Leaving Lake Mead – Valley of Fire

Saturday, April 13Before leaving the immediate Lake Mead area, we took one last ride along Lakeshore Rd. We stopped briefly at the Callville Bay Marina. The boat launch for the marina starts out way high above lake level and sharply dips down into the lake – maybe 1/8 mile from the top to the lake. As the level drops, extensions to the boat ramp must be added to reach it. The marina gets pushed further and further out into the lake as it becomes more shallow.We are moving a bit north toward Valley of Fire State Park tomorrow. It is a favorite destination that is becoming more and more crowded. The last time there, we could not get in to camp. It takes some real luck to get a site now. We always try, but it is unlikely. On the way up, we spent a night at Echo Bay. The heat forecast made that decision easy, and Echo Bay has a hook-up RV park to keep us cool. We thought we would have a better chance arriving on a Monday as well.

Valley of Fire State Park
Tuesday, April, 15As expected, there was no room at the inn at VOF. Our backup plan was Poverty Flats, just a few miles north from the park entrance. Sounds bad, but it is a large wide open dispersed BLM camping area that is free. With no protection from the wind that continues to annoy, we won’t be spending much time outside, but we are well situated to enter the park tomorrow and the wind is keeping us cool.We were up and out early, and into the park. We are only here for the day, so we drove directly to the White Domes Road that branches off the main road through the park. The twisty road that leads to the White Domes trail we intend to walk is a wonderful way to see the best of what this park has to offer. Time was, one could stop at just any turn-out or culvert along the road to walk into the landscape and explore. Times have changed. At the start of the road, prominent signs warn to park only in the 3 official areas along the 4 mile road. We will have to park and walk much further to get to interesting areas. Most of the turn-outs are still there, but visitors are not allowed to use them except in emergency. Some still do, but risk a fine. So it goes.We reached the parking area for the hike to find only a couple of cars in the lot. That is a good thing on this short trail. It won’t be long before it is clogged with hikers, but for now it is great for us to have the trail nearly to ourselves. It starts off with a slight uphill slog through a sandy area, but soon gets past that and desends down a rocky trail into the canyon between towering formations of yellow, pink, orange, red and purple sandstone. This park has the most diverse range of sandstone colors I have ever seen in one place. It is simply beautiful. We found a wide variety of wildflowers as we clambered down the rocky trail. Orange Globe Mallow was here, and the yucca stalks were just about to pop. Down near the bottom of the canyon, one wall of stone suddenly ends, and another canyon not on the official trail can be explored. We stayed on the trail though. It drops a bit lower and passes the remains of an old movie set, then drops further into a short slot canyon. Just before the entrance to the slot, a rainbow of color greeted us.
Inside the slot canyon itself, it is less interesting than many I’ve been in before, but just at the exit, smooth multicolored layers of sandstone can be found. In-between, a river of stones flows. It is a striking little spot; one I concentrate on each time I visit. I see something new each time. The slot opens to another wash and the trail wraps up and out, to continue along more sets of strangely eroding sandstone formations. More yellows, oranges and reds. The usual groups were increasing the longer we stayed on the trail. Lots of spring breakers, among them. Just this past week, two young women in different parts of the country, fell to their deaths trying for a selfie. I see lots of risky behavior by a wide range of people. It isn’t anyone in particular.Just a little further on, the views began to open up. A bruised sky greeted us, and later, a few raindrops. Though few in number, the varieties of flowers was nice. The trail soon loops back around the giant formations we’ve been walking around, and meets up again with the road. An adjacent trail lets us walk back to the parking area while avoiding the road. One last sandstone rainbow caught my eye as we walked along this stretch. This one-mile loop packs more variety in a short distance than most places I can think of. For us, that means at least 2 hours of walking and making pictures. By this time, the parking area was full and cars were beginning to line the roadway edges. The first busload arrived. Time for us to leave. We didn’t stop at all along the 4-mile stretch of road in, but now, on the way out, we did. We skipped parking area 3 that was already crowded with people, stopped at parking area 2 for a brief look, but continued it parking area 1 to get out and explore.This is the way I like to explore here. There are no trails – one just walks into the landscape. Find a wash and follow it, or walk along a ledge to see the wider view – it all works here. We spent another couple of hours just wandering through this landscape. It seems new each time I visit. The overcast skies were helping a lot. It was well into the afternoon now, and the light would be very harsh. While it was a bit too cloudy now, the softening effect it had on the landscape, kept us working. One wash I found had sand so soft looking, it seemed to be water. It kept me busy for a time. I always come back to the layered sandstone for the infinite combinations of form and color.
We explored until the wind drove us back to the car. Down in the washes is much more protected, but peak out above, and a new hairdo is in order. We were about ready to call it a day and had begun our drive out, when sunshine broke through again. It instantly transformed the landscape – however temporarily.We took a branch road out to Fire Canyon/Silca Dome to find a nice vantage point while this brief bit of sun lasted. The clouds eventually won out as they once again closed in. We finished our day as the first drops began to fall.We just beat the rain as we arrived back in camp at Poverty Flats.

