I should have reported back about my trip to Carrizo Plain in late March and thanked those who offered ideas or suggestions. Bakersfield is not the ideal forum for Carrizo Plain, but no established forum is because there are no major towns near it and none of the nearby towns are big enough to have TA forums. Since Atascadero is the nearest major town on the west side, I guess I'll post this on that forum too.
I left SF at midday, so I went down 101 as far as Atascadero and stopped overnight. I think that’s about the closest town of any size near the north end of Carrizo Plain. The biggest thing there is the state hospital, which means food and lodging choices are adequate if not luxurious. Then it is about 60 miles farther, passing through Santa Margarita, a hamlet with small businesses on a charming ¼- mile long main street but no lodgings. If you want anything at all before getting to the preserve, that is the last place to get it.
Hwy 58 from there is rural and easy on the eyes: rolling hills, ranches and farms, and lots of green. Carrizo Plain appears somewhat abruptly, because it’s between two mountain ranges and is pretty flat and dry. This is where the San Andreas Fault can literally be seen. Soda Lake Road takes off from Hwy 58 and goes to the preserve; there are a few farms and ranches along the way around a settlement called California Valley, but no visitor services.
The first major place I saw was Soda Lake, a dry lakebed filled with mineral deposits that reminded me of a mini-Badwater. There is a boardwalk to the lakebed and an overlook of the lakebed on a small nearby hill. I had found that the visitor center is not open every day and I would miss it, but I went anyway and saw a garden of native plants and some warning signs about snakes. In the concrete of the path around the visitor center and garden are tracks of some of the local wildlife: kangaroo rats, San Joaquin kit foxes, and others. They are replicas, of course, because you couldn’t rely on an assortment of critters to show up on time and cooperate to walk across newly poured concrete before it sets!
There are two campgrounds, Selby and KCL. According to the website description and pictures, Selby is flat with no shade, so I didn’t go see it. I did go to KCL, which was the ranch HQ for a former land owner in the area, Kern County Land Co. An old KCL barn is still there, along with the old ranch entrance sign and brand. The campground has trees, RV sites and an area for tents, a deluxe outhouse (the permanent type with decent ventilation and a concrete floor), and corrals for visitors’ horses. It was spring break week for many schools and I saw one group, a family with a couple of kids and an RV. I have a feeling the place seldom gets too busy. While looking around, I saw some big round rust-reddish beetles and wanted to take pictures, so I put a spare AA battery next to one of them for scale, and that bug actually began pushing on the battery and was able to roll it on ground with coarse sandy soil for about an inch!
Farther south is the Traver Ranch, another of the old land holdings and now an exhibit area. Along the main north-south road, the fault can be seen at various points, and near the south end of the preserve is a large sag pond that you can get close to. A sag pond is a body of water that forms in a depression along a fault line. For those familiar with San Mateo County, Crystal Springs and San Andreas Lakes near Hwy 280 would be enormous examples of sag ponds.
I didn’t stay overnight in the preserve, because I had a couple of other destinations in mind and this was mainly a survey trip to see the lay of the land and get an idea what is there (for one thing: scads of colorful wildflowers). I didn’t have my Silver Mule, but a rented sedan, so I didn’t take any real backcountry roads. Mainly, I wanted to see if this was a place where I wanted to spend more time, and I’ll definitely plan on going back. The place I’d pick to stay is KCL Campground.
Going out the south end, there’s a choice of going west to Cuyama Valley, south to Ojai, or east to I-5 near Lebec and Gorman. I went east because I had intended to go to the Santa Clarita area to revisit sites connected with the St. Francis Dam disaster which I wrote about in the Los Angeles forum in March. So I took Cerro Noroeste Road through Los Padres National Forest. It’s a mountain area and was cool but not cold, and there was very little snow left. Frazier Park is the main community on the way and it looks like a mix of permanent and vacation residents. On I-5, I stopped for an early dinner at the Ranch House in Gorman. I hadn’t stopped at Gorman in eons because it isn’t strategically located for meals for someone traveling either way between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
My original thought had been to continue to the Saugus and Newhall areas, San Francisquito Canyon, and the general disaster area from the 1928 dam collapse. But one of the responses on my original thread said the road had changed, making it harder to find things; and it was getting late and I didn’t feel like messing with the commute traffic. So I scratched that—I can go back on another trip when I have more time—and headed west on 126, which follows the Santa Clara River and the course of the monstrous flood from the collapsed dam, going through the little farming towns along the river, then to Ventura and ending up at Buellton for the night.