Carrizo Plain #touristbloom

Miles of desolate dirt road are no longer deserted, at least not today—the day before Easter; the day after the LA Times headlined an article about the four best places to see wildflowers in Carrizo Plains.

You know, #superbloom (Trendy thanks to the Mojave Desert super bloom in 2016. Thanks a lot “The Media!”), but this year, I’m calling it #touristbloom because people exploded alongside the flowers in Carrizo Plain National Monument.

Wildflower viewers take a rest in a field of blazing stars after the steepest part of the hike from Elkhorn Road into the Temblor Range.

Even thought I didn’t read that LA Times piece, I’m sure the trail I picked was on that list, because the number of people crowding onto the first leg of this hike was shocking. Like little ants with cameras and tripods in hand, they milled around for about 1/4 of a mile, gawking at the yellow goldfields and white-tipped tidy tips that speckled the normally brown earth, spilling down from the ridge line on both sides. The high point on this leg was where most stopped, but the color that has been on my bucket list for four years was still waiting for me.

Yellow goldfields and tidy tips, purple phacelia, and orange blazing stars color the hills of the Temblor Range in mid-April. It’s wildflower tourist heaven.

The floral abundance is indeed super, but Carrizo Plain National Monument pops with color every year around this time. Purple phacelia, yellow goldfields, orange fiddleneck, and white tidy tips stretch into carpets of color that patchwork through the valley along Soda Lake Road and undulate through the hills of the Temblor Range. Signs of life for a few weeks in an otherwise bleak, baked, and barren landscape. Last year, I drove, stopped, and explored the monument alongside relatively few fellow wildflower seekers compared to this year.

Desert candles peer over the tidy tips and phacelia that cover the range miles above Soda Lake on the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

But then, I only drove my Toyota Matrix through the valley below my current perch, where dust billows behind cars and trucks pulling campers meander next to random fields of yellow and purple that follow the road’s track for 30 miles from the California Valley to Highway 166. You can see the train of vehicles traversing south from way up here, where that same loose, fine, dry dust wafts onto my legs as I push them to continue ever higher. It’s steep, and I can grab the trail in front of me without falling over. My ankles ache from the awkward angle (years of sprained ankles) and the unpacked soft, ashy dirt trail is flanked by orange-yellow blazing stars that continue up over the next hill.

Blazing stars grow in fields above the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

A desert candle flies solo above a crowded field of wildflowers in the Temblor Range.

The trek persists up over the next hill, this one covered with the purple of caterpillar phacelia, and up over the next higher one, covered with green grasses and views of the neighboring hills eclipsed by yellows and purples.

Wildflower seekers take a rest in the Temblor Range after trekking up a steep trail through goldfields, blazing stars, and phacelia blooms above the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

It’s hot and dry, and the flowers are starting to wilt, curling up in random patches. They will be gone soon and so will all the people. The population in this valley will drop back below 500, and the number of cars on Elkhorn and Soda Lake roads won’t stir up enough dust to hang in the air all day long. That fine stirred up sediment now fills the sky like smog, hazing up the view over Soda Lake, a white expanse that currently has water in it (Thanks atmospheric rivers!). That dust will eventually settle and the California Valley residents who were yelling at me to slow down as I drove 25 miles per hour down Belmont Trail should no longer feel overrun by people who don’t know how to drive on rutted out dirt roads.

California poppies and blazing stars glow orange on the hillsides of the Temblor Range above Carrizo Plain National Monument over Easter weekend 2017.


Lights, chainsaws, and smoke


Red and blue alternating flashes flipped a u-turn, pulled up next to the curb, and backed up 10 feet. The kids across the street backed four cars out of a shared driveway. Next came Engine 2 from the San Luis Obispo Fire Department; then Engine 3; then the big kahuna, mammoth-sized engine with a ladder that extends from its top. Yellow-clad firefighters hopped out as college students stopped on the sidewalk and ran down their driveways.

