Friday, March 20, 2009

California's Serengeti

Sunrise on the Carizzo Plain

Wildflower season for us means checking websites and hotlines daily, to get the most current updates on the blooms. And sometimes it means getting up and going to find out for ourselves.
Leaving right after work last Wednesday, our adventure began soon after hitting the road. We passed through the beautiful back country of the Sespe Wilderness, driving over Pine Mountain and finally coming into the California Valley. Our destination was

Carrizo Plain National Monument.
The last of California's historic grasslands.
"here in this remote part of California where ravens and prairie falcons dip and rise with the play of the wind and wildflowers color the hills each spring, it's still possible to look out over hundreds of miles of open space and to watch stars spread across a dark sky."

We arrived after dark to find the campsite almost all to ourselves. Oh there weren't any other campers, our company was two Great horned Owls perched in the tall eucalyptus above our tent. We went to sleep and woke up to Hoot~hoot, hooty~hoot~hoot!

KCL Campground

...breakfast was served (and lunch and dinner!) to me.
Thank you husband.

The view from our tent...

...checking out an old barn...

...and now the hunt for wildflowers!

....LOOK! we found them, like a golden carpet on the Plains...

...the scent comes almost before the flowers appear, standing in a field of these natural beauties is a heady experience, I wanted to stay for hours...

...look!, my husband is color coordinated to the fields!... is a sign showing the Pronghorn Antelope, we were hoping to see and photograph these also. There is so much to see out here, according to the visitors center there are "more than a dozen species of reptiles and amphibians,100 species of birds and 45 species of mammals that live seasonally or year~round in the Carrizo's spacious grasslands, shrublands and wetlands. And of course...the spring wildflowers...

San Joaquin blazing star
...hillside daisies...

...silver bush lupine...

We had a great morning driving around looking for and photographing flowers and critters, but there was another reason we'd come out here and since it was going to take most of the day we had to get going. We packed up our stuff and made our way over to another camp, Selby, which was conveniently located next to the trail head for the hike we had to go on. A 12 mile hike. 6 miles of it up. Steeply up. Carrying heavy camera equipment. Gulp. Oh, and did I say it was very warm out?

So, off we went...


...our destination was going to be the highest point in all San Luis Obispo County, Caliente Mountain, 5106 ft (1556 m)..

...and up... on the way we saw more wildflowers, and hawks, San Joaquin antelope squirrels and meadowlarks, and...

A baby horny toad! We put this little beauty right back down as soon as I got it's photo. Isn't he great?!

Well, we got to the top and I could have sworn it was further than six miles, but my husband with the G.P.S. in his hands tells me that this is the true distance....

...can you make out the trail in the background of this photo? we are a loooong way from the campground. Chuck and I separated at this point, he scrambling around the mountain for more pics and me hightailing it back down. When I saw the "one more mile" marker I nearly started to skip, I was never more happy to see our tent. No sooner had I gotten my sweaty shoes off when Chuck appeared over the ridge. We weren't done yet. Next up was Soda Lake (still in the Carrizo Plain) for evening pictures...

...on the way to the lake... fields (a wildflower aptly named)... last hill to climb for the day. See our truck down there? we are all alone at the Soda Lake lookout....

...and here is one view of Soda Lake. The road through the Plains is visible too, its partly paved and part asphalt. I think it's that and the Antelope and the grass and the rock outcroppings that are all reminiscent of the Serengeti. It's a spectacular place, but to really appreciate it you have to look close, I guess it's just like anything else...

Caliente Mountain(the peak we were on)

~sunrise at Selby camp~
we woke to the yelping sound of a pack of coyote's...
...knitting (a little project) at camp before heading out...we're leaving here today, we'd love to stay, but there's more to do (always!) and not so much time...
driving out, away down the long solitary road, our eyes scanned the meadows and plains for one last thing we might see...we'd already been so lucky, seen so much...
and sure enough, as we neared the exit I saw a small mound in the distance. I told Chuck I think I see ground squirrels, it's something. So he stops the truck and turns the binoculars on the mound of dirt. Slowly, he lowers the glasses and says quietly to me, "Keep calm, but you've just spotted a pair of burrowing owls" WHAT???? It is the thing I've always wanted to see. My husband said he'd try for a photo for me.
We didn't stay long, they were sitting at a nest and were agitated by us. But he got some photos and I am thrilled. And then we packed away all the big lenses and congratulated ourselves on a fantastic trip. And then 5 minutes later, I saw a Pronghorn Antelope!
way too far away for photos but hey! what a day! we're back at the coast, but not at home, we're in a little motel, there is a lighthouse we've been wanting to see...
xxx love, lori


