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NEXT:  Page 8   Edgewood County Park 4/15
2017 Trip Chronicles:    Contents

Carrizo Plain National Monument Monday 4/10
Carrizo Plain National Monument Monday 4/11
Carrizo Plain National Monument Monday 4/12

2017 Trip Chronicles:  Page 7

Temblor Range at Carrizo Plain National Monument

After returning Thursday and checking NWS forecasts, Tuesday April 11 was the only day that was likely to be workable as other days showed breezy with a series of minor winter fronts continuing to move across northern California on the northern jet stream conveyor belt. The tailing end of a front would move through Sunday afternoon and evening leaving Monday partly cloudy and breezy. Then Monday night another front would follow centered far to the north that was only supposed to result by Tuesday morning in partly cloudy skies with light winds. Then during the afternoon a third front would start moving in with high clouds. Tuesday was my best and only shot as each day wildflower aesthetic conditions were waning, more plants going to seed and drying. Early Wednesday morning showed light breezes before stronger winds moved in late morning. Thus got my gear ready Sunday and by Monday late morning April 10 was on US101 driving south again. By mid afternoon reached Carrizo Plain and drove directly down Elkhorn Road from SR58 where I noticed there were only minor numbers of vehicles on the dirt road and the Temblor Range vegetation looked about the same from a distance. See the top of page 5 for topo and monument links

I drove south to the more southern canyon people had been hiking at. As forecast it was breezy all day. I wanted to do some productive exploring with the few late afternoon hours. I'd visited the canyon in 2006 but did not recall what was there. This is the canyon bordered to the east with USGS 7.5m topo summit 3957 labeled Crocker that on my custom map is canyon M. A spur 2 tire track dirt road with vegetation sprouting up at center from Elkhorn Road at 2490 goes a short ways along the south side of a wash to 2650+ where vehicles parked and this day there were a half dozen. Beyond there, the 4WD road followed the narrow top of a rib up to 3350+. Most visitors were walking up that dirt road to look down into the canyon. Another spur dirt road branched off at the parking area through a locked gate up the canyon a short ways to 2700 feet at a San Andreas sulfur smelling seep. Beyond that a faint use path went east up the easy canyon bottom though thick with saltbush. I struck out into the canyon route and at that road end found a fresh used campfire ring some ignorant pin head had made that I kicked all the rocks about. Note it is illegal within CPNM to build fires and quite dangerous with all the dense drying vegetation.


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At 2900 feet I came to a steep slope per image above, worth trying to get an image for since the otherwise continuous breeze down in the narrow canyon bottom at this protected kink bend was variable. A bright patch of dense hillside daisies provided my middle ground at frame right. On the south side of the canyon, an impressive steep wall had a large patch of orange hued San Joaquin blazingstar along with areas of tansy phacelia, Kern mallow, desert candle, California poppies, and less common white hued Fremont's pincushion, chaenactis fremontii.

Continuing east a bit, the canyon split with the main branch going east as I followed the smaller branch northeast since colors up at the headwall areas had modest color other than yellow. At 2950, I stopped to take a few mediocre informational images then climbed up an easy rib to a ridge top at 3150+ where I had a good overall view of these canyon areas. Compared to other Temblor areas I'd explored north, this zone would not be one I'd bother returning to. It was quite windy up at the ridge line and I felt chilled as the air temperature was in the high 50s. I then climbed down into the next ravine that I followed to the bottom. Near the bottom was a dry fall cascade that no doubt deterred most with a notion to follow it up that was obviously why the use path was so faint.

Back at my Forester, I gave some advice about disperse camping to a young couple then drove off south on Elkhorn Road about 3 miles beyond the Hurricane - Crocker Springs Road junction, then east on a spur road a couple hundred yards to legally disperse camp. These spur roads need to be slowly carefully explored. Most are 2 tire track dirt roads with a center vegetation strip tickling the bottoms of any vehicles less than high wheelbase. It is wise to stop, get out, and check any coming section that one might get stuck at without a way to turn around. Near sunset occasional vehicles were driving south, some no doubt looking for a place to camp themselves. One can see over 15 short dirt stub roads on Google Earth running east of Elkhorn within about a dozen miles or enough for more than there were cars. Additionally there are several pull over spots and flat gravel beds in crossing washes on the east side of Elkhorn Road one can pull over and disperse camp right beside the road.

