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Chasing flowers: Spring didn't grace Carrizo Plain National Monument with a super bloom, but it's still pretty 

It was dead quiet, dark, and I had to pee.

"Damn," I think. "This is not happening."

I bury my head into my pillow and close my eyes.

click to enlarge DUSKY SHADOWS Shades of orange color the sky above Carrizo Plain National Monument after the sun sets over the Caliente Range. - PHOTO BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
  • Photo By Camillia Lanham
  • DUSKY SHADOWS Shades of orange color the sky above Carrizo Plain National Monument after the sun sets over the Caliente Range.

An hour later, a cacophony of chirping wakes me up. It's light out, but barely. I unzip my tent, put my shoes on, and step into the early morning chill. This situation is the only thing I don't like about camping. My dog ventures to the closest bush. He apparently needs the same relief I do.

But this view definitely doesn't suck. Crunching through half-dry grass, I walk to the edge of the hill I pitched my tent on. Purple, pink haze envelops the mountaintops above the Carrizo Plain National Monument's valley floor.

It's a pretty good start to the camping season.

Late on Saturday afternoon, my buddy and I headed east on Highway 58, then south down Soda Lake Road because it was time. Every spring for the last few years, I've made the trek over to Carrizo in search of wildflowers. This year's April showers may have come too late to yield a rainbow of flowers. The valley looks completely different than it has in the past. There's nary a super bloom anywhere you look. And the humans, thank goodness, are almost as rare a sighting.

WILD KINGDOM Pronghorn antelope drink from a cattle trough in the California Valley. - PHOTO BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
  • Photo By Camillia Lanham
  • WILD KINGDOM Pronghorn antelope drink from a cattle trough in the California Valley.

Within the first half a mile of Soda Lake Road, pronghorn antelope mill around a water trough. As soon as pavement becomes dirt, three tule elk bolt from the side of the road toward their herd in the center of the valley.

We drive until we find a side road to explore and push the cars up it until we find a dispersed camping spot we like. Thanks to whoever came before us, we don't need to do much work to have a fire (consult Cal Fire's website, fire.ca.gov, for campfire permits). We plop our camp chairs around the ready-made, stone-lined fire pit and hike up the hill behind us for a better view of the valley floor as the sun sets.

For the last two years, the blooms have painted the valley in yellows, purples, and oranges. This year, it's just green—but at least it's green. On Sunday morning, we hop into my friend's truck and venture farther into the range. We finally find flowers, yellow tidy tips and goldfields, a smattering of poppies, the odd lonely lupine, a better camping spot, and a giant rattlesnake.

FOUND THEM! Yellow tidy tips cluster at the end of a dirt road above the valley floor, hidden from the view of Soda Lake Road drivers. - PHOTO BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
  • Photo By Camillia Lanham
  • FOUND THEM! Yellow tidy tips cluster at the end of a dirt road above the valley floor, hidden from the view of Soda Lake Road drivers.

Glad that wasn't part of yesterday afternoon's wildlife safari! We head back down Highway 166, toward New Cuyama, stop in to the Buckhorn Saloon for some beverages and a plate of nachos (they make their own nacho cheese sauce, and it's drool-inducing!), and plan our next adventure.

Editor Camillia Lanham looks past the horizon. Send comments to clanham@newtimesslo.com.

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