What drew me to the Carrizo Plain National Monument was its wide open space and a sweeping valley that is considered California’s Serengeti. It is the last of the state’s historic grasslands, where herds of pronghorn and Tule elk still roam. Plus, it’s a safe haven for endangered foxes and other animals, and it’s critical foraging habitat for the California Condor. The monument’s centerpiece is 3,000-acre Soda Lake.
Soda Lake attracts 180 species of birds annually, including Sandhill Crane, Horned Lark, and Long-billed Curlew. Traffic is minimal, so it’s easy to pull over anywhere on Soda Lake Rd. and use a spotting scope or scan with binoculars. The boardwalk on the west side of the lake is ideal for finding birds. Old fence posts from long-gone cattle ranches make convenient perches for Ferruginous Hawk, Great Horned Owl, Merlin, Rough-legged Hawk, Western Meadowlark, Warbling Vireo, and Lark Sparrow.
Directly west of the boardwalk and on the other side of the road is a short trail up a knoll to an overlook, offering fantastic views of the lake and much of the Carrizo Plain. Don’t miss it. — Chuck Graham
Grasslands, oak scrubland, mountains, alkali lake, and ponds.
Mostly flat. Boardwalk is wheelchair-accessible.
180 species. American White Pelican, Green Heron, Tundra Swan, Snow Goose, Lesser Scaup, Loggerhead Shrike, Sage Thrasher, Cedar Waxwing, Bell’s Vireo, Orange-crowned Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco, Bullock’s Oriole, Purple Finch, Eared Grebe, Mountain Plover, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Red-necked Phalarope, Spotted Sandpiper, California Gull, Caspian Tern, Greater Roadrunner, Barn, Burrowing, Long-eared, and Short-eared Owls, Vaux’s Swift, Black-chinned, Costa’s, and Rufous Hummingbirds, Sora, Lazuli Bunting, Common Yellowthroat, Western Kingbird, Mountain Quail, California Condor, Prairie Falcon, Northern Harrier, Swainson’s Hawk.
When to go
Late October through May.
The Goodwin Education Center has an exhibit, gift shop, map, checklist, and restrooms. Two free campgrounds, KCL and Selby Campgrounds, are first-come, first-served. Bring all provisions; closest facilities are 50 miles away.
Bureau of Land Management area. Free admission. Open year-round. Goodwin Education Center open from beginning of December to end of May, Thursday through Sunday, 9-4.
South of education center, Soda Lake Rd. is dirt; be alert for unsigned curves, cattle guards, and loose gravel. Bring a spotting scope.