One person in a sedan saw my car and camp then made a beeline onto the spur road but then got out for a look when he saw me staring at him from a distance so instead of driving further set down right there to camp near Elkhorn. Not a few inexperienced people both while road camping with cars or backpacking out in wilderness tend to gravitate towards camping near where others are doing so as though that is maybe the expected behavior despite miles of empty space elsewhere. With the air temperature cool, I had hardly broken a sweat on my late afternoon hike so did not need to take my usual bottle shower. Besides with the brisk wind blowing after cooking up some dinner on my Wishperlite, was content to just get inside my vehicle where it was quiet and pleasant.

return adventure into the Temblor Range

Waking during wee hours on Tuesday April 11 I noticed a lack of stars though the wind had died off. As dawn broke it was obvious the weather forecast was a bit off. I wondered if my gamble on this trip would pay off? As I drove back north on Elkhorn Road, sky areas to the southeast had broken clouds while the rest of the sky was a solid cloud blanket. By time I'd parked next to a cattle gate and got gear together, the whole sky was covered. Well with money already invested in the pot, I would invest the considerable effort to climb up the 1000 plus feet to the target area I'd hiked into the previous Thursday in order to be there in case skies cleared or something worked out. Did not understand what the weather was doing but suspected a system forecast to stay well north had moved further south.

Instead of following up canyon bottoms that I'd already explored the week before, in order to size up some view points along the ridge line, I decided to climb up to foothill ridge tops and then follow those up higher. The problem with that strategy was there was more up and down vertical between ridge line hill tops than the topographic map tended to show. Doing so added maybe 200 feet of unplanned vertical requiring some awkward traversing across steep hillsides to minimize that effort. In any case with the dense cloud blanket above was not in any hurry. Eventually reached the target zone that I would have at least a couple hours to leisurely explore before late morning diffuse light might become workable.

Optimism rising, to the northwest I could see virga and then areas of blue sky. As those areas approached and the sun altitude rose, the cloud blanket thickness decreased enough brightening diffuse light adequately that I got my camera out for some shots. However felt some water drops and soon it was sprinkling. I covered gear with an old backpack rain cover then hid myself with camera on tripod beneath a juniper as I was wearing my lightweight NF rain shell jacket. Showers stopped and I got back out only to get chased back in again with more showers. As those passed after about 15 minutes, it appeared the sky would be putting on a special show of clouds and light once the blue sky began to reach the Temblor. It was now late morning about 11:30am PDT. A slight breeze was increasing so I aborted working an exposed to breezes subject with a creamcups foreground for the sake of more important subjects.

The first image at 12 noon is the 12700x6000 pixel image with beautiful clouds over filtered sunlight on a flower covered ridge at page top. What is the olive green colored vegetation on ridge tops with considerable all day sun and wind exposure but low erosion gradients? A mixture of species, primarily gone to seed fiddleneck and California mustard plus ripgut brome grass. Then below those areas on steeper sunny exposures often upon soft soils are large areas of yellow hued hillside daisies with smaller patches of purple hued tansy phacelia, orange hued San Joaquin blazingstar, and yellowish green hued desert candles. Lower down on steep, bare, erosion areas are magenta purplish hues of Kern mallow plus small areas of California poppies. The ripgut brome grass is also common in the creases of ravine bottoms along with perennial saltbush. Some areas above the erosion areas have a brownish hue that is primarily short gone to seed drying filaree that is common in all areas however the short height is unseen below other plants.