  1. my goodness these are so beautiful.
    I hope you know that
    i was this close into jumping into my computer screen.
    woah, why is that so hard to believe?
    I wish i get to see what you see someday.

  2. I lived in California for about 12 years, and I miss it a lot, but I feel like I've been able to visit through your blog! Thank you for sharing such beautiful pictures!

  3. I feel totally energised by coming along with you on that hike. To be able to see what you did, and get as many pics of them.... wonderful.

  4. Sounds like a hoot,hoot!

    Wonderful flowers, we have wildflowers in Western Australia.
    I have not made it yet, but it is right up there on to do list.
    Wonderful post, Lori (and Chuck). Love to you.xx♥

  5. what an amazing virtual hike - thank you so much for the lovely photos and descriptions. this is exactly the sort of thing we love doing, too (well, not so much the long hiking up a mountain!) yes, it is very reminiscent of Africa. How gorgeous those flowers are!! x

  6. Lovely! I spent most of my life in California, but didn't know this part at all.
    California has many hidden treasures.

  7. Maybe you didn`t notice me, but I was in your hip pocket the whole time (used my magic wand to get me there and minimize me), and after you had carried me up (haha, I`m clever), I jumped out and looked all around me, turning slowly, and starting the round again. That is always the best part, I think. Getting the whole picture - the sky, the scent, the hoot-hoot or the jackals` sounds, the warmth of the sun, the colours, the width of it all, the magnificence... Thank you so much for taking me there, Lori and Chuck. Part of me is still there! I`m so glad I have my magic wand, and my computer, and your blog!

  8. AWESOME!!!

    Burrowing owls?!?!? going to have to find out more about them

    love this post

  9. Gosh Lori, I'm impressed. I used to hike in California but you are committed! Wonderful to have a partner to explore with...and how charming you look knitting in the morning before your hike. I never could get the bloom cycle figured out...I would just convince my sister or husband to go with me on a wildflower hike...we'd try to catch the desert in bloom. I felt lucky to see any flowers ... you've found abundance expressed here!!!

    Such a treat to see it through your loving appreciative eyes...the hike seemed tough...but I wish I could join you...maybe I'm too out of practice!

    If my daughter goes to California for college, I will have to go exploring. Great excuse! So sorry you are having trouble getting into my blog...I think I had some automatic blocker...intruding on my guest! (It goes by the name of the 'cookie monster'-what is that cookies?) I think I cleared the block. Let me know if it happens again. When others tell me about problems, I finally figure out why my blogger friends haven't been around.
    Here's my blog email:

    I adore the little toad critter...doesn't the hand look so large in comparison? And those yellow flowers are a treat...I have also wanted to see burrowing owls. What a lovely weekend(?)...are your muscles sore? Blessings to you friend...hoot! Hoot! Hoot!<3

  10. Dear Dreamer, I hope you get a chance too! there is so much to see here that even Californian's don't know about.

    welcome Tulsa and thank you so much for the kind words. It is my pleasure, I am so happy you enjoyed them! where did you live in California?

    Hi Byrd! i coulden't vote for a couple days :( but I was thinking about you and i'm off to do it now!

    thanks Natalie! I would love to see the wildflowers in Australia, wow! do you have to go far to find them? Maybe someday we'll go and have a look for ourselves(and come say hi to you!)

    Dear Karen, Chuck kept saying this is good practice for Africa, you know, scanning the bushes,rocks and plains of grass for wildlife and birds! You would love it on the Carrizo I think.

    Dear Lakeviewer, it's true, many natives don't know and we always get people thanking us for letting them know about places. We feel that when people know and care about a place they want to take care of it, save it.

