Easter in Paradise: the Superbloom at Carrizo Plain National Monument
“You wanna check out that flower bed?” I asked, pointing through the car’s window at a large, blueish-purple smudge on the horizon.
“You mean, the lake,” my partner, Jimmy replied.
I studied the far-off flower/lake bed for a moment. Although its contours resembled a body of water, I felt the color was wrong.
“It’s a flower bed,” I repeated, pointing out that water—which generally reflects the sky—tends to be bluer and more pastel looking.
“Sure,” Jimmy said at last. “Let’s go see the lake.”
He was being a brat, of course, as I’d been earlier, after snapping at him over some back seat driving. We were both a little punchy from our three-hour road trip.
We were spending Easter Sunday in Central California, at Carrizo Plain National Monument, ogling and photographing the wildflower “Superbloom” that had erupted throughout the park’s hills and grasslands.
For the past several weeks, the local Los Angeles papers—and our Facebook news feeds—had been filled with surreal images of the colorful fields at Carrizo. The bounty was the result of a rainy season that had transformed the drought-ravaged landscape into fairy-tale vistas that, according to the most recent article, could even be seen from space. However, the same news piece had also warned that, given the recent warming trend, the flowers wouldn’t be around for much longer. So, with the clock ticking as the holiday weekend approached, Jimmy and I decided to make the trip on Easter Sunday, when we presumed there’d be less traffic.
And so far, our plan had worked.
In Search of Purple Flowers
After agreeing to pay a visit to the "let's agree to disagree" flower bed/lake, Jimmy and I turned off the main road at our earliest opportunity. We found ourselves on another long ribbon of dirt that seemed to be heading in the direction of the purple mirage. As we got closer, we could see the road ended at what looked like a trail head, where an assortment of tiny cars were clustered about. Since the flower bed was still some distance beyond that, we knew we’d be in for a hike. However, since it was a beautiful day, we didn’t mind.
Once we'd parked, Jimmy and I set off on the trail, which meandered through lush green, knee-high, prairie grass. We soon discovered that the grass wasn’t perfectly green—it was occasionally dotted with pink, yellow and, in some cases, fluorescent-yellow flowers.
Several minutes into our walk, I noticed that we were in the middle of a miles-long, grassy valley that stretched to the horizon in two directions. On the opposite sides were parallel lines of hills that were vivid patchworks of yellow and green, courtesy of the wildflowers.
Jimmy and I found ourselves constantly pausing to snap photos, and to take in the views.
An Almost Surreal Silence
“Wow,” I said, “isn’t it amazing how quiet it is here?”
Jimmy nodded as we continued to drink in the stillness, which was accentuated by a strong breeze that had suddenly kicked up.
The silence reminded me of other places I’ve visited that were also notable for their quietness—places like Sequoia National Park, or the San Bernardino Mountains near Big Bear Lake, which, like Carrizo Plain, are also federally-protected land. In that moment, I was grateful for all of them. Filmmaker Ken Burns once referred to our National Parks as “America’s best idea,” and I concur. It’s wonderful to know, in a world made louder and more garish each day, that wild places like this still existed.
A Prairie Fit for a "Little House"
As I gazed out over that sweet-smelling, seemingly endless field, I also couldn’t help but think of similar vistas, from America’s past, that were now all but lost: those extraordinary prairies in the nation’s heartland, described so memorably in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books, but which now only exist in random, protected places like this one.
While the writer in me appreciated Wilder’s gift for memorializing the natural wonder that is a prairie, the human part of me was even more grateful for the efforts of the brave men and women who had fought long and hard to set aside these lands in the first place—so that future generations could experience them.
As we continued walking, the beautiful sea of purple grew closer and closer—ultimately revealing its true nature. (Yes, they were flowers.) Jimmy was forced to acknowledge I was right. However, he felt a little better, after chatting with another couple who admitted that they, too, had been embroiled in the same “lake/flowerbed” argument. (From some other hikers, we also learned the purple flowers were called Phacelia ciliata, which neither of us had heard of before.)
The Sea of Flowers
When we finally arrived at the violet field, we were also pleased to discover it wasn’t a complete carpet. (We’d been hoping to get photos from inside the field, but hadn’t wanted to step on any flowers to do so!) Luckily, footpaths crisscrossed the ground in every direction, and, with just a few additional steps, we were able to find a quiet place, away from the others, to enjoy the foot-high tall blooms by ourselves. (We were also surprised to discover that Phacelia ciliata weren’t entirely purple. Each blossom had a pale yellow center, from which emanated tiny yellow stalks like baby’s breath.)
After spending a good bit of time taking pics (and, in Jimmy’s case, cell phone videos), we started the long trek back to the car. Somewhere along the way, I wondered if Jimmy had possibly been right. Perhaps, a few months earlier, during the rainy season, the location of that exquisite flower bed had been a temporary lake, filled with runoff from the rain-soaked hills. And perhaps this excess water had saturated the slumbering flower seeds in the soil below. And then, months later, as the days grew warmer and the lake evaporated, the long-dormant flowers had returned in what could only be described as a rebirth.
Or perhaps, a resurrection?
With a laugh, I realized that Jimmy and I had chosen to celebrate the Easter holiday in the most appropriate place imaginable—a place that had literally returned to life, in the most spectacular, and glorious, of ways.
The Parting Shot
But later, that thought was tempered a bit. When we were leaving the park, we came across not just one, but two dead jack rabbits on the road.
From their ghastly condition, it was clear the luckless bunnies had only recently met their maker, flattened, presumably, by the influx of holiday revelers.
But perhaps that, too, was appropriate.
Maybe God has a sense of humor?
Paul Amirault is a TV producer, photographer, author, and aficionado of the ironic. His new book, The Man Who Sent the SOS: A Memoir of Reincarnation and the Titanic, is on sale now.