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Sparks that looked like fireworks without the sound flickered above a green tree. They were coming from the roof.

A chainsaw started up: brrrrimmmm, brimmmm, brimmmmm. Generators whirred and chugged to life. The behemoth’s long white ladder lifted off the truck, slowly spun around, perfectly missing the power lines, and began stretching its neck, each section that poked out was smaller than the last. Firefighters started cutting through the roof. The first cut was two feet long; the second one was one-and-a-half feet. And they kept cutting until they could pull the rectangle of slats and shingles off. Smoke eeked out, billowing into a column visible only because of the five-story tall ladder shining bright beams of gigantic emergency lights into the 9:40 p.m. darkness.


Policemen shut the street down, using their flashlights to turn away cars. Someone put orange cones out in a semi-straight row across the turn lane.

More engines showed up; this time they were Cal Fire trucks. A long flat hose rolled out, firefighters dragged it across the four-lane, usually busy, Foothill Boulevard. Water sprayed from the fire hydrant. They hooked it together, water filled the hose, pfft, engorging the lifeless hose as it snaked its way across the street.


The neighboring houses emptied, as residents watched. Firefighters climbed down from the roof, while others with face masks and oxygen tanks went inside. Water trickled down from a vent charred from the fire.

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A tall boy with a buzz cut and a Cal Poly shirt said, “Since this is my house, should I pose for your pictures?” He said he was eating dinner when he heard a knock at the door. It was a girl from next door. She told him his roof was on fire, and it was then that he noticed what seemed like water trickling from the ceiling. “But we’re all OK,” he said, walked away, and got on his cell phone. He was still in his socks.

A utility truck’s here now. It must have been downed wires that caused the sparks, that lit the fire. At least, that’s what people are saying. The power lines look like they’re draped across the house. Someone just bought that house this summer. Lucky them.

Flower season

Yellow, purple, blue, white, and pink are the colors of wildflower season. Not just one hue of each, but shades upon shades of each. Shapes, sizes, heights. Some mimic each other, but all are unique.

The weather this year must have held out perfectly for wildflowers in the Northern Rocky Mountains. The soft, and very tall, hilly crests that give way to water and wildlife in a normal year were shouting color late into this summer. In Idaho’s Clearwater National Forest, just west of the Montana border, we checked more than we could count off the Rocky Mountain Flowers of Idaho booklet we had.

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Elk thistle, elephant’s head, lupine, violets, fireweed, glacier lillies, asters of all types, monkey flowers, bog orchids, I can’t remember them all. I wanted to keep them all. Pick them and deposit them between the pages of my journal, just so I could save the feeling I had when I looked at them with my mouth hanging open. Just so I could remember the awe I felt and the giddy feeling that it was special.

It’s a shock to the system when all you see between blades of grass and under lodge pole pine and spruce are little spots of color. Bear grass as far your eyes can carry your mind. Straight up the sides of mountains and spread out between trees, were meadows of the tall white poofy-topped flowers that bloom once every 10 years. In every direction, down every dirty forest service road; it was unbelievable.

Dieting makes me cranky

I’ve tried three different times in my life to dramatically alter my intake of food. Why? Because I don’t look like a model, basically. Sure, I’m active. I mean, I don’t go to the gym or anything, but I play soccer three times a week, I hike on the weekends, I take my dog on walks everyday. I try to do something that physically exhausts me at least four times a week.

Not because I think it’ll make me skinny, but because I like the way it feels when sweat is dripping down my back and pouring down my face, when my shins and arms get slick in the heat, and when my muscles start to tell me to stop and I start to slow down. And sometimes my body stops altogether, but when I tell myself to push through that and I get to the other side and feel a surge of energy, it makes me feel powerful.

But, there’s this part of my body that I hate. When I look at myself in the mirror, it’s all I see. My stomach turns into a blubber pit of white flesh, my love handles seem to grow exponentially—and then of course I jiggle it a little, just to make sure I can still see that my body isn’t perfect. That I’m disgusting.

