So Close Yet So Far
The Carrizo Plain National Monument
Southern California is one of the most populated regions on earth. If you where to drive the Interstate 5 south, you could drive for 5 hours straight and never leave this megapolis. This vast concrete jungle attracts tourists from around the whole world for the weather, history, and famous beaches. But for the local overlander this metropolis can sometimes feel like a jail cell. Many take refuge at Joshua Tree or the Mojave National Preserve. Even though these areas are very beautiful, these locations can be very popular. Also many “City Slickers” can be found disrupting the pristine atmosphere of these wonderful locations.
Luckily there is good news. There is an area approximately 2 hours north from Los Angeles that has incredible views, gives the feeling of remoteness, and dirt roads that spans for miles. This place is called the Carrizo Plain. The Carrizo Plain is located north of Hwy 166 or south of Hwy 58 depending on where you’re coming from. This 246,000 acre valley preserve is the biggest grass plain in California and has the great San Andreas Fault shooting down the center of it.
There are two main roads that travel through, one called Soda Lake Road and the other Elkhorn Road. Soda Lake Road is a maintained road that any 2wd vehicle can traverse. Elkhorn Road though a 4wd is a must. For most its 50 miles, the drive is very easy but there are sections that have been damaged by
flash-floods. Intersecting both road are miles upon miles of trails, some venture into the mountains while others to ranches that have been abandoned since the turn of the last century. No matter what direction you choose to go, you will be met by pristine landscapes and views so be sure to bring a camera.
There are a couple of designated campsites but during the camping season they tend to be occupied. That’s not much of an issue since it is permitted to camp at the base of all mountains and in my opinion this is the better option since the views at the base of those mountains are marvelous.
One if the biggest features of the plain is Soda Lake. This white, crusty, primeval ooze sits magnificently on the northern end of the plains and can be seen from the most southern part of the monument. Sitting at the edge of this white abyss is truly a magical experience and one cannot help but be in awe of this natural art.
All around there is picturesque scenes, from atop of the mountains surrounding this valley plain, to the dry creek bed formed from the San Andreas Fault. If you try really hard you could explore every nook and cranny of this otherworldly place in two days. But even though this may not be the overlanders off-road dream location, it can and will satisfy this burning desire we call wanderlust.