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Three hundred years ago, California’s Central Valley was vast grassland where antelope and elk grazed and wildflowers swept the spring landscape. Today, amid urban and agriculture development, a remnant remains in the Carrizo Plain National Monument.
Carrizo Plain National Monument is one of the best kept secrets in California. Only a few hours from Los Angeles, the Carrizo Plain offers visitors a rare chance to be alone with nature. Some visitors say you can "hear the silence." The plain is home to diverse communities of wildlife and plant species including several listed as threatened or endangered and is an area culturally important to Native Americans.
This remote monument, traversed by the San Andreas Fault which has carved valleys, created and moved mountains, and yet up close, is seen in subtle alignment of ridges, ravines and normally dry ponds. Prominent features on the monument include the white alkali flats of Soda Lake, Painted Rock, vast open grasslands, and a broad plain rimmed by mountains. When conditions are right, numerous wildflowers can carpet the valley floor; although short lived it can be breathtaking.
Soda Lake, normally a dry lake bed, is one of the dominant geographic features of the Carrizo Plain. It is the largest remaining natural alkali wetland in southern California and the only closed basin within the coastal mountains. As its name suggests, Soda Lake concentrates salts as water evaporates, leaving white deposits of sulfates and carbonates that look like baking soda.
Planning Your Visit
Prepare yourself for your adventure. The Carrizo Plain National Monument does not provide any services such as water, food, or fuel. Plan your trip accordingly and ensure you get these items in one of the neighboring communities before you come (see Gateway Communities). These communities lie 15 miles from the south entrance and 60 miles from the north entrance. Also, ensure you bring the appropriate apparel for the time of year you are visiting.
Expect warm, dry summers and cool, wet winters. Most rain falls between November and April with occasional snow. Average summer temperatures range from the low 50s°F at night to the upper 90s°F during the day. Daytime temperatures often exceed 100°F, with a record high of 115°F. Average winter temperatures range from highs in the mid 60s to lows in the mid 30s, with a record low of 0°F. The Carrizo Plain receives between 7–10 inches of annual rainfall on the valley floor.
Pets must be controlled at all times. In addition, pets must be leashed or caged at all developed sites including the visitor center, interpretive overlooks, trail heads, and camping areas. No pets are allowed in the Painted Rock exclusion zone.
Nearest Highway Access
The Carrizo Plain has two major sources of access. From the north, the access is via Soda Lake Road off of State Route 58. The other major access is from the south via Soda Lake Road off of State Route 33/166.
Road Conditions within the Monument
Many roads within the Monument have an unimproved dirt surface and become impassable during periods of rain. The main road, Soda Lake Road, is open year round. However, rains may make parts of Soda Lake Road slippery, muddy, and impassable at times. The Caliente Ridge Road can be especially dangerous when wet and may be closed periodically during periods of heavy rain or snowfall. All roads in the Monument may be periodically closed for safety conditions such as fire hazard, weather, or unsafe conditions. Panorama and Simmler roads often take weeks to dry out after a rain. Even though the other roads in the monument are dry, Panorama and Simmler roads may be impassable—proceed with caution on these roads especially during winter months, and obey all closed road signs.
Gateway Communities located near the Monument help inform and educate the public about the opportunities on the Carrizo Plain National Monument. They also provide services (food, fuel, water) not available on the Monument. Taft is located east of Carrizo Plain and offers Monument information at the Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center at 400 Kern Street. You can visit their website: http://www.taftchamber.com. Taft offers a variety of businesses, including grocery stores, fuel, and lodging. Santa Margarita is located northwest of the Monument and offers visitors information on Main Street (El Camino Real), look for visitor information signs. Santa Margarita offers fuel, food, and shops.