The Carrizo Plain is a very special place, tucked between the coast range east of San Luis Obispo and the rolling mountains flanking the west periphery of the San Joaquin Valley.
There are few yearly visitors here, largely from the recipe of a long drive to get there, a dry, high desert-like environment most of the year, and the outside chance the San Andreas fault, which runs all the way down its length, could make it’s big move any time.
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The plain becomes verdant after a big rainy season, as it did this year in 2017, and its lakes return, and all of the seeds that were hesitant to germinate in California’s drought years, made their play all at once like fireworks. The display is the best in many years, but unfortunately if the cyclical tendency to return to drought rejoins us, there may not be another show like 2017 for some ten years.
Arriving from the south from Highway 33 along Soda Lake Road and later departing from the north from Highway 58 along Elkhorn Valley Road, we found the road surfaces throughout the valley generally well-packed, but dusty. Fortunately, the dust settles quickly and does not remain suspended in the valley air. The highways lay about 35 miles apart, between which are many old range roads once used by the ranchers who settled the valley. The ranches are largely gone now, but a few private properties remain and use the old roads to access their parcels. In other words, you may encounter a number of locked gates.
The roads were better than we expected, from 10 feet wide sections to 20 feet wide along dirt surfaces, and wider for the paved roads where available within a few miles from either of the state highways. Roads stem out everywhere, they climb the mountains, they traverse the ridges, they poke through the San Andreas fault here and there, but routes traversing across the valley from Soda Lake Road to Elkhorn Road are but few.
Click on any photo in the photo array below to enter manual slide show. Photos by Lee McComb.