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After another abort of a subject the breeze was taking too long to capture, is this image at 12:30am just before mid day above of California goldfields, lasthenia californica, California juniper, juniperus californica, with the flower covered Temblor Range ridge in the background. Sprinkled in with the bright yellow goldfields are Douglas's fiddleneck, creamcups, and a few filaree. Below the juniper are California mustard and white fiesta flower. The juniper, a tree, and ephedra, a large bush, are two plants with an important role in the Carrizo Plain region ecology. They provide the only real shade and wind protection over large areas for many less showy, numerous, structurally weak species. Among those species are miners lettuce, creamcups, little gilia, chinese houses, California manroot, and wind poppies. The juniper tend to grow in groups on some of the protected northerly lee sides of the ridges. They and scrub oaks are much more common east of the Temblor crest. There are more rodents in these woody area and of course juniper berries are food. Also I spooked one larger animal I just saw the back of, likely a deer.


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It was then time to move down to the primary reason for the effort of returning to Carrizo as I rambled down the ridge and then dropped into the canyon through a jungle of plants on steep slopes of soft soils hoping to capture with blue skies the images I had made Thursday on cloudy skies. Besides an increasing breeze, clouds were forming over the Temblor Range that could grow and put persistent shadows on areas of interest. Intent on knocking off at least one strong image, I set up the above six column wide single row panorama with bottom frame areas a good distance away instead of trying for a more difficult 2 row that would have required waiting for near foreground calm. Clouds would form shadowing parts of the scene, so I would wait for them to slowly move eastward. Then I would be frustrated as variable breezes never quite calmed up until the next cloud blocked light awhile again. However now into early afternoon front lighting up the canyon was improving. This completed panorama taken about 1:45pm is 17700 by 6000 pixels. I may not experience as multicolored a mountain landscape as this for the rest of my life. The many small smoothly rounded hilltop forms provide a wonderful context for all the color.


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Had a single morning been calm in this area, I would have worked several more outstanding subjects including a third row and 2 more columns to the above landscape. However given the wind and forming clouds, I was hoping with patience to just complete one set of focus stack stitch blend shots of a single image. Clouds would form off to my right and shadow parts of this scene then slowly move off. And when sun again returned the breeze would then frustrate me awhile until more cloud shadows came back. With thin cloud filtered sunlight, a longer calm occurred about 2:05pm and I knocked off the more difficult left 2 columns. Then after a short period of breezes, a second lull occurred and the right 2 columns were complete. Thus an 8 frame 4 column 2 row 15000 by 9500 pixel image.

And no, I was not alone. Was I led to this special tripod spot? From my position, bare areas between flowers on the canyon walls appropriately displayed the vague likeness of a head with eyes, nose, mouth, wings of a higher being.


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Before leaving the area, I had two more subjects to knock off that required climbing up and over to another view point. The above is an interesting side canyon on a ridge probably no one visited this year. At frame corner bottom left tangled with dead saltbush skeletons and rising fresh green hued ephedra stems are hillside daisies, creamcups, orange hued wind poppies, stylomecon heterophlla, and magenta hued crinkled onion, allium crispum, possibly the most beautiful of our many California onion species. Across the canyon at left is a patch of California poppies that are most often found in the Temblor areas on eroding bare slopes like this without competition from other plants. On the other side of the mouth of this side canyon is a large patch of less saturated orange San Joaquin blazingstar.

I wonder how many perennial plants succumbed to the severe 4 year drought both here in the monument and elsewhere in California deserts? The lifeless woody branches of shrubs and trees would for a few years exist then crumble into the soil matrix. Within months that will also include the annual cycling of considerable mass of all the now living annuals plus their myriad seeds. The annual plants on the other hand are drought proof in their protective seeds just waiting for the next wet rainy season, however long that takes.


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This final image above of my morning route is from further west showing the same lonely canyon and its ridge further east. Because everything in the frame was at distance, not effected by wind, I quickly ran shots off once arriving at the location. Notice the large patches of Kern mallow that only colonized inner gorge erosion slopes? This picture presents a useful view of an inner badlands gorge and some reasons why they are difficult to ascend. Notice how at the bottom is a narrow vertical walled gully full of saltbush shrubs. In places one can walk up beside a gully but climbing out vertical walls often higher than one's head is challenging. A better strategy is to reach the upper ridge slopes where landforms are smooth at lower gradients. A painterly vertical slice crop is lower down this page at left.