A Visit to St. Thomas in Lake Mead
Wednesday, April 17As windy and eventually wet yesterday was, today was calm clear and warm. Not a cloud in the sky as yet. We are leaving the area today, but not before we visit the town of St. Thomas nearby. The town was inundated when Hoover Dam caused the water to rise in the 30’s. It was originally a thriving little mormon community. The townspeople decided to move out when it was determined they were actually in Nevada and not Arizona and owed many years of back taxes. It was taken over by wealth businessman Harry Gentry who created a way-station of sorts for people traveling the Arrowhead Trail. They even had a train station and school. Once submerged under 60 ft. of water, it has emerged several times over the years and is once again accessible.

It was an easy 3.5 mile drive out on a gravel road off highway 169 to the parking area. The point sits high on the former bank of the lake – with no sign of water for miles. The trail immediately drops down 70 feet to the lakebed. Again thousands of clam shells cover the ground everywhere water was.On a hot day (like all summer), this trail would be murder. It is cut through solid walls of tamarack, or is completely open with no shade. This morning it is great, but it is already getting warm. All that remains of the town now are a number of concrete foundations and tree stumps. Along this 2.5 mile loop trail are several information boards detailing life in town at the time and what some of the buildings originally were.While we were walking around, I noticed some large flocks of birds in the distance. Closer inspection revealed they were American White Pelicans. These birds are over 5’ long with a wingspan of more than 9’. They were so far away though. We kept on the trail and looked at more foundations. The tallest structure left was the general store that originally a 2-story building. Of the school, all that was left were the steps. As we began to make our way back, more flocks of pelicans began slow circling the sky around us. Each grand circle they made brought them closer, until they were right above us. It was a sight to see.

It was a great way to finish our stay here. We move north later today on our way to Kanab for several days. Looking forward to red rock country

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Lake Mead – White Owl Canyon

