Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Chimineas Ranch and the Carrizo Plains

Chimineas Ranch is a remote and beautiful area just west of the Carrizo Plains National Monument.

The beauty is subtle; the fawn colored hills are sere and seemingly barren - even in early April.

The road meanders endlessly over the rolling hills, light and shadow playing across the far horizon.

Even in such a dry year, there are an amazing number of wildflowers spangling the bleached grasses, carpets of pure gold hugging the lean, sandy soil.

Lasthenia Californica - Common Goldfields

I am fortunate to be invited to view the wildflowers, along with a group that is led by an extremely knowledgeable botanist. Quiet, unassuming, he leads us straight to the areas of greatest interest. At each stop people tumble out of the vehicles, notebooks and reference guides in hand. Plants are scrutinized, animated discussions ensue. More than once loupes are employed to examine pistils, stamens, the tiniest of pollen bearing anthers. At first self conscious (I have no loupe! No field guide!) I soon enter into the spirit of the day and in short order am flinging myself into the grass, camera clicking madly.

In the early afternoon, the group disperses. But as always, the farthest hills beckon and K, L and I hike along a creek into a nearby canyon.

The slopes above the creek are lush with grass - weathered, lichen covered posts bear silent witness to the old cattle ranching days.

Under the trees, elk have matted down the grass as they rest. We spot their distinctive, cloven hoof prints in the damp ground.

As the sun slides over to the west, the colors soften and blur, and lavender shadows wash across the far distant mountains.

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