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Wildflower tourists are behaving badly at the Carrizo Plain — and ruining the experience

Visitors flocking to the Carrizo Plain to check out the wildflowers have gotten stuck in the mud, blocked traffic and trespassed onto private property in their quest for the perfect view of the bloom.

A rainy winter has brought a super bloom to much of California.

Although the bloom on the national monument has yet to reach its peak, tourists have already begun to make their flower pilgrimages to southeastern San Luis Obispo County.

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Visitors take photos of wildflowers in Phacelia Field north of Traver Ranch in the Carrizo Plain National Monument in San Luis Obispo County. Kristen Vassaur

That’s creating hassles for some nearby residents, who’ve been dealing with the increased traffic and vehicles parked on road shoulders along Highways 58 and 229 near Santa Margarita and Creston.

“There’s definitely an uptick in traffic,” Officer Jared Sobrya of the California Highway Patrol’s Templeton office said.

Sobrya said CHP hasn’t seen too many bad traffic collisions yet, but he recommended against parking on road shoulders — they can be soft following rain and can create traffic hazards.

Drivers should instead use larger turnouts, which are safer, he said.

Some of the roads in the area around the Carrizo Plain can also be muddy and impassable after rain. Sobrya said drivers should look out for signage warning them of road conditions.

Panorama and Simmler roads within the monument can take weeks to dry out, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management (BLM) website.

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A field of purple wildflowers in the Carrizo Plain National Monument. Matthew Wilkins

Flower tourist courtesy

In addition, most all of the land around Highway 58 — which visitors typically take to travel out to the Carrizo Plain — is privately owned.

Tony Cipolla, a spokesman for the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office, said the agency hasn’t yet received any reports of trespassing.

But visitors should be aware that any land not within the monument is likely private property.

That includes the flower-covered fields along Shell Creek Road and the frequently-photographed Temblor Range, which is covered with golden blossoms during big blooms.

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Matthew Wilkins helps retrieve a vehicle stuck in clay mud near the Carrizo Plain National Monument. Scott Stevenson

Matthew Wilkins of San Luis Obispo has been traveling to the Carrizo Plain for nature excursions every other month for the past three years.

On a recent trip, he said he encountered a lot of flower tourists unprepared for the remoteness of the monument — especially unpaved roads where their vehicles could easily get stuck in the mud.

He and his friends encountered overturned vehicles, and they even helped dig one San Jose family’s crossover SUV out of deep mud.

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Steep, uneven side roads west of Soda Lake Road in the Carrizo Plain National Monument. Matthew Wilkins

Wilkins said he saw people tromping through flowers and driving over blooms and through vernal pools during their visit. He compared the area to the Yosemite Valley Floor: “It’s a little bit like Disneyland,” he said.

He said those going to the monument should travel with others and stick to Highway 58 and Soda Lake Road unless they have a shovel, air compressor and other off-roading equipment.

“It was sad, but it was also the most beautiful time I’ve ever been out there,” Wilkins said.

Have you been out to the Carrizo Plain National Monument this spring? Let us know if you see anything particularly beautiful or egregious. Email reporter Lindsey Holden at lholden@thetribunenews.com or call her at 805-781-7939.

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Lindsey Holden writes about housing, North County communities and everything in between for The Tribune in San Luis Obispo. She became a staff writer in 2016 after working for the Rockford Register Star in Illinois. Lindsey is a native Californian raised in the Midwest and earned degrees from DePaul and Northwestern universities.
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