Friday, April 12
Our hiking has taken a hit with the winds so active. Mary has an especially hard time with getting grit in her eyes, and it is just not pleasant to walk in that kind of wind. But on Friday, it all came together for a nice hike through a couple of slot canyons, and across part of the now dry lakebed. We still had wind, but hiking inside the canyons should cut that down a lot. The White Owl Canyon trail is not well marked, and it was a little difficult to find any real information on it. My AllTrails ap for the phone was a savior for this trail. Even on the ap, only a partial trail was marked, but users had left recorded hikes they had taken, and it was easy to follow along with those. I downloaded the map to the phone in case I lost cell service I could still GPS track my progress offline.To find the trail, all we had to do was drive down Lakeshore Rd. about 10 miles to Hole 33. The trail starts there – don’t ask me why it’s called that. It is marked on the road and is actually a nice little picnic area with shelters. At one time, this overlook had water lapping at its edge. The view over to the lake is nice, but it was probably much nicer with water nearer.
The only thing marking the trail was a battered sign saying Owl Canyon and pointing down the cliff. It was a little steep and slidy going down – maybe 100 ft. –  to the bottom, but still pretty easy with the hiking poles. Once down it was an easy walk most of the rest of the way. But nothing is marked and there are a number of trails that branch off is various directions. AllTrails made it easy to follow the correct path. Mostly just following the most used trail would work to get one into the canyon. Just look for the trail that branches left toward the canyon. The wind had nearly completely died down once down the initial cliff and once in the canyon it was positively calm and cool. It starts fairly wide, but narrows down quickly. Inside there were sparse patches of wildflowers of several varieties growing here and there. As the canyon narrowed, most plantlike dwindled. Most of the way was an easy gradual rise as the path twists and bends through the deepening slots.
At one of the narrowest sections, a raven began clucking and squawking at us for some reason. I had noticed lots of bird poop on the many ledgers around us, but didn’t know what kind of bird left it. This place is called White Owl Canyon, so I guessed it was that. Eventually, we came to a place where a pile of twigs on the canyon floor tipped us off to the nest above. Looking up, we saw the raven had managed to get a pretty big fuzzy branch of something woven into the nest. The trail continued up about 3/4 of a mile to the first of two culverts we needed to pass through. Above is the main Lakeside Rd. and beyond is another paved former road, now bike path we will also have to hike under. The culverts reminded me of the 60’s TV show The Time Tunnel. Yes I remember it, but no I could never watch it. Of the 4 stations our TV got, it was on the one that was mostly static – even when someone touched the rabbit ears. Anyway, we had a little fun with culverts. On the other side of the culvert, the canyon begin to widen again. Just as Mary was beginning to warn me about snakes, I shouted to her to STOP! I had just passed this little guy and it barely registered as to what kind it was. Mary was right behind me. Ah, but it was just a harmless litter garter or some such. So the trail eventually passes under the bike path. After that, one must find a way out of the canyon. It was an easy thing to walk a little further up the canyon until the edges soften to rolling kind of hills, then walk up and out to the bike path. This was most likely the lakeside road before the water dropped. Now it has been half repaved for hikers and cyclists. The path was lined with blooming brittlebush flowers, and a few other popping through the cracks. It was an easy walk about a mile down this path to the next canyon we were to return on. AllTrils once again make it easy to pick which canyon to use – we passed a couple. This one was a little more open and had loads of brittlebush growing in the sandy wash. There was just one scary looking drop-off on the way back. But once up close, it turned out to have a pretty easy sit-and-step way to get down. At the bottom was a strange looking wooden frame that I’m sure had a story to it. The trail eventually pops out of the hills and it’s an easy walk back down the gently sloped lakebed. Much of this part of the trail was under maybe 50 ft. (a guess) of water at one time. AllTrails told me where to turn right to return to the parking area. I probably didn’t really need the ap for that. Most of the trail is pretty self-evident, but it’s nice to know for sure. The trail continues to wrap around and over a number of little buttes as it slowly rises to lake views again. In one shallow portion, we detected a number of white pelicans frolicking about. That was a surprise. As the trail rose higher, it got winder again, but not so bad that we couldn’t stop for a nice lunch break and view. On much of the lakebed, thousands of clamshells can be found. They are everywhere. A discussion ensued about whether they are ancient shells or just the result of losing their water and getting left high and dry. Signs are at all the boat ramps to beware of attached clams.This was a really nice hike for variety of flowers and animal life and terrain. One worth doing again another time. We returned to camp, but went out again later to see sunset from Sunset Point Overlook not far from us. We are trying to figure out where to go next. Immediate plans are to motor up to Valley of Fire State Park for a few days. We held out till past Easter hoping to score a campsite in the park instead of 10-20 miles outside in some of the BLM boon docking areas. The next few days call for 85+ temps, and high winds. Then 65 and cloudy, then hot again. Could be worse.

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The Neon Museum, Las Vegas

Thursday, April 11
The winds have calmed down quite a bit and it is supposed to stay nice for the next few days before it gets much hotter again. The only thing keeping the region cool is the series of storms raking across the northern U.S. They are getting the cold rain and snow, we are getting high winds and nice temps. In between each storm, high 80’s bounce right in with 90’s soon to come.Mary had been lobbying me to drive into Vegas, about 30 miles from our camp, to visit the Neon Museum. It is located more on the outskirts of town, so fully immuring ourselves in the culture of Vegas would not be necessary. I could live with that. We got there in early afternoon. It was warm, but not too windy.The entrance is actually the Lobby of the now demolished La Concha Motel. They actually cut the structure into 3 sections, transported it to this location and reassembled it. It also has replica lighting fixtures, desk and carpeting. The only think missing is the cigarette machine.We chose the self-guided daytime tour of the grounds. There are only around 12 restored working signs on the grounds and we didn’t want to stay late to see them in the dark. The museum is mostly outside, so night is the only way to see them in their glory. All the rest of the hotel/motel business signs are in various states of decay, Also is pretty restricted. One camera and one lens to a person. No video. Personal use only. The museum is on a relatively small piece of land, but they cram a lot into that space. It is arranger in a sort of U shape, with a few branches to explore. It has been a struggle for the non-profit to succeed. They’ve done well to secure the signs they have, and the restored signs with neon are cool to see. It is not only hotel neon that is here. Restaurants and other businesses of the neon era are represented as well. The volunteer staff was eager to fill us in as to the history and location of every recognizable sign. I could appreciate the nostalgia and art of what remains, but not being a huge Vegas lifestyle fan, the history is just kinda, meh. It was more fun for me to just play with the mish-mash of shapes and color. Of course, nothing “Vegas” is really complete without something Elvis. So there in a back patio was the Elvis star from a hotel “Walk of Fame”. Not sure where in Las Vegas it came from, but it is here now. We’ve moved over to the Park Service campground that was right next to the RV park. Both are park service properties, actually. While we have no hook-ups here, there is a dump and water available – and free wifi!!. It actually works better than at the RV park. All for the senior price of $10/night. I’ve scoped out a really nice looking hike that goes through a couple of slot canyons, for tomorrow morning. In the meantime, we enjoyed our view from our new space.

