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Santa Barbara Wildflower Arroyo & Hills,   08-D-9.jpg

Spring 2008 Wildflower Trip Chronicles
by David Senesac

Spring 2008 Wildflower Trip Chronicles contents

Central Coast Range 4-day Road Trip
April 3 thru 6, 2008
page 9 of 9

Thursday April 3, exploring remote rural roads

Thirteen days after returning from my second road trip this spring, I departed Thursday April 3 on my third and last spring of 2008 road trip down to Southern California areas. During this shorter trip I would be visiting areas in the central inner Coast Range. On the way down to my primary destination in Santa Barbara County, I would explore some new roads in southeast Monterey County, then drive through eastern San Luis Obispo County areas. After a couple hours driving south on US101, I explored east up Vineyard Canyon Road then south on Cholame Valley Road that holds a most active section of the San Andreas Fault, though neither offered anything of photographic interest from what I could see along the roads. Such is usually the case on such roadside explorations, however occasionally I do find some special remote secrets that make all the unproductive driving worth the time, effort, and gas.

I visited the SR-46 section that had been reported glowingly in wildflower reports but having driven that highway cattle fenced area during past springs, did not expect to see anything that would impress me. I turned south at sleepy Shandon and onto Shell Creek Road. North of the well-known Shell Creek wildflower area, there were some modest expanses of dense goldfields that were now peaking. About the main Shell Creek wildflower plain, except for goldfields and baby blue eyes, there were below average numbers of other usual species. And all wildflowers were short and stunted due to a lack of late winter rains.

Soda Lake Carrizo Plain National Monument

pic7I continued east on SR-58 where wildflowers were soon more prevalent and taller indicating more rain had occurred. At Redhill Road, all the quick blooming shooting star I saw on March 21 had already gone to seed. Into Carrizo Valley, I turned south on Soda Lake Road, passed through the community of California Valley, now with taller green herbs with modest areas of wildflowers, and into Carrizo Plain National Monument. At dirt Simmler Road I turned northeast up the short distance to the south shores of the nearly dry white alkali flats of Soda Lake.pic11 There I got out and walked through near areas of a vast dense yellow plain of wildflowers. Near were a few bright yellow acres Bigelow's coreopsis,coreopsis bigelovii with further yellow miles of goldfields beyond. However all these flowers were quite stunted due to a limited water supply. I bothered to take some close-up images of the coreopis. Some cretin in a vehicle had driven over the main flower area likely after rains earlier during winter leaving obvious tracks. Such tracks are always highly visible because far less seeds sprout plants leaving bare areas. One also regularly sees the same abuse on the plain near Fremont Butte in the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve. Between the large late January storm and this visit had been a quite dry period with less than a half inch of precipitation. East through hazy air, the Temblor Range heights looked a dry brown though showed some yellow from usual hilltop daisies but obviously much less than in good years. It was not worth wasting gas to drive the dirt roads east to that side of the valley.

Caliente Ridge Road and Selby Camp

pic6 I continued south down Soda Lake Road then west on Caliente Ridge Road. Beside the road was a vast area of stunted fiddleneck, amsinkia tessellata, that had already gone to seed above sun-bleached goldfields, lasthenia californica, that I'd seen just emerging two weeks before. Into the foothills, the road passed the gravel Selby Camp spur road where areas of other species including, monolopia aka hilltop daisies, bush lupine, owl's clover, California poppies, eschscholtzia californica, narrowleaf goldenbush, and thigh high fiddleneck were now peaking. Apparently this was the eastern edge of heavier rains that also provided the lusher growth along SR-58 and SR-46.pic12 I continued up the dirt road climbing steeply on the ridge covered with goldenbush until reaching an area with the unusual orange hued species of blazing star, mentzelia pectinata, that is more prominent to the east in the Temblor Range. I got out and took a few images that included some lacy phacelia, phacelia tanacetifolia, and lupine. It was breezy enough that the more protected Selby Camp area below offered the only photographic opportunity.

pic1 Back down the road, I visited the Selby Camp where only one tent and two vehicles occupied the area during this mid week afternoon. I parked nearby then explored some usual areas of flowers. The area has a row of roundly eroded white sandstone outcrops I hoped to find a foreground for. I found a dense zone of magenta-hued owl's clover, castilleja exserta, below large bushes of blooming yellow-hued narrowleaf goldenbush, ericameria linearifolia. After considerable walking all about, I settled on a modest composition for up my view camera with a California juniper tree anchoring center frame in front of the bright outcrops. Then was a long wait of more than one hour before the breeze calmed enough briefly to expose my first sheet of Provia 100F transparency film of the trip,    08-D-1.jpg   . The weather forecast was for somewhat breezy conditions at times over the period of my trip, though I was hoping areas I would visit within this complex mountainous region were not so easily generalized.