My plans for this day were not over. I might have remained in the above canyon the rest of the day. However I'd wanted to shoot some shots of the Temblor flower slopes most visitors had been climbing up into from the bottom of the ridge just south across the canyon. Thus climbed back down the canyon I was in and out to my car for a half hour of lunch and relaxation before driving north a ways to park about a very beaten up road side area where about 15 vehicles were parked and various people about. Some planning to hike up the use trail while others probably wondering what it was all about just looking from their vehicles. During the big blooms of 2003 and 2005 no one had climbed up there. Then in 2006 two of we pro photographers did and a few more in 2010. But this year the dam broke though it began as a trickle.


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Out of my car, I walked up then opened the wooden gate we had climbed up and over in 2006. The 2 tire track dirt road with vegetation at center continues up and over a rise then follows along the wash until ending at the junction of two canyons where one sees the view above at 2500 feet. The smell of sulfur comes from a wet San Andreas Fault seep. Just beyond the rise, the use trail, leaves the dirt road, crosses the wash then climbs the a rib on the hill above slopes frame left. The use trail that climbs 1100 feet from this point was faint during my April 1 visit but now was a wide pounded into dust surface trail, quite visible in the distance on parts of the upper slopes. Another less used use trail climbs the slope frame right up a rib. Numbers of less fit people just walked to this point, took a picture, then walked back to their cars. A few others tried hiking up either of the two canyons maybe hoping for a short cut to the flowered slopes above. And eventually turned around when canyon bottom slopes only became steeper, obstacles more awkward, and views blocked down inside the gorge.


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I continued north up the canyon towards the flower slopes. One of the easiest canyon bottom gorges to walk. About a quarter mile up where my paper topographic map showed was least steep, I began climbing steeply with each step fighting for a foot hold atop thick hillside daisy. After about 30 feet of vertical the slope gradient eased off as I continued up to about 150 feet above the gorge bottom to a spot I then stopped to take the above image that offers a better more direct view than from the route hikers use to climb up to the flower slopes. The use trail can be seen climbing through the orange slopes frame mid left. This main northern canyon doglegs to the right eastward at this point behind the yellow band frame right. Do you see the three people in my image? Of course not, because it is grossly downsized. Well see the crop at left or look at the center slice enlarged vertical slice view.


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For my final image of this day, put on my Sony SEL55210 zoom lens and at 109mm shot the above single row 3 column horizontal panorama. And again there were 3 people on the slopes as I fired off my shots. Maybe one is you? I dropped down into a nice bare soil wash flat on a side channel of the inner gorge, out of view of any others in order to relax, enjoy some drinks and food, nap a bit before heading out. Since I had already made the considerable effort to drive down and visit the monument and had a considerable amount of close-up work I still wanted to do if light winds, decided to stay and work Wednesday morning before leaving. Thus drove back south to the same location I'd made a disperse camp at Tuesday doing so again.

last ramble into the Temblor Range

Dawn rose with mostly clear skies on Wednesday April 12 and as I got outside to rearrange gear before driving off, noticed the morning breeze was more apparent than on Tuesday. I drove off north on Elkhorn Road stopping at the same cattle gate in order to visit the same zone as the day before. My plan was to climb up to the same juniper ridge area and if breezes were calm enough work some of those areas before dropping down into canyon areas where hopefully I might work some close-ups.

A truck pulled up along the road nearby and a man with a shovel and pick unconcerned with whatever I was doing, got out then went over to the barbed wire fence, grabbed a post at top and then in one smooth quick move, stepped on a wire jumping over. He began poking around in the area. After securing my Forester, I went over the fence at an easier spot to cross, removed my daypack and placed that and tripod with camera on the other side, then quickly climbed over. Went over and said hello and introduced myself finding out this was the land owner who had a cattle ranch up a canyon off SR58 on the east side of the Temblor Range and this was an auxiliary grazing area for his animals. So this private inholding property area on the map I'd been looking at for years was his. I briefly related what I had been doing in some of these areas for years giving him my business card. Dean had a piped water system from the east side that went over the top down to storage tanks on this side of which the remote sensors indicated water level issues, possibly due to blockage. I commented on all the Carrizo monument visitors that were now crossing his lands in order to hike up to the flower slopes and he commented this was the first year anything like this had happened. Am pretty sure after this year, the local BLM managers will be meeting with and working with local property owners in order to iron out issues as what happened this year is certain to grow in following years with major spring wildflower blooms. I hope that works out well for all parties.