Believe me, I realize it’s not true. But, nevertheless, it never fails when I eye myself in that reflective glass.

It’s a ritual I’ve carried out for many years. Since my teens, I would say. Here I am 15 years later, and I still feel the same way about it—the feeling hasn’t changed throughout my years, whether I was lean, fit, a little chubby, or out of shape.

It’s my cross to bear, I guess. My demon of sorts, and three times in my life I’ve attempted to rid myself of my five to 10 pounds extra through dietary means. And well, this last time took place over the last four days.

It was the low-carb, no-sugar thing that’s been all the rage for the last however long. No grains, no starch, no fruit, no high-carb veggies. Also known as that fad that started with Mr. Atkins of South Beach. Florida. A quick fix.

I don’t eat a ton of grain- or starchy-veggie-based carbs, mostly only at dinner, and of course I eat fruit, so I didn’t really think it would be a huge stretch for me to pare down my eating habits and up the green-veggie ante.

My friend lost seven pounds in seven days. I thought, if I lose seven pounds in seven days, I’ll finally look like a model. WRONG! I’ll never look like a model, because, well, I’m not a model.

What I’ll always look like is me. The question is: What kind of me do I want to be? AND How do I want my body to feel?

Here’s the thing. That super low-carb, high-fat diet effects everyone differently. And it turns out, that weight everyone loses in the first couple of weeks in water weight. The real weight loss doesn’t start until about a month into it.

And these last few days, it was like I couldn’t consume enough food. Even after I ate I was hungry, tired, and pretty cranky. Especially this morning, when I woke up feeling depleted. Completely depleted. My muscles felt like they were empty. They hurt in a way I’ve never felt before—a deep, empty ache.

Last night, I played soccer. For the first 20 minutes, I felt good, although I felt a little off, kind of jiggly and unstable. For the rest of the hour we played, I was completely useless. My muscles felt like lead and I couldn’t convince myself to move. My body felt like I had just done strenuous physical training—anaerobic sprints and plyometrics—and then I was trying to play soccer.

I realize that I’m older now, and your body changes. But I played two separate times last Wednesday and didn’t feel this way. I’ve had a headache for the last three days because I’m going through carb withdrawal, which sounds like I have a carb problem and should go to a carb-eaters anonymous meeting, but really I could just cutback on the beer intake and do pretty well.

I ate breakfast this morning and was still hungry. I’ve eaten so much food since Sunday, I’ve eaten more protein in the last five days than I have in the last three weeks, and I’ve eaten a lot of greens, but i always eat a lot of greens. I have been perpetually hungry since Tuesday. My stomach has been a broken record of growls, and it gets worse after I eat.

I feel like my body’s eating itself. Which, I suppose is the purpose of the whole diet thing. Maybe I’m just bitching, but it feels unhealthy in a weird way. Like, I’m missing something in my diet. I would say it’s that portion where I get my energy. That stuff my body metabolizes when I’m active—it’s called carbohydrates.

And what’s really strange, is everybody has an opinion. Yeah, I guess I probably am too much of a sharing-type person. But, everyone has a different opinion on why I’m feeling the way that I am. It’s kind of funny, in this day of the internet and global nutrition, we’re all experts.

Truth is, no one really knows except for maybe someone who has studied nutrition their whole lives, and even then, the conclusions they’ve drawn all stem from a subjective point of view. All we learn is spoon-fed to us by “experts,” we run around counting fat intake, calories, carbs, and sugar. We are obsessed with the backs of packages, exercise and diet fads, and nutritional supplements. It’s become a way of life.

It’s just not the way we’re meant to live. And it makes me tired. And cranky. I’m going to take the less-diet heavy path and stop eating carbs before I go to bed. “They” say it’s bad for me anyway.

Not that dieting doesn’t work for some people, and more power to them, they have a higher level of self control than I do. It just doesn’t work for me.



