The Carrizo Plain

This year’s rain produced a spectacular display of wildflowers on the Carrizo Plain. Here’s a small sampling from the thousand-plus photos I captured on visit. You can see more photos here.

We spent three days on the Carrizo Plain arriving on Sunday afternoon April 9 and leaving the afternoon of April 11. There were two of us and our dog. Yes, the Carrizo is dog friendly. Our first order of business on arriving was to locate a camp site. With the all the press the wildflower bloom has received we were not surprised to find our preferred camp ground, Selby Camp, full. We did manage to squeeze in on the fringes, and the next morning, moved our camp to a regular site with a table, fire pit and awning when it became available. Selby Camp also has water. Monday we set out to explore Elkhorn Road and the wildflowers on the Temblor range, stopping at Wallace Creek to do a short hike to explore the San Andreas Fault. There are few places in the world where you can see the effects of a fault that are as dramatic as Wallace Creek. From there we drove south a few miles and found a spot we could hike up into the hills. The array of wildflowers is just astounding. On Tuesday we spent our time around Soda Lake.

The park is a bit off the beaten path. It’s situated at 2000 feet of elevation between the Caliente and Temblor Mountain ranges. From the west you can approach from Highway 101 or from the East from Interstate 5. There is not much in the valley in the way of services, so make sure you top off your gas tank before entering the valley, perhaps on Highway 101 or I5. It’s 50 miles from the park headquarters to the nearest gas station, and you can easily run up your mileage while exploring the park. It’s an expansive park. I carry food and water for my stay in the valley. There is water at the park visitor center and at Selby Camp, but in years past water hasn’t always been available. Besides Selby Camp there is another camp ground, KCL camp further south. There is also dispersed camping off the valley floor in areas that were previously disturbed. There is also a motel, the California Valley Motel on Soda Lake Rd North of the park.

While the Carrizo Plain is noted for spring wildflower displays, there are also other sites to visit when the wildflowers are not in bloom. There are several rock formations with displays of Indian petrographs (images painted on rock). Most of these rocks, including Painted Rock are off limits in the spring when birds are nesting. Pronghorn antelope, coyotes, and a number other birds and animals inhabit the plain also.

The Carrizo Plain has been called California’s Serengeti It’s a broad plain, most of which has not been disturbed by modern agriculture and irrigation. It represents what the Central Valley May have looked like before agriculture.

I made my first visit to the Carrizo Plain in 1988 when The Nature Conservancy hired me to photograph, what was then ranch land, and since then it’s become one of my favorite places to visit. Untrammeled, broad open spaces and remote.

Wind in the Rigging

Being a sea kayak, my boat doesn’t have much rigging, just a few deck lines. And today as we rounded Brooks Island a gust of wind hit, creating a howling sound as it raced over the deck. Earlier, at our appointed time of 10:30 the five of us were contemplating the weather. Small craft warnings (isn’t a kayak a small craft?), steady wind of 17 knots with gusts to 25. We decided we’d launch at Ferry Point and paddle along the Richmond waterfront, protected from the northwest wind. With the wind at our backs we paddled up the shipping channel, and across to Brooks Island where we followed the shore. We rounded brooks Island, and it became clear that we had two options, paddle back to the Richmond waterfront against a strong wind, or paddle along the south side of Brooks Island and the breakwater hoping to find a little protection from the wind. Paddling along Brooks Island was a chore, but not too intimidating. We eyed several beaches hoping for a place to stop for lunch, but Brooks Island being a nature reserve, is off limits to visitors, so we continued paddling. After rounding the jetty we headed for fellow kayaker’s house in Brickyard cove, having lunch on Gordon’s new deck, overlooking the yacht harbor.  As we were finishing lunch we noticed that one of our boats had taken off on adventure of it’s own, so we promptly jumped back in our boats, rounded up the rogue boat and paddled back to our launch point. Overall we paddled seven miles, starting out with a wind which eased up a bit as the day went on. More photos here and you can view a track of our paddle here.

Tilden Park

While the San Francisco Bay Area is home to over seven million people, there are plenty of of opportunities to step away from the crowds find some peaceful open space. One of our favorite haunts is Tilden Park in Berkeley, which is more or less in our back yard. On Saturday we had family in town and with two dogs we headed to Tilden Park to take advantage of the calm between rain storms. This is a great time of year to take a walk in the park. The hills are green and some of the trails offer spectacular views of the Bay Area. The wildflowers are also starting to bloom. We saw poppies, lupine and a few other flowers. Tilden Park is a great place to walk with dogs, and several of the trails will accommodate dogs off leash as long as your dog is well behaved. The park encompasses over 2000 acres and in addition to trails there is a botanical garden, a steam train, a merry go rounds, a golf course and a number of other activities.

A Day with Monet

We decided to play tourist in our own town today, making our way to the Legion of Honor in the North West corner of San Francisco. The location alone, in Lincoln Park, is worth the visit, overlooking the entrance to San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. We started with lunch at the cafe, eating on the outdoor patio, which was a quiet and peaceful setting. The exhibit “Monet: The Early Years” features works created in the initial stage of Claude Monet’s career (1840-1926). The exhibition runs through May 29. Inspiring to see such a broad variety of work, and to gain appreciation for some of his daring and bold works before he became known for his impressionistic style. On leaving the museum we walked across the street to view the Holocaust Memorial and to admirer the architecture of the Legion of Honor.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day

Trees. Killarney National Forest

Photographed in Killarney National Park in Ireland in May 1981. While the photo is in black and white, I used a green filter to lighten to foliage on the trees. Here’s the photographer in action. Not the same location, but the same equipment.

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Gone Paddling

A welcome opportunity to get away today. The last three weeks have been quite intense with clients working hard to meet a deadline for a local design competition, but with the deadline come and gone I strapped my boat on the top of the car and joined a few fellow BASK members (Bay Area Sea Kayakers), and headed for the Coast Guard Station at Horseshoe Bay, just inside the Golden Gate. Paddling out the gate is not something you do without paying attention to the wind, the tides and the current. We had good conditions with light winds and a slack tide in late morning and an incoming current in the afternoon. We paddled out past Point Diablo and then returned to Kirby Cove for lunch. Back on the water after lunch we had a fast ride with the current and wind with us for our return. I returned feeling refreshed and restored from the trials of the past few weeks. Nothing seems to charge my batteries, so to speak, more than getting out in nature. You can view more photos here and view a track of our trip here.

Nature Remembers

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Desert Primrose (Camissonia brevipes), photographed in Death Valley, February 2016.
“Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.” ― Wendell Berry