lush wildflower hills in Santa Barbara County

It was now about 4pm and I continued southeast where Soda Lake Road turns to dirt. Although the Selby Camp area had some nice flowers, I was after bigger quarry that I was intent on seeing before the day ended. Out of the national monument and east on SR-166 or south on SR-33, there is a large area within the central Coast Range including the sub San Emigdio Mountains, Pine Mountains, San Rafael Range, and Sierra Madre Range with remote dirt roads and various secrets. Large areas were part of Los Padre National Forest, with other smaller public lands state and BLM. By the end of the day I reached my target location and indeed it was spectacular. My key input had been a remote satellite rain gauge that showed exceptional precipitation and a thumb's up first hand report a day before from a good friend and large format photographer. One truck with a camper shell was along the road. Nearby I passed a photographer that looked familiar; indeed it was an acquaintance, C, I had now run into for the third time over several years. C is a much-experienced commercial pro with top-level equipment skills.pic8 I had just enough time left before the sun set to take one image. However after setting up and shoving the holder in, light was dimming as the sun slipped below the ridgeline of a nearby hill. Oh well tomorrow held much promise. I drove out a few miles to a camping area where my acquaintance also spent the night. After cooking our dinners, we talked awhile about each of our going ons and what tomorrow offered before being chased into our sleeping bags by chilly night air. Nearby was the nightly sound of a gurgling stream with a background chorus of frogs and crickets.

Friday April 4, a hazy jet contrail morning

As dawn neared, I rose early this Friday April 4th, packed up my tent and gear, then drove several miles out to the remote little known area of wildflowers. I was glad to see only a light intermittent easterly breeze that would keep our wildflowers from bobbing about too much. Although I hoped to possibly capture something bathed in dawn or sunrise light, the sky east was hazy and jet contrails quickly added to the murkiness. I set up then exposed a couple sheets in areas with backgrounds of expansive hilltop daisies under dimmed early light that would provide a bright medium. I drove up the road then stopped where I saw C, working a dense area of monolopia, on a steep slope. I joined her briefly setting up a shot of my own, that gave me a chance to find out her plans this day. Apparently we both were committing now to staying in the area at least another night as it was obviously this was the best spring wildflower area still left in Southern California.

pic9I hiked off into a nearby area that occupied my time for the critical two hours of usual best morning light. However the murky skies filling with ugly jet contrails only got worse. I exposed a few questionable sheets with very little sky that tends to reduce the potential value on most images. They were insurance exposures in case I didn't get a chance the next day to work those shots. I drove out to another location I'd noticed, and after hiking out, found it to be the most lush area of flowers in the area with waste deep monolopia, lupine, fiddleneck, lacy phacelia, bright yellow-hued field mustard, and an interesting area of tall dense light violet-hued Lemmon's mustard. In the increasingly harsh light, I took another couple insurance images.

Now 11am, I hiked to an area where the few poppies in the area had finally opened up, then made a last morning exposure on a layered color subject across an arroyo. Most of the film I exposed during the murky skies in fact after development proved to be wasted film although at the time I was uncertain if I might have another chance. The next day might have blues skies but could also be too windy as such is often the case during spring.

I drove back to the area C had been working and she and I related some of what we'd found. She had to drive off a few dozen miles simply to make a pay phone call as our remote area was without cell phone service, while I drove off to lazily park under a shady blue oak and make lunch. After removing my exposed film to the exposed film boxes and loading fresh unexposed sheets into my film holders, it was time for a brief mid day siesta. By mid afternoon, a push of nearly clear blue skies had moved out the murky skies but along with it was a stronger breeze now coming from the west.

a windy afternoon

pic13I returned to re-shoot the beautiful layered colored subject across an arroyo that now had a few puffy clouds to enhance the blue skies. Fortunately I didn't have to wait long after setting up for a brief calm, the image displayed at page top,     08-D-9.jpg   . Somewhat sun bleached goldfields provided a foreground sprinkled with a few blue dicks and owl's clover. At the near frame sides were two narrowleaf goldenbush with a young blue oak, quercus douglasii, providing nice greens behind at left. In the arroyo was bare sand of the wash that still contained some running water. On a shallow grassy bench beside the wash were a few Fremont cottonwood, populus fremontii. On the far wall of the arroyo, orange poppies mixed with dark sagebrush while a band of greenish orange fiddleneck colonized the base. Beyond were rounded hills of monolopia and distant dry badlands mountains that had a dark dot of a transmission tower sticking above at skyline.

