Carrizo Plain

Carrizo Plain


To get a real sense of what California looked like 200 years ago, drive out of Paso Robles to the Carrizo Plain National Monument. Beautiful in its remoteness and stark desolation, the Carrizo Plain encompasses the largest single native California grassland left in the state and contains the most concentrated number of the state’s endangered species. The area is huge: fifty miles long and fifteen miles wide, about 250,000 acres. Soda Lake is in the center, which is a 3000 acre alkali lake.

Summer is not the time to come out here. It’s too hot for exploration in the summer and cold and barren in the winter. In the dry season, it’s a desert. The time to go is in the spring and early summer when the wildflowers burst forth.

The two reasons to venture out to the Carrizo Plain is to see the infamous San Andreas Fault and to see Painted Rock. The monolith known as Painted Rock is sandstone, rising 45 feet above the grassy flatness of the Carrizo Plain. The rock is covered in ancient Indian petroglyphs and pictographs that were made by the early Chumash (from 2000 B.C until 600 A.D.) and later the Yokuts, who followed them. The native peoples considered this place sacred. Some of the art is hard to see now, due to exposure to the elements and previous vandalism. The rock is in a horseshoe shape and the center section is more protected making the images more discernable. This is now a National Monument and a protected area. There is no climbing or is now a National Monument and a protected area. There is no climbing or walking allowed on any rock surfaces and no marring, scratching or drawing is permitted. Painted Rock is protected by the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and violations may result in fines and imprisonment. Beginning in spring 2011, a Bureau of Land Management permit will be required before visiting Painted Rock.

The visitor center is open from December to the end of May, Thursday through Sunday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The walk from the visitor center to Painted Rock is 3/4 mile one way. There are weekend tours in April and May, interpretive displays, a diorama about the area’s animals and a mural painted by Santa Barbara artist John Iwerks reflecting the stark beauty and diversity of the Carrizo Plain. (805) 475-2131.

The Guy L. Goodwin Educational Center requests that visitors call for information before coming out. A lot of planning should go into a visit to the Carrizo Plain. This is a tough and desolate place. Be prepared. Go with a is now a National Monument and a protected area. There is no climbing or walking allowed on any rock surfaces and no marring, scratching or drawing is permitted. Painted Rock is protected by the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and violations may result in fines and imprisonment. Beginning in spring 2011, a Bureau of Land Management permit will be required before visiting Painted Rock.

The visitor center is open from December to the end of May, Thursday through Sunday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The walk from the visitor center to Painted Rock is 3/4 mile one way. There are weekend tours in April and May, interpretive displays, a diorama about the area’s animals and a mural painted by Santa Barbara artist John Iwerks reflecting the stark beauty and diversity of the Carrizo Plain. (805) 475-2131.

The Guy L. Goodwin Educational Center requests that visitors call for information before coming out. A lot of planning should go into a visit to the Carrizo Plain. This is a tough and desolate place. Be prepared. Go with a full tank of gas, maps, extra food and water, and even extra clothing, first aid kit, and a signal mirror. Weather conditions can change fast as can road conditions. Stay on established trails and wear sturdy shoes. Recreational target shooting is prohibited. Remember that services are miles away. And there is no cell phone reception on the Carrizo Plan but 911 calls are answered by the CDF station in California Valley.

Also, maps show that you can go all the way from the Monument to Highway 166 but this is a long stretch road, most of it dirt. It’s not advisable to go out this way.




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