Carrizo Plain National Monument: Soda Lake Overlook and Wallace Creek Interpretive Trail
In the spring of 2017, the “superbloom” of wildflowers brought on by heavy rains during the winter made its way north from spots such as Walker Canyon and the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve and painted the Temblor Range that straddles Kern and San Luis Obispo Counties in bright yellows and purples, putting the Carrizo Plain National Monument on the map overnight. Despite the monument’s remote location, it is feasible to visit on a day trip: depending on traffic, it can be reached from downtown L.A. in three hours; less from the San Fernando or Santa Clarita Valleys.
If you can’t make it up here for the superbloom, don’t fret: there’s plenty else to see at this monument which spans nearly one quarter million acres. This post describes three short hikes (two of which share a trail head) that provide a nice sample of the interesting geological and topographical features of this landscape.
The Carrizo Plain is a flat valley approximately 2,000 feet above sea level, bordered by the Temblor Mountains on the east and the Calliente Mountains on the west and south. The monument’s dominant feature is Soda Lake, a large, seasonal body of alkali water. The lake can be seen up close by following a short trail through seasonal wildflowers, including fiddlenecks, goldfields and larkspur. You soon reach a boardwalk which crosses over the wetlands to a vista point. After enjoying the views of the lake and reading the interpretive plaques, head back to the parking lot, cross the street and follow a short dirt road up to another trail head (with restrooms). Here, a short climb brings you to the top of a small hill where you can enjoy impressive views of Soda Lake and the Temblors beyond.
The Wallace Creek Interpretive Trail is on the opposite side of the lake. It provides as close a view of the infamous San Andreas Fault as one is likely to find anywhere. Also of note is the discontinuous course of Wallace Creek, which has been offset multiple times by tectonic activity, most recently and notably by a 7.9-magnitude earthquake in 1857. An interpretive brochure available at the trail head or online here describes the seismic history of the area in greater detail.
Follow the trail north for a quarter mile to a four-way junction. An interpretive trail runs diagonally along the fault itself while another climbs to a ridge, following the course of Wallace Creek uphill and northeast. A mile of gentle ascent with wide-ranging views brings you to a barbed wire fence. It is possible to continue by following a makeshift trail along the fence line, but for casual hikers, especially on warm days, this is a good turnaround point.
Text and photography copyright 2017 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.