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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.