Breathe deep. Close your eyes. Touch the ground. Lie down. Release yourself.

The wind cries. The sun coaxes. The wildflowers wave. The earth stretches. The world bends.

Bends into my lungs and touches my face. Whips my hair and brushes my eyelashes. Colors my vision and finesses my perception.


Soft and sharp. Blue and green. Cool and warm. Salty.

Gently, it shows me I am nothing. Another being. On its surface. Destined to travel without purpose because I question. Destined to look inside for nothing and outside for everything. Destined to forever search.

The wind laughs as I quietly sink. Giving in, I bend.

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I forgot how much I love the Pacific Ocean, how much its rhythm quiets me, how fast it breaks me from my complacency, how quickly it wakes me into the present; coloring my mind with the soft sound of lapping, crashing, receding, and the white of the water’s insistent presence, drawing me toward something bright in the dark of moonless-ness. The muted crunch of teeny pebbles reverberates almost silently as I step with the awkward intensity of absolute desire not to fill my shoes with gritty sand before giving into the inevitable and removing the barrier between my naked foot and the gentle give of the shoreline.


I forgot about the ocean’s power over me, incessant in its pull, waves demanding my attention as they pound and recede from the sand. About the scrape of sediment as it pushes between my toes and over the top of my foot, kicking up the back of my leg and forward, redistributing itself in barely visible sprinkles. About the chill that makes me inhale quickly, even if it’s only my feet that touch the water.


It’s easy to forget when I’ve been away, when I’ve allowed the last 10 years of my life to take precedence over the first 20, when I’ve lost the strain of myself that used to give into the ocean constantly—that person I was before I became who I am. The one who fought through adolescent reveries and love and loss and confusion to trudge through a decade of pathways. The one who used to feel the ocean inside her blood as she stood and stared; the salt and wind would wrap her up, enveloping her in a sea of comfort that separated her from the longing or anger or angst that drove her to the shoreline for counseling.


It’s easy to forget that when I left those coastal California counseling sessions, I used to be fearless. Fierce and determined to trail no one, to start fresh, to lay down the bricks that would build me a new path, to face my fears head on, to wrangle the unknown and force it to be what it was and not what I wanted it to be. To force myself to be who I was and not who I or anyone else thought I should be.

Saving daylight

SLO panorama

The buzz of electricity filled wires knocked against my eardrums as I stood at a crest midway up the first dale of the Irish Hills. I was standing next to a gigantic steel tower, which had gray beams that crisscrossed against the blue after-work sky. Blue. Not midnight blue. It was about 5:30 p.m. on a Monday, and I was on a little hike.

I took the wrong fork in the wide trail that jogs up the hill a few hundred yards from the Prefumo Canyon Road trailhead and it ended in a wide green swath of grassy hillside that overlooked Laguna Lake Park in San Luis. Pretty sweet, but not the quiet serenity of peace I was looking for—it was louder and more urban than that.

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The Mariposa trail was what I should have followed, but I took the other one. Back on the Mariposa trail, the path shrunk into a narrow mountain bike trail that sunk into the ground like an earthen halfpipe. I saw an older man and his spry pup as I crossed over from the short trail to the right trail, and that was it. The rest of the trail was mine. Mine to watch over and give voice to. Mine to travel up and look out over the valley without interruption. A rarity.

Uninterrupted pensive reflection and footsteps that rolled over unstable rocky footing. Of course, my first thought was that a mountain lion could take me out without anyone knowing, and then I thought, I would probably let the dog have at it and watch the ensuing damage and destruction while being scared out of my mind. But after that, I got down to hiking business; climbing along the path that got rockier as I went higher and then widened out at the top of the first ridge line, a scrub-filled hilltop with low-growing trees and the smell of sage.

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Fog began stealing the late afternoon’s golden light as I neared the vantage point I wanted to reach. There it was, that peace of accomplishment I was searching for, without the buzz I wasn’t.