Saturday, August 4, 2012

California's Back Country

Carrizo Plain - National Monument

Driving away from the busy Silicon Valley and the Bay Area, one can find gorgeous California back country in the corridor between Highway 101 and Highway 5.  From San Benito country, San Luis Obispo county to Santa Barbara, Kern and Ventura counties, few country roads connect the 2 main north-south freeways.  It's rugged country and it's cattle country. However, this time of the year with the rains in distant past the pastures are golden and bone dry and only the California Oaks with their deeply reaching roots remain green spots in the country side.  The more one drives East, even the oaks diminish and the golden hills is all that's left.

Corrizo Plain in April with blooming wildflowers

Last weekend, I needed to drive to southern California and took an extra day to explore the back country east of San Luis Obispo.  I had driven through the Carrizo Plain, a National Monument, last April when the wild flowers put on a colorful show with many blooming in white, yellow and blue.  Now, in July, few hardy survivors struggled in the golden plains and the deserted pastures and fences told the tale of cattle grazing here in the winter.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) describes Carrizo Plain as follows:

"The Carrizo Plain, 100 airline miles (160 km) north of Los Angeles, California is an area by-passed by time. Soda Lake, its centerpiece, is a glistening bed of white salt, set within a vast open grassland, rimmed by mountains.

The plain is home to diverse communities of wildlife and plant species, and is an area culturally important to Native Americans.  It is traversed by the San Andreas fault, which has carved valleys, created and moved mountains, and yet close up, is seen in a subtle alignment of ridges, ravines and normally dry ponds.

Although the Carrizo Plain appears to be a dry, harsh environment, Native American people have occupied the area for at least the last 10,000 years.  Contemporary Native American people continue to attribute important traditional cultural and spiritual values to the Carrizo Plain.

Famers and ranchers built homesteads on the Carrizo Plain during the 19th century, some of which were used into recent times."

Not many travelers come here in the summer heat and weeds growing in the cattle guards tell their own stories of this deserted place.

Remnants of mining equipment and a deserted shaft remind us of a more prosperous past on the Carrizo Plains.
 Mining shaft entrance in the upper middle of the picture 
and abandoned miming equipment.

Again from BLM: Traver Ranch

"The L.E. Traver Ranch was established in the 1940s. The family was primarily involved in dryland farming, and historical farming implements are on display. "

There is a whole field of antique farming equipment.  Looking at the heavily built tools, a day in the field must have been a tiring affair for men and beast.

Again BLM: Wallace Creek - San Andreas Fault

"Take a walk along the San Andreas Fault at Wallace Creek. Learn about this infamous fault that caused the 1857 Fort Tejon and the 1906 San Francisco earthquakes. "

San Andreas Fault very visible in the landscape

The length of the only partially unpaved road through Carrizo Plains is about 45 miles.  Half way through the plain on the unpaved but well-maintained road is a primitive campground where the old KCL Ranch was located.  KCL stands for Kern County Cattle and Land - another reminder of the cattle ranching in past times.

KCL Campground at sunset

The KCL campground was my home for the night.  6 camp sites with sturdy tables and fire pits and a single spigot of non-drinkable water.  Situated on a bit of an elevation, the view of the plain and the surrounding mountains was beautiful in the sunset colors.  Being about a hundred miles from any larger city or town, the Corrizo Plains are ideal for stargazing.  As the light fell and the stars came out, there were millions of them visible in the sky even with the 1/2 moon still shining until moon set shortly after midnight.

Moon illuminating the plains

Last light after sunset.
As the quiet of the night surrounded me, I eventually crawled into my sleeping bag and watched the stars sparkle overhead.  There were some owls hooting in the near trees and the red-shoulder hawk that had observed me from the trees at the campground still was calling for his mate long into the night.  But all was good as I drifted into sleep.

I had set my alarm clock for 2am after moon set to photograph the milky way.  I will write about my wonderful night sky and milky way experience in the 2nd part of this Travel TidBits.

Til then,

California Back Country:  Carrizo Plains-National Monument 
first published and copyright by M. Raeder-Photography.