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Lake Mead & Hoover Dam

Monday, April 8
For my current photography project, Into the Anthropocene, I have been photographing places where humans have greatly altered the ecosystems in order to provide for the needs of our ever expanding population. I’ve been looking at the impacts in Agriculture, Energy, and Water – three essentials to sustain human life. To that end, I wanted to come here, Lake Mead – the largest reservoir in the United States – to explore the possibilities of a dwindling water supply.

Lake Mead, finished in 1933, was last full 33 years ago. In that time, due to drought and increasing demand, lake capacity has dropped more than 60 percent, and it is thought that it may never fill again. The Colorado River is heavily over-allocated and states are scrambling to claim every bit they can.

What remains, most prominently as water recedes, is the bathtub ring – a whitish coating of mineral deposits leached out of the rock while submurged. The ring indicates the high water mark reached in spring 1986. I wanted to photograph the ring in a way that would express the precariousness of our current water situation, and what better subject than a draining reservoir.
Lake Mead has become a very popular aquatic playground and outdoor destination and quite a few campgrounds have sprung up around it. We found a pleasant little RV Park near the current edge of the lake and took up residence for a few days. It is hot and very windy here, so we choose an electric site instead of staying in the Park Service campground adjacent to the RV park.
The view from our site is pretty good right off the bat, but after setting up, we drove off to explore the lake edge in more detail. There was no mistaking the ring all around the lake. It was very visible in the great afternoon light. Several islands prominently showed the whiteish ring below a brown tip.  It is a stark contrast between the two. Some of these islands were completely submerged 30 years ago.
We drove around the area looking for vantage points from which to make images. We came to the end of the lake access road that looked out over the lake and the newest location of the moving marinas. The winds had picked up this afternoon, making some interesting patterns on the water below. We were done for the day, but plan to visit Hoover Dam in the morning.

Hoover Dam
Tuesday, April 9
The high winds are still with us and beginning to cause dust to rise into the air. Because of this, we decided to go visit Hoover Dam, just a few miles from our camp. It might be a little more protected around the complex and we can go inside if the wind is bad. While I was pretty happy with a few of the images I made yesterday afternoon, I really wanted to get closer-up to the ring. In the close vicinity of the dam itself, I could do that.After pulling off Highway 15, we drove the twisty dam road to the security entrance where every car was required to open all windows and trunks for inspection – we were asked if we had any firearms and, specifically, whether we had any marijuana onboard. We continued on down to the dam itself, and after crossing the spillway bridge, found a parking space about a quarter mile from the visitor center. This gave us a great chance to retrace our drive on foot across the spillway and dam.Dams of this magnitude are impressive bits of human engineering, especially when thinking back to 1933 when it was completed. It went a long way toward taming the Colorado River.The architectural elements are very art deco and are repeated in later additions to the complex. Most fascinating to me was the now dry spillway. When the water was high, it would divert away from the dam and pass over a rounded barrier, then falling into the spillway and chute to be routed down through the rock cliffs around the dam and redeposited on the other side. It is simply amazing it hasn’t been used in over 30 years. It seems to be only collecting rocks.As I had hoped, there were better views of the calcified rock around the dam. I feel like the scale and impact close-up is better to convey the depth of the drop. After crossing the spillway, we continued across the dam itself. Dams are such impressive works to view. I am always impressed as to what humans can conceive and create. It is at once massive and delicate seeming as is the bridge that crosses the Colorado just beyond the dam. In the visitors plaza, I was enjoying the bronze sculpture dedicated to those who conceived and built the this Dam.
Rubbing the toes seems to be a thing people like to do. We walked around the plaza a bit, entered the visitor center and looked around at some of the exhibits. The wind continued to howl. Of course, if there is a flat surface somewhere, people will throw money at it. Not sure what the lock is for. Since it has a heart etched on it, perhaps someone thought to affix it to the dam somehow. I think the heavily armed guards patrolling the span would not look well on something like that. We finished up at the dam and set out again to scout some other locations. A number of spots stood out and we took note to visit again.
There is still some ebb and flow of the lake as winter snows melt each year. Down at lake level, evidence of this can be seen in the tamarisk now partially underwater. We have a few more days in the area before we move a bit north. Hoping for the wind to calm down.

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Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

Afternoon in the Reserve
Thursday, April 4

It is difficult to imagine a place more impressive in concentration of color than Carrizo, but the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve would come pretty close. It is at peak bloom right now and we are told it will stay that way through April this year. This is one of the better blooms the reserve has seen in quite a few years and it is quite amazing. Our last visit here, 9 years ago, was very good as well, but due to my dropping the computer power-brick on the spot just above the hard drive, we lost most everything shot of our first 2 weeks travels that year.

We arrived at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds campground in Lancaster, CA in the early afternoon. The only draw to stay here was because it is only 11 miles to the reserve, and the fairgrounds have full hook-ups. Beyond the hook-ups, it is just a parking lot with a couple of trees. I’ve noticed as we’ve driven around the area, there seem to be plenty of boon-docking places, but they were out in the open and very exposed to the severe winds we’ve been having. There were other choices for RV parks, but they were further away and more expensive. We plan to spend most of our time out.After setting up and resting for a bit, we set out for the reserve. Traffic was very light all the way in, but that was mostly because everyone was already there. As we got closer, parked cars began lining either side of the road. And with good reason. Poppies were everywhere on the flatlands. It is hard to not want to stop and explore and many people were. Being outside the reserve, people seemed to be fine with walking all through them. We kept going though, until we arrived at the entrance, just off Lancaster Road. At the start of the long driveway up to the entrance station, a sign warns of a 1 hour wait to get to the parking area. Fortunately for us it was only about a 10 minute wait. Loads of people had parked along the main roadway, despite the “No Parking Anytime” signs, and walked in saving the $10 entrance fee. I never mind paying a fee that goes to maintaining a place like this.There are plenty of varieties of poppy to be found in California, but only the very orange California poppy – the official state flower – grows here. There are loads of other non-poppy flowers to be found, but no other poppy but the California. The effect of all that orange is kind of freakish in the way it swarms over the hills. Fiddleneck is here too in abundance. As is yellow Goldfield and Bigelow Coreopsis. Phacelia, Blue Dicks, Owls Clover and Davy Gilia. This is just what is blooming now. As the month goes on, other varieties will bloom. In the vicinity of the visitor center, where all the trails into the hills begin, it is quite crowded with people coming and going – even this late in the day. But most don’t make it more than a mile over the 7 plus miles of trails, so just a little walking got us away from the bulk of the visitors. The dirt paths are wide and easy to walk. Signs are everywhere to tell people to stay on the paths, and most pretty well pay attention. As the trails wound in and around, up and down the hills, new views of the valley around us constantly stopped us short to goggle. Do colors like this really exist? Places where they blend create an amazing calico of color. The light cloud cover we had originally was getting heavier now. An approaching storm is bringing us clouds and cold, cold wind and because of that, the poppies were not open. They crave warm sun and calm winds, otherwise they stay closed. It is still an impressive experience walking through miles of the colorful hills. It is really nice that many of the surrounding hills outside the reserve are also blooming and the hugeness of it all is impressive. Several dirt roads outside the park can take people into different areas to explore.
The clouds were getting heavy enough to really deaden the light and the 30 mph sustained gusts were increasing coming more often. By 5 PM we were ready to get out of it all and headed back to the car, then camp. We plan an early morning tomorrow. Hoping for early warm sun and less wind, but it may be a repeat of today – which wouldn’t be terrible, but making some photos of poppies that were open would be nice. Back in camp, I noticed our neighbor next to us walked by quickly with a large bird on his arm. Then he walked by with another. These were not parrots or parakeets, but falcons. He had 3 in all, and was a bit frantic because he had lost one while out working them in the area. He thought the high winds had probably blown it away and he had spent the past couple of days looking for it. Apparently he rents them out for vermin control (which he admits is work that is beneath their dignity). I didn’t get any photos as he was quite upset about the loss and I wanted to respect that.

