Hitch 1 - Carrizo Plain National Monument

It was another hot morning in Yucca Valley as we finished our final checks and pulled onto the highway for our six hour drive to Carrizo Plain National Monument, a 240,000 acre tract between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara that remains largely unknown to all but birders, hunters and archaeologists. Along the way, we drove through the northern fringes of Los Angeles County and the southern extreme of the Central Valley, passing Swedish furniture superstores and cotton farms in the same mile, and being constantly amazed at the high levels of particulate pollution in the air. That’s okay though, because like the late great Ronald Reagan, none of us trust air that we cant see. After lots of cramped legs, cheap coffee, and dirt roads, we finally entered the arid monument and headed to the visitor center to meet our Bureau of Land Management supervisors for our eight day hitch. During the short jaunt, we had concerns we had wandered into Jurassic Park, because we were surrounded by raptors of all shapes and sizes! Fortunately, these raptors were of the present-day, airborne, rodent and other bird hunting kind, not the door opening, fence testing, “clever girl” kind. Red-tailed hawks, Harriers, Peregrine Falcons, and even Golden Eagles were a daily sight while on hitch. At night in our campground, the raptors and game birds would come home to roost in the sparse cluster of trees around our tents, while the owls went out on the prowl, along with the coyotes, bats, and various other critters that roamed the night. After welcoming greetings and a tour of the new visitor center, our BLM contacts soon put us to work with civilization’s single greatest achievement – power tools! We used power augers to drill postholes for setting H-braces on fence lines, in pouring concrete to make foundations for interpretive signage, and to dig for gold. We learned that a Sawzall, in fact, sawz all. It’s just a matter of how many spare blades you have handy when you’re cutting stainless steel pipe (have a lot). One designated campground is now fully enclosed by vehicle, horse, and people gates (velociraptor gates aren’t in the budget this year), concrete sign foundations have been installed in two high-use areas, and several sections of “bobwire” and cable fences have been repounded, reset, and restrung. We also prepared for a gathering of local Chumash Indians, who used to inhabit the land before the homesteaders and settlers came in the late 19th century to try their hands at dry-land farming. The vistas from anywhere in the monument were impressive in their austerity. The Temblors, a low, hot range of foothills and dubious mountains to the northeast, and the Calientes, a slightly higher but no less dubious windbreak of scrubby juniper to the southwest. In between, a flattish, sparsely vegetated plain, with the occasional obvious landmark of a handful of deciduous trees on the horizon marking a former homestead and farm, now “unmaintained” by the BLM. According to the staff, they aren’t allowed to fix the buildings and have to let them fall down, but they can’t let anyone knock them down. It seems odd, but that is the ebb and flow of history. Speaking of history, one morning, we hiked to Painted Rock, a renowned feature for its historic rock art and more recent etchings from 20th century visitors. Sadly, because of some of the less reverent recent visitors, access to the site requires special clearance from the powers that be, and we were fortunate enough to be trusted to explore and enjoy the shady spot and interpret the paintings like the Vibram-soled connoisseurs that we were. Alas, all good things must come to an end, and on our ninth day, after spraying out Portapotties, bagging dead birds, removing fire rings, whacking weeds, combing deer, and a few rousing games of pool, we said goodbye to Carrizo Plain in a whirl of alkali dust and thoughts of hot showers and cold beverages. As a team, we worked fast and well, but still made time to sass each other. One hitch down, many more to go. It’s going to be a great season! ‘Merica!