‘Pictures don’t really do it justice’: Shell Creek may be SLO County’s best wildflower spot

Visitors have been checking out the wildflowers along Shell Creek Road and Highway 58 for years — but they may not have known the land is actually part of a century-old family ranch.

The Sinton family has owned 6,000 acres in the Shandon area of northern San Luis Obispo County since 1906, much of which is used for beef cattle ranching.

The family’s Avenales Ranch holdings also include more than 12,000 acres in the Pozo area, which the family preserved through a California Rangeland Trust easement in 2017.

Aside from cattle ranching, the family also grows wine grapes, most of which they sell to other wineries.

Some of the Shell Creek Road fields where the family’s cattle graze are home to wildflowers — this year, they‘re creating a carpet of orange, blue, yellow and purple, thanks to a particularly wet winter.

In the best years, a multi-colored “Persian Carpet” of flowers sprouts at the Avenales Ranch property near the intersection of Shell Creek Road and Highway 58, including California poppies, baby blue eyes and tidy tips and goldfields. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Ranchland flowers

California poppies, goldfields and baby blue eyes are all visible — and lupines aren’t likely far behind, said Daniel Sinton, Avenales director of operations.

“Pictures don’t really do it justice,” he said.

The flowers — which aren’t too far from another spectacular bloom on the Carrizo Plain National Monument — draw locals and visitors alike.

On many spring days, cars and trucks can be seen parked nearby, while people take photos and walk into the fields to ogle the blossoms.

Sinton estimated about 2,000 people visited the wildflowers during the weekend of March 23 and 24.

“We feel that it’s important that everyone enjoy it as much as we do,” he said.

Daniel Sinton is director of operations for Avenales Ranch and part of the fifth generation of a longtime San Luis Obispo County ranching family. The ranch property that includes a Shell Creek Road location that often has a good display of wildflowers along Highway 58. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Cattle and wildflowers

Sinton, part of the family’s fifth generation, said cattle grazing helps create a good wildflower habitat. The cows help reduce competition from grasses and other plants, fertilize the soil and reintroduce the seed bank, he said.

Even with the steady stream of visitors, the fields are still part of a working ranch. On Thursday, Sinton said he helped move 50 cattle through the Shell Creek area.

Cows tend to ignore the wildflowers, instead chowing down on grass — their food of choice, he said.

For the most part, people viewing the flowers are respectful of the private property they’re visiting, Sinton said.

Even so, the family has put up fencing around one field to prevent visitors from driving their vehicles into the flowers, and they also plan to add some signs in the near future, he said.

“There’s enough collective good users that it all works pretty well,” Sinton said.

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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.