The stark and striking landscape on the east side of Los Padres National Forest's Caliente Range is rarely visited by Paso Roblans, even though it is a short drive. There are no lush Sierra ferns, no mighty coastal Redwoods, and certainly no picture quality waterfalls. But there is the beauty of simplicity, peacefulness and primal quality waiting to give you the sense of being someplace singularly rare.
Blazing hot in summer, these former grasslands have been ranched and dry farmed for years. And years before that, the Chumash, Yokut and others hunted and traded here. There presence has been recorded in the numerous rock paintings found at various sites.
The Carrizo Plain is a huge drainage basin that has formed Soda Lake, a five mile long salt-encrusted body of water (or mud). From the Overlook vantage point it radiates a white, somewhat surreal glory. Dust devils rise like silver ghosts from its shores.
The Bureau of Land Management now owns the 40 mile long National Monument, so free access and roaming is restricted. Camping, hiking, birding and area tours provide the means to get to know the valley. You need to call the museum in advance to see the rock paintings and get other information at: 805-475-2131.
The best time to visit is in the spring after a really wet winter. Unfortunately, our early April visit yielded little in the way of wildflower displays. Not much rain last year.
We drove about four miles to a small picnic area that was the trailhead to the rock paintings. The BLM prohibits distributing pictures of the paintings in print or on the Internet, so we can only show you the rock from a distance. Hoping to hear a few rattlesnakes and voices of former guests echoing from the rocks, I was sadly disappointed. The only rattler we enjoyed was a four footer that meandered along the path we took from the Overlook to Soda Lake an hour before.
The grasses were lingeringly green, with a bit of ochre, silver and mahogany mixed in. Various, unobtrusive wildflowers were painted here and there, making a beautiful blend color.
Links for more info: