Day 2: Carrizo Plain

Continuing the story from Day 1:

Stretch Goal

I have a stretch goal in mind depending on the weather and when I finally turn in. Carrizo Plain just about 2 hours from Pismo Beach; it’s possible for me to get there for sunrise if I’m up by 4:30am. Fortunately for me the couple in the tent nearby is chatty and the guy in the RV the opposite direction snores enough to be mistaken for the train that passes by every so often. So I’m up at 4 instead.

Hwy 58 in the dark.

All I can see is the trees and the road in my headlights. As far as I can tell I’m driving through a long, dark valley. A few miles from Carrizo Plain there are hints of sunrise, meaning that parts of the sky aren’t as dark as other parts of the sky.

Up until then it’s very clear to the south and the moon hasn’t risen. It’s possible to get some shots of the Milky Way but I haven’t done any serious research for this part of the trip. A photograph of the Milky Way without an interesting foreground is just another picture of the Milky Way. Yeah, it’s fairly interesting, but that’s not enough for me today. I’m also very aware of two other big details:

  1. I don’t see anywhere obvious that I could setup safely. It’s rare but there is the occasional other car on the road.
  2. stopping puts my arrival time at Carrizo Plain at risk.

I don’t like to write about things I didn’t do… but I think you’ll excuse me for writing about not taking a picture of the Milky Way this time.

Soda Lake Point View

I’ve done a little research on the area but not a whole lot. There’s a headlamp visible on top of a hill — it takes a moment to realize that this is the Soda Lake Point View that I had in mind for sunrise. Park, hike up the hill, introduce myself, set up my tripod and my camp chair, and wait. It’s just me and the one other photographer and it’s pretty darned cold. I was prepared for the temperature so no big deal. Pretty soon we’re joined by a few more people who camped nearby.

Moments before sunrise at Carrizo Plain. April, 2019

The sun is over the horizon now but hasn’t crested the ridge to the east yet. There’s enough light to create soft shadows along the hills suggesting volume. A few clouds make an increasingly interesting sky.

Foothills to the northwest in morning light

The foreground becomes more interesting as the flowers become more visible. Every direction offers a compelling composition: volume, color, leading lines. The only thing I purposely ignored was the sun bursting over the ridge.

Road, hills, and wild flowers – using a 70-200mm telephoto

I wanted to use a telephoto lens to isolate some details of the landscape. You’d be surprised how often I use a telephoto in the field. It’s an opportunity to use the characteristics of the lens not only to bring attention to specific elements, but also compress the background.

Some lenticular clouds moved into the scene

Some lenticular clouds moved into the scene as I was shooting. This looked like a good opportunity to switch to a portrait orientation.

Time to get adventurous

Me, the AdventureMobile, and so… many… flowers…

Now I wanted to explore. Soda Lake Road eventually turns to dirt after a few miles. The flowers are opening up more as the sun gets higher so I look for more photo opportunities.

Flowers beside Soda Lake
Seemingly endless flowers

The sea of flowers is almost impossible to convey in words. It’s even difficult in photographs. There’s a spot that I liked at the edge of Soda Lake while the light is still good. Flowers, more flowers, pops of white, yellow, purple and it just kept going.

Shadow Selfie. Just some good fun.

I got back on the road looking for interesting subjects. The light was starting to get bright so there wasn’t much time left for quality photographs. I spotted a shack with a couple of water tanks in the field of grass and flowers against a hilly backdrop.

Shack, water tanks, field, and colorful hills

The pavement ended a few miles ago (yes I’m aware that I switch tense a few times in this story. My favorite grammar experts are probably melting down while reading this. Sorry.) And now there are cows. They’re bewildered by my presence. They’re cows, they’re bewildered by their own shadows.

An exotic, stealthy, cow among the wild flowers. Maybe one of the happiest cows ever.

By about 9:30 am the light is getting too harsh. I’m also super hungry. I know there are a couple of BLM campgrounds along this route and the plan is now to plop down in one, make breakfast, and let whatever happens next happen. That turned out to be that I’d make the best blueberry pancakes ever, make a new friend, and go for a wild flower hike. Note for future reference: the KCL Campground is pretty darned awesome and you can’t beat the price.

Blueberry pancakes, coffee, and bliss

My part of the hike was fairly brief. I only had enough time for a couple of miles and then I needed to get back to Pismo Beach. The view from up the hill was pretty spectacular.

KCL Campground , wild flowers, distant hills, and clouds
Pops of purple, yellow, orange as far as I could see.

More in Part 3…