Wildflowers of Carrizo Plain

After the heavy rains that ended California’s five-year drought, our state’s wildflowers have made a comeback. Enjoying last year’s superbloom at Death Valley, we visited the Carrizo Plain National Monument, a premier place for California wildflowers. Shown above, coreopsis and fiddleheads bloom above Soda Lake, an alkaline lake ringed by salt. Reflected in Soda Lake, the Temblor Range is painted with swaths of wildflowers. I can see an impressionist painter splashing bold strokes of color on the canvas.

When rain falls, the water dissolves salts from the soil and usually flows to the ocean, already salty from past rain. Like Death Valley, Carrizo Plain has no outlet for rainwater, so water collects in the lowest spots and evaporates, leaving behind salts. Invasive plants struggle with this salty environment, while native plants that evolved here flourish without invasive competition. Consequently, Carrizo Plain has vast fields of California native plants and their spring blooms.

Located in Central California, Carrizo Plain is a valley with Soda Lake at its lowest point. In this satellite image, Soda Lake is dry and white with salt deposits.

our visit to Carrizo Plain

We stopped first at the Soda Lake Overlook, a hill with a wonderful overview of Carrizo Plain. From the hill, you can see Soda Lake, the flowers around it, the Temblor Range, and the reflection of the Temblor Range in Soda Lake. The shore of Soda Lake is white with salt. With the abundant rain of the last winter, Soda Lake has water for the first time in eleven years, and flora and fauna are making a comeback, including “plants once though to have gone extinct in the 90s”.

Leptosyne calliopsidea, leafy stemmed coreopsis. Reflections of Temblor Range at Soda Lake Soda Lake

As normal levels of rainfall (6-9 in. yearly) returned to the plain, the diversity of plant and animal species appear to be thriving, although researchers are still conducting population surveys. Emblematic of the sudden revival is a super bloom that has blanketed the region in a carpet of wildflowers.

Beyond these fiddlenecks, the opposite side of Soda Lake has an expanse of yellow flowers.

fiddlenecks at Soda Lake overlook

Fiddlenecks and a Byron larkspur are at the bottom of the hill.

Byron larkspur (Delphinium recurvatum) and fiddleheads

The Overlook hill has bands of yellow flowers.

leafy stemmed coreopsis, leptosyne calliopsidea

From the Overlook, we drove around Soda Lake to the fields of yellow flowers. The south end of Soda Lake was dry and white with salt. Evidently these tidy tips (layia platyglossa) can tolerate high salt concentrations.

tidy tips at Soda Lake

Leafy-stemmed coreopsis and tidy tips grow back from the lake. Taller blooms wave back and forth in the dry wind. Click any picture to expand it.

From the lake, we drove to the San Andreas fault at Wallace Creek, covered in a separate post.

Before leaving Carrizo Plain, we stopped in the foothills of the Temblor Range for a closer look. We came to a barb wire fence but didn’t cross it, thinking that the land beyond was private. A friend later said that the land is public, so we could have looked for a gate and hiked into the foothills for even better views.

coreopsis and Temblor Range

We enjoyed seeing vast fields of mostly-yellow wildflowers on our first trip to Carrizo Plain on April 10. People visiting Carrizo Plain a week or two earlier shared photos with fields of orange and purple flowers, but we missed these. Perhaps next year there’ll be lots of rain and wildflowers, and we’ll visit Carrizo Plain again.


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I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

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