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Spring 2010 Wildflower Trip Chronicles
by David Senesac    page 4 of 7

Spring 2010 Wildflower Trip Chronicles contents
Spring 2010 Wildflower Road 3
Spring 2010 Wildflower Road 5

Central Coast Range
March 14 thru April 10

Fresno County Sierra foothills


On a Friday afternoon from my job with my Subaru full of usual gear, I drove out on my first road trip of the year in at times heavy rain towards the Fresno County foothills. The central Sierra had received above normal rains during the winter. My expectations for wildflowers were low as the season was still rather early, so my effort was mainly explorational. On Saturday March 13, early in the morning did a quick survey of conditions at San Joaquin River Gorge Management Area a BLM area. However wildflowers were at an early stage and areas near the trailhead had too many cattle grazing those open lands. I drove south to the Pine Flat Reservoir area where a decent bloom of usual spring wildflowers was occurring in the large serpentine areas. The hill's flowers were however deep within already tall wild oats and other non-native grasses. Some hills did have impressive coverings of popcorn flower. However weather was a bit post storm breezy so I didn't linger long.

central Coast Range badlands


Late in the afternoon, I drove back west across the valley and into the Coast Range where I located some nice areas on obscure BLM and state lands I'd researched. Weary of all the driving and not confident I would find productive subjects in this last area, I drove home. However at dawn Sunday morning March 14, after a good dinner and long night of sleep, I regretted that decision and with gear still in my car drove all the way back south. That turned out to be a productive decision as I found some nice areas of California poppies and birds-eye gilia, gilia tricolor, on the state lands, with one of the G10 close-ups above left and this 4x5 landscape,    10-F-9.jpg   .

lower Kern and Tulare rivers


For the following weekend with a load of my BLM Surface Management maps that show where public lands are located, I made a long drive down to some Kern River foothill areas I had not yet explored. On Saturday morning March 20 was disappointed as little was publicly accessible and some dirt roads I'd hoped to drive were locked by gates. I drove back north and explored Tulare River areas along SR198 into Sequoia National Park but didn't linger there either as possibilities for wildflower landscapes are limited. Instead I drove further north to my last Sierra area where poppies covered some hillside areas but all were in fenced and posted private cattle grazing ranch lands. An area I am investigating contacting at least one ranch about access to during a future spring. So late in the afternoon once again drove back west to the Coast Range area I'd visited the previous week arriving after dark and hoping more species had risen up and some of the wildflowers had peaked.

return to central Coast Range badlands


On Sunday March 21 I awoke at dawn and quickly did a tour of prospective areas I'd first checked the previous Sunday. On a subsequent mile hike I found a beautiful gully with several species of wildflowers including California poppies, arroyo lupine, lupinus succulentus, cryptantha, goldfields, lasthenia chrysotoma, tansy phacelia, phacelia tanacetifolia, yellow pincushion, chaenactis glabriuscula, and birds-eye gilia. Goldfields and gilia closeup at left. I set up and exposed a few sheets of Provia with side backlit lighting. Thin high clouds caused good diffuse light in the otherwise hazy blue sky. The image at page top, 10-G-4.jpg, is one of my best poppy shots ever. It includes cryptantha and arroyo lupine within a matrix of vibrant greens. The image above left shows goldfields about saltbrush, a distinctive Fremont cottonwood, populus fremontii, and badlands hills. On the way home near sunset, I worked a dense Coast Indian paintbrush, castilleja affinis, plant on a steep crumbling road cut, that took a long time to capture due to a pesky breeze, displayed below left.

Carrizo Plain National Monument


Subu packed with gear, I left work late Friday afternoon and leisurely drove south on US101 towards Carrizo Plain National Monument, arriving later that evening. Well I parked on an abandoned unused dirt road at a very familiar spot north of the monument. Temperature was quite cool in the upper 30F's, so was likely to be quite frosty early in the morning. On clear nights at this time of year with radiation cooling, lower areas of the plain basin are often frosty that is further enhanced due to gravity driven cool air sumping. I was glad to be comfortably sleeping inside my vehicle instead of hassling with dealing with the heavy dew likely to accumulate on any smooth my sleeping bag outside in the open beside my car. Note the most popular public camp at the monument, Selby Camp, is well above the plain and such moisture. As usual on that vast plain the night was very pleasantly quiet as a slight sumping night breeze flowed south.

As dawn rose over the Temblor Range on Saturday March 27, I was quick to get moving despite the very frosty blanket of white covering everything outside. Had to get outside of course to scrape ice off my windows while my engine slowly warmed the inside air and defroster blew. I drove south on Soda Lake Road entering the monument, then at Simmler Road turned east and drove the short distance to where I could look down on the usual large plain of coreopsis towards Old Potato Lake. Indeed it was a field of yellow and the plants looked in better condition than I expected. The area was obviously not as spectacular as in 2003, 2005, or 2006. However in the distance to the east, despite being dim and backlit, I could see color in the Temblor Range that looked more promising. I turned around and continued south to the Selby Camp turnoff where I rumbled up the dusty dirt road passed dense fields of goldfields and tidy tips that were impressive as the first sunlight began creeping down from the Caliente Range hills onto that plain. Generally it would be a sunny day with drifting high thin clouds and very hazy air that muted definition at distance.