I drove down the road to yet another area I'd seen then spent the next hour walking up and down hills unproductively. The west breeze had changed to a stronger wind and in any case, the afternoon prospects in the area were somewhat limited. Finally I parked in shade beneath a large blue oak in order to contemplate what else I might do this afternoon? I just had to hope Saturday morning would be calm with blue skies without jet contrails. By 5pm I had had enough of hearing increasing winds outside my vehicle, so drove out to the camp area in order to set up my tent and gear and relax about its pleasant oak shaded and sheltered area. Later during the night upon waking up from time to time between dreaming, it was encouraging to find the wind had apparently waned.

wonderful morning, Saturday April 4

pic5 Once again I rose at dawn to meet whatever Saturday April 6 held. After packing up my gear, I set on along the road back to the flower areas and noticed a cold breeze of morning air that kept me locked inside my car for the next hour worried. Skies were nicely clear however and I hoped the onset of sun would disrupt the cold flow on the landscape. Indeed, a half hour after sunrise, that cold flow waned and I had ideal conditions to make the most of. I hiked out on my trample path to the area with lush tall flowers I had found Friday to the same spot I'd exposed a sheet without being able to use the sky due to jet contrails. Hilltop daisies aka monolopia, monolopia lanceolata, were very dense in the foreground and a row Lemmon's mustard, guillenia lemmonii, rose up just a bit behind. The second image repeated my first exposure with my 90mm Caltar lens except that I positioned my tripod lower in the field of flowers in order to have some mustard tops sticking up into the sky,    08-D-11.jpg   . The composition is anchored in the middle ground by a nicely round hill covered with narrowleaf goldenbush while the background mountains are backlit.

Above the light violet-hued mustard was an even brighter yellow swath of the very common alien species of field mustard, brassica nana. Far into the distance were smooth yellow hills with center frame anchored by a few dark blue oak and a background of pastel badlands mountains. A transition on the right to dense yellow green fiddleneck tricks the eye into making it appear like a shadow.

Over a few hours time, I exposed seven sheets. In the process, I found yet another nearby hidden area of flowers that included dense purple owls clover and large white-hued California aster, lessingia filaginifolia. pic4 Late in the morning I drove further down the road, found C working a favorite area, said goodbye, and drove off east to explore an area a water resources person I'd met had given me a tip about. Unfortunately after wasting an extra 50 miles worth of gas, I found the road into that area gated closed due to a wildlands fire a few months earlier.

the road home up the Pacific Coast

I began my way back home by driving out to coastal areas of Santa Barbara. I then followed US101 north until reaching San Luis Obispo where I decided to take the longer more tedious US Highway 1 along the scenic Big Sur Coast. As soon as I reached coastal areas, I encountered blustery northwesterly winds that tend to dominate afternoons on our California coastal areas. Nearer to Pismo Beach and north to the San Simeon State Park lands, the beautiful green hillsides beyond the immediate coast are more often inaccessible private lands behind barbed wire. North of San Simeon the coast tends to be rather difficult to photograph because access is mainly limited to roadside pullouts. Beyond those roadsides, slopes are often cliff like or contain dense chaparral often with poison oak.pic15 Such chaparral areas tend to have sparse annual wildflowers with scattered perennials as lupine, morning glory, bush monkeyflower, mimulus aurantiacus, and paintbrush the main showy species. I drove the endless turns north then decided to find a free dispersed camp by take the one paved spur road that climbs east high over the Santa Lucia Range towards the Hunter-Liggett US Army base.

camping high in the Santa Lucia Range

I thus drove up Naciemento Road where in late afternoon I stopped to capture some close-up situations with these wildflowers. I then explored some dirt roads near the ridgeline and set up a tent camp where I had an open view of the mostly fog shrouded ocean thousands of feet below. Nicely the air was calm up high on the ridge unlike areas far below in the fog. pic2 It was also an opportunity to take a refreshing bottle shower making my night more comfortable. The heavy marine air would not likely offer anything dramatic at sunset, but my location was impressive for doing so with some luck. At sunset I exposed a so so eighth sheet of film this day just as the last slivers of sun dropped down below the distant edge of the sea on its circular horizon. After a pleasant cooked dinner, I retired for yet another pleasant night on this short 4-day trip.

Sunday April 6, sandy Monterey beaches


On Sunday April 7, sunrise proved to be a non-event, so I was quickly driving back down to US Highway 1 then north along the Big Sur coast. During the night, the fog bank had moved north to Lucia and left behind mild breezes. Upon reaching Lucia and the fog, a stiff wind also reappeared that remained all the way to the Monterey Penninsula. Instead of continuing the 90 minutes worth of subsequent driving home, I decided to spend most of the day in that area working on a body of work I've been building of beach sand and stones. There are several types of beach close-ups I look for. Sand and pebbles tend to grade locally due to surf action by size and here I captured some dry pea sized pebbles,    08-D-20.jpg    with a green piece of glass at lower center. An ideal subject for sharpness, it could be printed quite large with fascinating fine detail. I left mid afternoon continuing my way north until reaching the Santa Clara Valley and my residence. Over the four days of the road trip, I had exposed a modest 22 sheets of film plus a moderate number of close-up images with my Coolpix. One sheet was considerably over exposed likely due to my inadvertently putting the shutter speed dial in the wrong notch, while the only other tossed transparency was about 1/2 stop overexposed that is too much for Provia. A couple images were slightly overexposed by about 1/6 stop while the rest were pretty much dead on.

Spring 2008 Wildflower Trip Chronicles contents

   David Senesac

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