Camping at Sonora Desert National Monument

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Today I drove from Prescott National Forest to tonights’ camping in Sonora Desert National Monument, with a long detour around Phoenix. Between Prescott NF and the next town was a glorious mountain blooming with wildflowers. Tall pale pinkish orange ones, bright yellow poppies, purple lupine and yellow daisy like sage bushes, then curling flowers of another shade of purple.  The mountain road was twisty and wellused so no good place to pull over for flower photos. Prescott itself was nice enough, but pine forest doesn’t impress me much. The creek was very nice though, and I think I might have seen my first modern in use mining claim.

The Sonora blows it away though.

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My camp among the wildflowers. Tall cacti, chirping birds and bats and scurrying creatures abound. Also better weather here makes me a lot more comfortable. There was a cautionary sign that this is a smuggling area and subject to law enforcement actions, but I didn’t go that deep and hopefully I go unnoticed by those crowds.

Ocotillo Desert (I think)

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4 jets flew by breaking an amazing quiet sunset in this desert.  I believe it is the Ocotillo Desert(that was what Instagram suggested, and the name of a nearby town). I do know I am several miles up a dirt road towards the Coyote Mountain Wilderness, and Buffy and I will hike to Wind Caves tomorrow morning. I believe I’m on BLM land, so it should be all legal. A few other cars are scattered within the surrounding mile.

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Above is a picture of the road in. I wouldn’t have tried it in wet conditions, although it seems unlikely to be a concern here. A Prius is among the other campers, hardily enough. Many of the bushes are in bloom though no carpets of wildflowers around here – instead tiny blossoms on tiny bushes or large ones on spiny tall needled plants very far from my plant knowledge. I’ll post some of that after the Wind Caves hike.

For now, from an inflatable mattress in my truck bed, with the stars just coming out overhead, goodnight.

I begin to remember the inconveniences aka time for a stop in Ojai

Last night: I’ve begun to remember the inconveniences of the road, of camping. I would love a good long hot shower with ideal selections of soap, shampoo, conditioner, loofahs. Anti-itch cream would be a godsend. The bugs are fierce and the poison oak sneaky. A chorus of frogs sounds loud in the gap between songs from another site. Is that tire flat? Over every inconvenience though I remember how much complaining and even the experience of comfort comes from a shared or previous or expected experience. I can reject this inconvenience in so many ways – to give it no further consideration, or to use it to strengthen myself, or even to fix it. Tonight if I’m in anyway uncomfortable the only thing dictating fixing it is my own valuation of what it’s worth effortwise. I don’t consider Buffy to have a voice, but her comfort must also be considered. One more sweater for the night, that was decided.

Today is gray and the hiking nearby is steep. Campsites and swimming were the goal but are less appealing in the cold. So, I drove into the nearby town of Ojai, and went into Bart’s Books. Mostly I’ve been converted to ebooks, but it’s nice to have paper on hand when electricity is scarce. Also, I love bookstores. This was my first time at this bookstore, although I’d heard of it from listicles like The 20 most beautiful bookstores in the world and best bookstores in the world. And how can I turn down an opportunity to go to a place like that? It is a wonderful bookstore, although beauty is for another beholder. It did smell better than any bookstore I’ve ever been, the orange tree growing over the middle both fruiting and blossoming in a common California miracle. Two books purchased, Gary Snyder’s Practice of the Wild and Thomas F King’s Places That Count: Traditional Cultural Properties in Cultural Resource Management (Heritage Resource Management Series), and I’m off to find a coffee and check in with the world after 48 hours off the grid. The staff at Bart’s Books recommended a nearby coffeeshop called Bohemia and I’m just finishing a delicious latte. I think I was a little late for their pastries, so I’ll scrounge up a lunch elsewhere – in Ojai or beyond.  Overall I recommend my morning, and if you have time to kill in Ojai stop on by Bart’s Books & Bohemia Cafe.

So I’m off – I’ll drive to the wildflowers further inland and then perhaps to the coast where a campground on the beach will offer a sunset view. Miles on the car rather than miles on my feet, so to picture me..  except the surrounding hillsides are a bit more brown here, 100 miles down the coast and 1 week later.SelfieAlongTheRoad

Chasing Wildflowers in Central California

purple wildflowers stretch into the distance, a piece of blurred barbed wire prevents access

March Blossoms

Yesterday I turned 32. I decided to spend it chasing wildflowers in Central California.  I had heard good things about the wildflowers in the Carrizo Plains National Monument, an otherwise often overlooked spot in the middle of nothing. I was already on a road trip, so why not?  Scenic Highway 58 abounded with wildflowers, although there isn’t much else to see beyond the pretty rolling hills and blossoming plain.

