Miller, Mark James

No matter what time of year you go, you will experience the sense of timelessness that marks the Carrizo Plain. This is what California looked like before Europeans came, when the Chumash, Salinan and Yokut tribes roamed this land along with bison, elk and antelope.

In the spring, after the rainy season, the yellow and green flowers contrast with the blue water of Soda Lake. Beyond are the mountains of the Temblor Range, hills that sprang up about 20 million years ago and now look down upon the plain like a series of watchtowers.

The Carrizo has been compared to the Serengeti Plain of Africa for its natural beauty and its rare forms of life. Within its 250,000 acres live the red-tail hawk, San Joaquin kit fox, blunt-nosed leopard lizard, great kangaroo rat and burrowing owl, among many others.

The Carrizo is home to the largest group of threatened and protected wildlife in California, as well as being the largest remaining grassland in the state. During the recent super bloom, a brief explosion in April and May of wildflowers that followed the abundant rain we had, the golden poppies, green grass, owl’s clover and baby blue-eyes popped up out of the soil and went on as far as the eye could see, a panoply of color as grand as you’ll find anywhere on Earth.

The super bloom has the distinction of being one of the few Earthbound sights that can be seen from outer space, placing it in the select company of the Great Pyramid of Giza, Himalayan Mountains of Asia and Great Barrier Reef of Australia. And while the super bloom fades with the coming of dry weather, not to return until the next rainfall, the natural beauty of the Carrizo is not diminished in the least, and the sense of timelessness remains.

You can get to the Carrizo Plain by taking Highway 101 and getting off at Highway 58, toward Santa Margarita. As you are passing through California Valley, you take Soda Lake Road, going to the right, and then the Carrizo Plain Monument jumps out at you and you are looking at the Plain’s vastness, an ocean of tall grass that waves slightly in the wind. In the distance sits Soda Lake, glowing white when dry, shimmering blue after a rain.

The Carrizo Plain is home to more than 100 Native American heritage sites, and these are just the tip of the iceberg, since only 10 percent of the plain has been excavated.

The best-known is the Painted Rock, a sandstone formation displaying pictographs created as many as 4,000 years ago. Like the cave paintings of Lascaux, France, and Altamira, Spain, they are reminders that ancient people looked out at the natural world and wanted to make a record of what they saw. At Painted Rock you can see symbols for rain and for the sun, done in red, black and white pigments.

Standing in the Carrizo Plain and looking out at the landscape it presents, the visitor is overwhelmed by the deep and all-encompassing silence. The present fades away and you are looking back at thousands of years of natural history.

That sense of timelessness can only come from an unspoiled vista like this one, and is the most precious gift to take with you when you leave — that and the memory of the limitless beauty.

Whether in the spring, summer, fall or dead of winter, the Carrizo Plain’s beauty is everlasting.

Mark James Miller teaches English at Allan Hancock College. He can be reached at mark@pfaofahc.com.

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