This day in order to eliminate any extra up and downs, I would go back to following the canyon up awhile before climbing up one of the side ravines. But I took a wrong turn up a side canyon and ran into an impassible dry fall. Not wanting to back track down hill 100 feet, I was barely able to traverse out and then climb up an adjacent unpleasant rib. That brought me to the target ridge I then continued up until reaching the California juniper grove I visited earlier. By mid morning under well saturated sunny blue skies, a variable light breeze was moving across the ridge tops at a level I might get some images in.


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My second subject above was the same large creamcup patch foreground I'd found April 6. I used a juniper snag for the foreground. Creamcups, plastystemon californica, preferring partly shady northern slopes close up each night into tight light yellow balls. Mixed in are California goldfields, filaree, Douglas fiddleneck, and about the snag white fiesta flower, pholistoma membranaceum. Further back below juniper are denser areas of white fiesta flower and blue hued Douglas phacelia, phacelia douglasii. Above the juniper behind the creamcup patch mid left, are a pair of western bluebirds, sialia mexicana, one in flight and the other below standing atop a branch. Many of the perennial shrubs and trees were stressed during the 4 drought years resulting in some dead brown branches and foliage that with the abundant water this season for those that survived, ought to recover to nicely green forms.

My next subject below looked down the colorful flower canyon towards Soda Lake with purple hued tansy phacelia near. Above the Caliente Range colored with yellow areas of hillside daisy are low stratus clouds that moved in east from the Pacific. With such clouds is often a breeze as the heavier marine air flows across low points in the landscape pushing whatever air was there away. One will also note areas about all the alkali lakes have two distinct yellow hues with some areas a more orange yellow that would be Bigelow's coreopsis while the lighter yellow are hillside daisy. Behind the right end of Soda Lake is Overlook Hill and in front of it 11 parked vehicles. Maybe one is yours?   (:   Actually even at 100% pixels the cars are just vague blobs haha. Behind the left areas of alkali lakes one can see the buildings of Goodwin Education Center. And high above beyond the Caliente Range are peaks of the Sierra Madre Mountains at an elevation near to my tripod position.


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For the next hour I climbed up and down on some lush north facing canyon slopes where a number of less showy species were near peak. These slopes had some juniper and a few other shrubs beyond the usual saltbush that were not aesthetic with larger landscapes. The below image shows one of these slopes. Besides ubiquitous hillside daisies and fiddleneck, the orange flowers are wind poppies, the large white flowers California lessengia, and small white flowers popcorn flower. These slopes could interest a botanist well beyond dates when the main flower fields had faded. With the marine air pushing in, it was time to go. The morning had not been particularly productive as per forecasts the minor breeze had simply denied my working the many possible close-up subjects.

Over the three days I was confident the trip had been quite productive and would see upon later processing if indeed a few of the images were among the most valuable I've yet made with my digital camera system. As I write this 12 days later after processing the image files, I am quite satisfied that came to be. Also it was the end of my spring wildflower Southern California desert region work this year that I also felt satisfied about with many outstanding images created. And most importantly, as much as I enjoy taking and creating the images, even more important was the experience of being at and experiencing these incredible Earth places. My retirement two months earlier allowing full flexibility and time was a golden decision.

Driving home I wondered how many more years will pass until the next significant wildflower bloom occurs? How many more people will swarm into the monument enticed by the pictures of those who went this time and their stories? How many more hikers can unregulated free access places like the Temblor Range or the flower plains around Soda Lake stand before necessary limitations rise? How much will my own images soon to be exposed into public light give rise to an increasing group of serious photographers striking out into exploration of these badlands and increasingly causing issues?

NEXT:  Page 8   Edgewood County Park 4/15
2017 Trip Chronicles:    Contents

   David Senesac
   email: info@davidsenesac.com

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