Reaching the camp zone loop road, I slowly rolled its circuit peering out towards the full camp of tents, RVs, SUV, and pickups, plus a few well dressed with headgear and mittens early risers drinking what was likely mostly coffee. Saw what appeared to be a few folks from the gathering, parked, wandered over, and began introducing myself to those sitting at a small bench below an outdoor canopy that provides a bit of shade in the otherwise shade-less open camp; tarol, greg1062, SerpicoRabbit, Lio, wife of sunbeamjfs, the amzing 4wheelbob his wife Gina, friend Greg, toejam with his granddaughter, Adele, and a few minutes later hikerchick395 her husband Greg. I met a few others later that evening and missed others that had made the trip. We chatted a bit and traded information and ideas about what the group would be doing. All too quickly I repacked my car for a day in the field and in a small cloud of dust drove out and back north to Simmler Road.

Old Potato Lake


At 7:30am on the Saturday at what is traditionally the most visited wildflower area of the monument beside Soda Lake on Simmler Road at the peak of its bloom in 2010, I was the only photographer that had bothered to show up at what was the optimal time of morning for photographing the area. Much like I had found in 2006! Go figure? Well although there were a good number of visitors at the monument, few were likely serious photographers. I didn't bother with the main field of Bigelow's coreopsis, coreopsis bigelovii. since I'd shot that in 2006 in much better conditions but rather drove to where I saw a good sized area of light violet hued Lemmon's mustard, guillenia lemmonii, near the north end of Old Potato Lake with image at right. There were also very dense areas of goldfields, lasthenia chrysotoma, and Bigelow's coreopsis, on the lake banks. An image I made of the latter against the sky below right. I had difficulty trying to take just a few close-up images due to an increasing breeze despite using my two 32 inch diffusion and reflection disks to block the wind. By 8:30am other vehicles with photographers began showing up.

windy day in the Temblor Range


I drove northeast off towards the Temblor Range where I knew down in the labyrinths of the foothill ravines was likely to be the least breezy locations in the monument. Landscapes few photographers have explored in the past mainly because there are no trails and travel is awkward and dangerous. Small landslides are common especially during or soon after storms. In April 2006 a friend and I had to take regular tick breaks as maybe two dozen ticks would be crawling on us for every half mile we walked. As I traveled southeast on Elkhorn Road past Wallace Creek, with the sun now at a higher altitude and the hills much closer, it was obvious colorful wildflower areas to the east were at least as good as in 2006. I would have liked to have hiked up into those higher areas on that Saturday but had done my homework on NWS site wind analysis that predicted windy conditions this day but calmer conditions on Sunday. So instead drove to a particular canyon I'd partially explored in 2006 and set out up its ravine. Although it was a mostly sunny day, the air was rather hazy with mid range elements in landscapes indistinct.


Immediately within the first one-hundred yards I identified a long list of familiar species I'd seen in the past. Those foothill transition zones at the western edge of the Temblor Range hills contain a greater number of species versus other areas of the park. Almost all space on these smooth steep badlands hills outside of severely eroded steep faces and storm rain paths was solid colorful wildflowers of several species. However the dominant color was yellow due to hillside daisies, monolopia lanceolata, and goldfields. Some areas wildflowers were thigh high and dense, while in others on more south facing slopes and ridge tops, wildflowers were sometimes just ankle high and thinner as in the image above right. The pink flowers are beautiful Parry's mallow, eremalche rotundifolia with a closeup below right.


By 10am strong winds were making close-up work difficult even deep in the ravines. After winding up a sinuous route and exploring a few stubs ravines, I made my way out at midday. I drove out onto an obscure spur dirt road I've sometimes over-nighted at and went about making lunch, resting, organizing gear, and looking at my considerable stack of maps while the sun was too harsh to work with. Another photographer drove up and it turned out to be someone I've run into in person past years and also on the web. And then a couple drove up I've posted with on a couple other web boards. Suggested they climb up to a particularly nice nearby point that I would soon be visiting again myself as light was improving.


View from that point at right. A foreground of lemon yellow hued hillside daisies, the dominant wildflower in the Temblor Range, just above mid left a patch of ochre yellow hued Bigelow's coreopsis, then to the left a pink patch of Parry's mallow, above left in the background muted orange San Joaquin blazing star, some purple patches of tansy phacelia, phacelia tanacetifolia, and the bronze areas are turning to seed fiddleneck that peaked first maybe in early March. At that time these hills looked vibrant green and yellow-orange. At center poking into the skyline at ridge top are a few California juniper, juniperus californica, about the only tree on the western slopes of the Temblor Range that is otherwise most of the year drab barren hills with saltbrush and a few other desert heat loving brush in the seams. Nope didn't expose a 4x5 sheet on this beauty cause it was quite blustery Saturday. I exposed one sheet of film during my afternoon on a modest side hill landscape in the lower foothills that required a long wait for breezes to wane. By sunset I drove back across the valley to Selby Camp to listen to what others had done during their days. As dusk darkened, I drove out north to a quiet dirt road spot to spend my night and prepare for the promising work Sunday.

Spring 2010 Wildflower Road 5
Spring 2010 Wildflower Road 3
Spring 2010 Wildflower Trip Chronicles contents

   David Senesac

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