fauna

The park is perhaps most famous for its wildflowers - mid March to mid April is the usual time frame for wildflower season, but it is dependent on the weather and varies from season to season. There are many factors, including temperature, rainfall and the timing of the two that determine which flowers bloom and their distribution in any given season. Every year is not spectacular and only a few flowers may prevail in some years.

Carrizo Plain is home to many animals with sensitive status. Tule elk and pronghorn antelope have been reintroduced into the area and can be seen at various locations on the plain. Many raptors, including redtail hawks, golden eagles, kites, harriers, owls, and others can be found all year throughout the area. The California Condor has been reintroduced nearby and is occasionally seen over the plain.

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°F) 61 62 66 72 81 89 95 94 88 78 67 61
Nightly lows (°F) 33 35 37 39 46 51 56 55 51 43 36 33
Precipitation (in) 1.6 1.8 1.6 0.5 0.2 0.0 0.1 0.1 0.5 0.4 0.6 1.1

   Data from NOAA (1981-2010)

Get in

The park is remote and no gas stations are nearby, so fill your tank before visiting. The only reliable road through the park is Soda Lake Road, which bisects the 37 miles of the national monument from north to south. Since only the northern eighteen miles of Soda Lake Road are paved most visitors choose to visit the park from the north via Highway 58. The intersection of Highway 58 and Soda Lake Road lies 27 miles west of the town of McKittrick, and 40 miles from Santa Margarita and US-101.

If arriving from the south, Soda Lake Road intersects CA-166/CA-33 about nine miles southwest of the town of Maricopa; from there you will need to travel nineteen miles of dirt road to reach the park visitor education center. While Soda Lake Road is well-maintained and suitable for vehicles without four-wheel drive or high ground clearance, the numerous county roads that cross the park are less well maintained and can be impassable during wet weather; check conditions before setting out on these roads.

Fees/Permits

There are no fees for visiting or camping in the Monument. (Be sure to review the camping regulations noted below.)

Get around

Soda Lake Road is the main route through the park. It is well maintained and safe for low clearance vehicles. Panorama and Simmler Roads are usually impassable due to mud long after the last rain. Once the roads have dried out, gullies, ruts, rock-slides and wash-outs often render roads impassable, especially for low clearance vehicles. Stay on designated roads with any motorized vehicles. Except on county roads, or unless otherwise posted, the speed limit is 25 miles per hour.

Stay on existing roads and trails with mountain bikes.

See

Do

The San Andreas fault is a pronounced feature of the landscape on the Carrizo Plain

Buy

Guidebooks, maps, birding books and regional interest titles are available at the Goodwin Education Center. The nearest gas stations are outside of the park in Taft, Maricopa and Santa Margarita so it is important to fill up the gas tank before visiting.

Eat

There is no food available in the park so you must bring everything with you. If you plan on cooking, be aware that any fire outside of a designated campground requires a campfire permit that can be obtained from the visitor center, a ranger or the Bakersfield BLM office.

Drink

There is no drinking water available within the park, so be sure to bring plenty of fluids with you.

Sleep

The Selby campground won't win awards for luxury, but you can't beat the price

Lodging

The closest hotels are in the city of Taft but the six or so hotels in the area are a bit on the seedy side and cater mainly to oil field workers. Santa Margarita or Paso Robles are within striking distance of the Monument and both have many fine hotels, and numerous bed and breakfasts as well as many unique restaurants.

Camping

There are two developed campgrounds in the Monument. Occasionally the KCL campground will fill up on weekends during flower viewing season and hunting season. Not to worry, you can head up to Selby or, if you are tenting or have a small trailer, there are still many fine areas in the monument where open (dispersed) camping is permitted.

Backcountry

Dispersed camping is also permitted in certain areas of the monument using low impact camping techniques. Campers are asked to use existing fire rings, keep vehicles on established roads, and leave areas cleaner than they found them. Maps showing where dispersed camping is permitted can be obtained at the Bakersfield BLM Office (Year round) or the Goodwin Education Center. (open seasonally)

Camping in the monument is limited to 14 days within any 30 day period and 28 days per calendar year. Make sure to call ahead and check to see if there are any fire restrictions in effect for the area if you plan on having a campfire or using any open flame. Free campfire permits are required to use any stove, lantern, or to have any type of fire. Campfire permits may be obtained at any area BLM office or Forest Service facility.

Stay safe

Bring extra water, food, and warm clothes. Summer temperatures can reach above 100°F (38°C) and winter temperatures can fall below freezing.

Keep an eye on the sky and check the weather report. Any amount of rain makes quite a few of the roads impassable due to clay and high salt content. Avoid the Caliente Ridge Rd, San Diego Creek Rd, Simler-Soda lake Rd, and Selby Rd during and after rain; navigate other roads with caution and watch for mud holes and washouts.

Tell a reliable person where you are going and when you plan to return. Search and rescues for stranded or stuck motorists and off highway vehicle enthusiasts are common.

Watch your speed. Speed limits on BLM roads are 25 mph and 55 mph on county roads unless otherwise posted. The Soda lake road is notorious for rollover accidents. Remember the average emergency response time is well over one hour.

Fill your gas tank before you come and keep in mind the closest gas to the monument will be Maricopa.

Go next

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