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve – Day 2
Friday, April 5
More windy conditions greeted us this morning, but the only clouds around are hanging over the mountains at this point, so we should have a sunnier day to enjoy. We were at the reserve just before 8 AM, paid our $9 senior rate to get in and were on on the trail quickly. The reserve opens at sunrise, which would have been around 7 AM, but with all the poppies closed, I didn’t feel a need to be here at the crack. Having more sunlight transformed the look of the reserve. We first walked one of the trails most heavily used. In just a little while, there will be throngs walking these paths and it is just a little nicer walking the trails without all the distractions. Despite the sunshine, the poppies remained closed until much later in the day. The cold wind was the problem. All this nice light did serve to add extra life to the fields – not that they needed it – so we still spent the entire morning happily making pictures. There aren’t really a lot of words needed to explain what we did. We walked, we looked, we photographed. It was nearing noon by now and getting winder, so we retreated back to the car to get out of it for a while. It is not nearly as windy down out of the hills, so we sat with our lunch and coffee and watched the underdressed crowds stream by. Underdressed because many were in lightweight shorts and shirts that are fine down low, but as soon as one gets into the hills, the wind begins to cut right through. We came dressed in long pants, heavy jackets and wool caps and gloves. We were toasty and could stay out for hours. Unfortunately what we didn’t see 9 years ago that is here now is encroaching private industry in the form of wind and solar farms in the area. They are huge facilities. From a distance the solar farms resemble vast lakes in the amount of land they require. Some of that land used to be poppies. After our lunch break, we set out again to retrace one of the perimeter trails we’d done yesterday. We waited a little too long though, as heavier clouds were now beginning to creep over the valley, cutting down the light. But many of the poppies were now open in the lower protected areas! The effect of masses of open flowers was to sort of flood the landscape with saturation.  I could also now do more close-up views of the flowers. Closed, shriveled poppies just don’t look great close up. By late afternoon, the sky had clouded over again, and flowers were closing up shop for the day. Feeling pretty windblown and tired, but not ready to leave yet, we took the car and headed for some of the perimeter dirt roads outside the preserve that crisscross the area. It is always good to look for other perspectives. We spent another hour or two bumping over backroads before calling it a day. Back at the fairgrounds, our neighbor had still not found his missing bird.

Tomorrow, we begin our travel to Lake Mead in Nevada. I’m interested in photographing the “bathtub ring” that indicates the high water mark of the reservoir reached many years ago. I want it to be part of my latest series, Into the Anthropocene, but not sure how well it will photograph or if will translate as lack of water. Should be interesting.

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Carrizo Plain National Monument

Elkhorn Road
Wednesday April 3
After a full day of bouncing over washboard roads on Monday, we decided to take a day off from driving and stayed in camp trying to catch up on image processing and blogging. Come Wednesday, we were again ready to explore the monument. On our way out on Monday, we’d seen a vast field of purple that seemed miles long. Experience told us it was Phacelia, a low growing plant with sweet smelling flowers. It was mid-afternoon when we saw the patch, so we decided an afternoon excursion would be best.

We found Elkhorn Road out of Maricopa with no problem. It was a little curious when we saw multiple big-rigs turning off on the same road. The road is paved at this point, but, where were they going? We soon turned off onto Elkhorn Grade Road to start our accent into the hillsides. Before we turned off, a sign indicating a Nestles/Purina facility somewhere further down the road. Chocolate and pet food, hmmm.The start of this part of the road rises quickly into the hills. It is narrow and windy, and steep, but we ran into few other vehicles going either way so it was pretty easy going in the RAV4.This dirt track can be treacherous when wet, but today it is in pretty good shape as no significant rain has fallen for a couple of weeks.There were nice views of the flower frosted hills along this section of road. Once on top, lovely open views were all around.Elkhorn Grade Rd. then winds it’s way out of the hills, and we found ourselves on the Elkhorn Plain. The road is flat, and straight and goes and goes for 30 miles or more. Our first view as we rounded a bend stopped us in our tracks. Fiddlenecks, Phacelia, and Goldfield were arranged in layers on the gently rising plain, butting up against the Temblor mountain range. We eased our way down to the huge patch. Multiple single track roads branch-off Elkhorn into the various patches along the way. We took the one nearest this patch and spent a long while taking it all in.Elkhorn continues up the plain, cutting through miles and miles of fiddleneck fields with occasional explosions of Goldfield and Phacelia. We drove a few more miles, but it was looking very much the same for a good long distance, and it was getting to be late afternoon. I’m sure there were other wonderful spots out there, but our time here was done. We turned around at a final field of gold before calling it quits, Tomorrow we travel the 80 miles  to Lancaster, CA to visit the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. The word is that the reserve is at peak bloom right now and we want to visit before the weekend crowds arrive. It should be good!

