In Search of the Bloom

For a week, we’re boondocking on BLM land at the Carrizo Plain National Monument, the largest native grassland in California.

Before I get to why we’re here, I’ll give you a rundown of how we got here, because my friend Susan told me that people don’t understand that this, too, is part of our lifestyle.

(Here is a video of the famous Battle of Tumbleweed verses Banjo to get you through the list.)

Hard Driving, No Signs of Camping


  • Interstate driving so we could avoid LA, which is rough on Tracy: constant vigilance for hours.
  • Night in a Walmart parking lot was a bust when the security guard told us their policy had changed, so had to park in the even-more sketchy back of a strip mall. Lots of homeless people trying to get by.
  • More interstate driving, then nothing but dirt roads at the national monument. No signs of campers anywhere.
  • Dropped the trailer at a trailhead parking area to look for camping pull-offs.
  • Drove along dirt tracks, through cattle fields, opened gates in barbed wire fences, only to find “No Trespassing” signs facing the way we’d come (where were they where we entered?). No campers anywhere, no signs of camping, despite recent online reviews.
  • Hitched back up and drove to one of those parallel paths that’s been created when people drive around a muddy section. Declared that a camping spot.
  • Tried to park the trailer so it’s level, but the leveling blocks kept sliding on the hard-packed dirt, so I held them down with my foot and then pulled it away as Tracy towed the tires onto the blocks. Escaped injury but lost patience and just unhitched the damn thing.
  • Tracy drove back out to the visitors center to find any camping rules. None, so we decided we’re fine and declared this home for a week. Because: two long travel days.

Carrizo Plain

We came to this 250,000 acre, rare-species habitat because this time of year the normally brown plains bloom—sometimes, with the right set of conditions, as a ”super bloom” and look like this.

Photo by Bob Wyck, BLM

However, our timing is nowhere near even a standard bloom, as you can tell from the photo up top.

If you look carefully as you’re walking along the dry fields (you have to look carefully to avoid twisting your ankle in tunnel entrances from kit foxes and giant kangaroo rats and to sidestep blowing tumbleweed), you can spot signs of the bloom’s very beginning.

Each day we’re here we notice a few more blooms, so stay tuned: maybe, before we leave the plains will be covered. (Already as I’m editing this, I’m noticing a sparse carpet of purple.)

Banjo’s Constant Hunt Mode

All those critters on the plains are quick to hide: Banjo spends hours staring into the distance, catching glimpses of ground squirrels jumping into their tunnels. She’s eager to get out there, too, shoving her nose into every tunnel entrance and leaping from one burrow to the next. She is seriously behind on her nap schedule with all this vigilance.

So far, the peace of the plains has been lulling. We sit outside listening to the wind and watching for movement in the distance with Banjo.

The only signs of humans are a car driving by to get to the trailhead; maybe we see two cars a day. We take long walks up to the hills with the San Andreas Fault revealing itself as a white stripe.

We walk along dry Wallace Creek, whose sharp angles draw out the history of plate tectonics. We gaze down at the sandy remains of Soda Lake.

For the last time in maybe months, we’re feeling like we’re alone on the planet. We’re sleeping with the blinds open and watching the sunrise from bed. Tracy is wandering the plains with his binoculars, and I’m walking the dirt road to let my brain unwind.

Signs tell us the plates at the fault move at the rate that your fingernails grow. Everything is so still here that it seems like you can feel that movement.

3 thoughts to “In Search of the Bloom”

  1. I always liked the wide open spaces… sorry to hear about the hassles finding camping spots. I’ve been reading how it’s getting tougher in many places.

    1. I’m just learning about how beautiful wide open spaces are. And yep, crowded campgrounds is even a daily column in the national RV newsletter I subscribe to. Luckily we have reservations for the next umpteen months.