    Geli, oh I know you would have loved it, I wish we really did have that magic wand but you know, I think this computer is the next best thing. And yes, you were there with me.

    thanks Janis! I am so glad you liked it.

    Janet, yes! burrowing owls! completely facinating, we've never seen them in the wild before, it was so thrilling. Now, I know just what to look for, I can't wait to go back. Have you seen them?

    Dear Cynthia, oh thank you for letting me know that, It's beyond me techically, I can figure out a few things but not this! I am glad to have your email, thank you!
    that morning I was knitting was so blessed, I woke to that sunrise and did a few asanas on my sleeping mat, (helped with the stiff muscles!) and then while all of camp(there were people in the second camp) slept I
    could meditate in the endless space...You must let me know which school your daughter chooses, then we can meet and I can be her mom away from home!

    take good care my friends,
    love, lori

  11. Cool blog!

  12. Hello Lori Ann
    thank you for that splendid trip and hike, it just kept coming and coming. You had enough in there for 6 rich were the visuals

    what did the kids do?

  13. What a wonderful trip. Such majestic scenery. You must have been footsore after all the walking though!

  14. I love your life. Camping, hiking, knitting and taking awesome photographs amid stunning natural wonders. And a husband that makes you breakfast! I love it. When are you off to Mama Africa? (I'm sneaking into your luggage, you know)

  15. Wow, it felt I had a little journey with you looking at these beautiful pictures. Thank you for sharing so many amazing photographs, wonderful landscapes !
    And you had a break for knitting, that´s great!!!!

  16. I lived in San Diego for the most part, but we often went to mountain and camping areas like Julian.
    I miss the camping sites and farms more than I do the coastline...which might seem odd for someone who lived in San Diego! lol

  17. Thanks so much Dennis! I love your blog, I wish I had more time to garden, you are so creative!

    Hi Delwyn! thank you for stopping in, i so appreciate your comment. I do worry about these posts being too long, i am pretty good at editing,I leave alot out, but perhaps it's still a bit much? My kids? they are doing their own thing now, since they are 18-28. Sometimes we can manage to bring one or two on an adventure. I've always been lori times five, but more and more it's becoming lori& Chuck. Maybe my blog needs a new name?i am thinking on this!thank you so much!

    Momcat, thank you for stopping in! and for your generous words of kindness. Yes! my feet were so happy i'd brought my soft slippers, but i didn't get any blisters!

    Lola, oh thanks, we are all so lucky I think. I love your life too, I hope to get to Italy in august, but we'll see...and oh...49 more days!!!!!!!!!!!!! and i'm am making a spot just for you ;)

    Welcome Mina! thank you for such kind words, I am glad you enjoyed my photos, it really is an awesome place. And yes, knitting is great, its so portable! thank you stopping by♥

    Tulsa, oh no,not odd at all. I love the beaches deserts and mountains too. My favorite near San Diego is Anza Borrego, gorgeous place!

    Thank you for all the lovely comments, they are most appreciated.
    xxx lori

  18. When you get back home from Africa, Lori, you will see a figure sitting on your doorstep...waiting, waiting, waiting. She'll quickly help you unpack and, without waiting for you to recover from jetlag, she will grab you by the hand and you will have no choice but to take her up there....up to your Serengeti. And as you and she hike your land together, drinking in the beauty of it all, you'll forget the jet lag and breathe in the clean, pure air as you tell her about the birds and the flowers and the animals who inhabit that glorious place. Later, later - after you've got back home and rested - will you tell her about her Africa.

  19. What beautiful pictures!!You must have had a wonderful time.It shows :D

  20. Hi Lori,

    Another gorgeous adventure. I love what you do. Thanks you.

  21. Feel as though I've been on the journey with you. Absolutely stunning scenery and beautiful photographs.

    CJ xx

  22. Tessa, whoo, wow. you take my breathe away. really. what a beautiful gorgeous comment. love to you.

    Thank you recipe, it was, really wonderful, I feel so lucky.

    Dear Butternut, thats so kind, i do so appreciate your words. And i love what you do too.Thank you.

    Crystal, that means alot to me considering you live in such epic surroundings, and from one photographer to another, thank you.

    xxx lori

  23. I WANT TO GO THERE TOO! A place like that I call paradise!

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xoxo lori