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Highway 58 and Carrizo Plain National Monument

Driving Highway 85
Monday, April 1
We had just 60 miles to drive on Sunday to get to the Carrizo Plain from Santa Margarita where we’ve been staying the past few days. The route on Highway 58 is quite twisty as it wraps and dips in and around the rolling hills – enough so that we decided to disconnect the RV from the RAV and drive separately until it straightened out.

The route took us right past Shell Creek Rd again. This being Sunday, there was a crowd of cars at the turnoff and I could see loads of people casually walking right through them. Once past there, and for the next several miles, we saw multiple places where stopping by the side of the road to photograph would be worthwhile. There are lots of pull-outs all along the way, but stopping in the RV on this road is too dicy for me, so we just kept going until we reached out new camp.

Buena Vista Aquatic Recreation Area is a County Park not real convent to Carrizo, but it has the amenities for comfort after a long day. It is This is a water play park built around a reservoir that was itself carved out of an ancient dry lakebed, all so folks can put in their boat or jet ski and go fast. There is fishing too. It is a full hook-up park which always makes life a littler easier and most of the sites have some shade. We took a site just across from the lake that, once the Spring-Breakers packed up, left us with a nice view of the lake and surrounding valley.The slight chances of rain over the next couple of days should work to keep things cool and fresh and also provide the softer light that I usually prefer, although a lack of sun could keep flowers from opening fully. We relaxed at our site the rest of Sunday, ready for the long day of drive/photo.Come Monday morning, we were up and out a little after sunrise and headed again to Highway 58. This is essentially the only nearby way through the hills to get to Carrizo. There are few reasons to even be on this road unless you are a rancher or looking for the bloom. There is nothing but rolling hills and road. Perfect for us. Coming over 58 from Santa Margarita on Sunday, the road was very busy, but today, this early, there are few cars and we had a lovely drive through. Actually, this road was the biggest surprise of the trip so far.Once we crossed the California Aqueduct and began rising above the oilfield covered scablands, the hills became green, then infused with color. Flowers were thick on some hillsides, non-existent on others.
As we got higher in the hills, the patches of flowers exploded into masses of yellow, purple and gold. The further into the hills we got, the thicker the flowers. We stopped for an old ranch house nestled into masses of tidy tips and fiddle-neck flowers. Whole hills were covered in lemon yellow.On quite a few of the southern facing hills, flowers were seemingly splashed like paint across their surfaces.
Eventually we got through the hills and quickly found a shortcut into the Carrizo monument that shortened the drive a bit.

Into Carrizo Plain National MonumentHighway 58 eventually comes out of the hills where a shortcut road into the monument can be taken to bring us to Soda Lake Road, the main road through the monument. The wildflowers here are pretty much the same as through the hills, but they stretch out sometimes as far I could see. Up on the Soda Lake Overlook, we found Baby Blue Eyes, and looking out over the plain, the orange fiddlebacks seems to go on forever. We drove further down Soda Lake Rd, which is largely a washboarded gravel track, quite busy for a Monday. Eventually, we branched off Soda Lake Rd, to drive a bit on Elkhorn road on the east side. This track is very narrow, all dirt and when wet, impassable. Today it is in great shape and we followed it for several miles. More really nice patches were found all along the road. When the view opened up, the vast plain was a carpet of flowers. Evidence of old farm equipment and storage tanks dot the landscape. We started back to camp around 3 pm. We’ve only scratched the surface of the monument this day. On the way out, a giant patch of purple could be seen across to the eastern side. It must have been a mile long and nearly as wide. Tomorrow we will be attempting the rough Elkhorn road. It is less traveled and high clearance is recommended. If the road is dry, it won’t be a problem.

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