Along the various routes I saw poppies, lupine, blue eyes, Munz’ sage, fiddleneck and the ever present wild mustard. Here’s a closeup of a couple of the varieties.

Some of the flowers of Carrizo Plains
Some of the flowers of Carrizo Plains

For more info on various wildflowers around California check out

Rural Windmill in Field of Wildflowers
Highway 58 runs through ranches, farms and oilfields. It was in bloom yesterday.

Carrizo Plains

The Carrizo Plains National Monument is administered by the BLM, which means free camping among other things. Well, mostly lack of other things – this is kept pretty wild and so no there are very few amenities. Pack in your own water, pack out your trash, and find your own campsite.. actually there are some established campgrounds, but I didn’t go there, so …

Carrizo Plain National Monument roadsign with dog looking out the window
Buffy checks the road signs like a good navigator.

The plains are a naturally alkaline area formerly mined for chemical deposits and ranched upon. Ranching is common in the area, as well as oil fields to the east and extensive solar farms in the surrounding valley. There is a bit of clay in the soil which can mean water doesn’t easily sink in, so the road floods sometimes. I was driving along not much past dawn, and slowed down to maybe 25 mph for a muddy patch, and next thing I know I’m stuck in the ditch on the side of the road. I got a hold of AAA luckily enough(1 bar of intermittent service that cut out when a truck drove by) and they said 2 hours for the tow truck to come pull me out. 30 minutes later the second vehicle of the day passed me by and had a tow hitch and a friendly local pulled me right out. I cancelled AAA and continued on my adventure with much more respect for the mud. Luckily there were plenty of pretty and interesting things to see to make it worth the stranger’s trouble.

tumbleweeds along the fenceline
Tumbleweeds are common in the area. Here they catch along fencelines bordering the road.

Rolling hills border the long flat plain where the majority of the wildflowers could be found. They’re pretty and picturesque and isolated and don’t have a lot of safe places to pull over, but also not much in the way of traffic. The flowers below are in the flats and you can see the hills in the distance.

purple wildflowers stretch into the distance, a piece of blurred barbed wire prevents access
Highway 58 stretches from Buttonwillow along the 5 in California’s Central Valley to the 101 in Santa Margarita along California’s Coastal Range. Wildflowers abounded in early March 2015.

A walkway along Soda Lake(which is dry right now, with the famed wildlife staying out of sight except for a few hawks and a lone deer) detailed some of the varieties of wildflowers as goldfields, larkspur, and Munz’ daisy. The signs descriptions of white dust devils rising off the dry lakebed tempted me to visit again in the summer. Also, then I can go further off the road and not get stuck and maybe check out the San Andreas Fault up close and personal where it runs through the monument.

wildflowers separate into a rainbow of color
Several varieties of wildflowers were in blossom, and they’d form great patches of color sometimes blending together and sometimes not.

For more info on the Carrizo Plains checkout

A little bit on California Highways and Routes

My route went from Highway 5 – the unlovely highspeed backbone of California’s highway system – along Highway 58 in search of these wildflowers. It handily enough ends at Highway 101, a more lovely coastal highway which goes through almost all of the places I’ve called home in California. The most lovely highway in California is of course the 1, sometimes called the Pacific Coast Highway or PCH. That’s best immortalized in the Red Hot Chili Peppers Road Trippin’ song.  It’s a distinction of whether you are NorCal or SoCal whether you say “The 101” or “1” when speaking of highways.

I stopped at the Firestone Walker Taproom in Buellton, home of arguably the Central Coasts best beer, for a late lunch and was back on 101 South shortly thereafter. There are a ton of great spots for drinks and views along this stretch of 101 (this is also the area where Sideways was filmed). The 101 and 1 merge for a bit and there is a free spot for an amazing sunset near the tiny town of Gaviota. Just follow the signs for “Vista Point” to get a good place to pull over.   This is what I picture when they say “West of the 1, just a mirror for the sun”

Gaviota Sunset with the ever present wild mustard.
Gaviota Sunset with the ever present wild mustard.