Wednesday, April 16, 2008

California Spring

Lupine and California poppies cascade down Figueroa Mountain, Santa Barbara county, California. April, 2008.
Photo: By/Copyright 2008 by Ross Care.
Seizing the California Moment!
A March 1989 Sunset magazine article calls California’s wildflowers a “treasure of the moment.”

This is definitely the year and time to seize that moment because after plentiful rains, not to mention some of the worst wildfires in the state’s history, there are now wildflowers everywhere. Even the fire zone that leads down to one of my favorite beaches near Gaviota has been transformed from a charred wasteland to ground now ablaze with glowing yellow mustard instead of wildfire.

My favorite landscape on the central coast is the country between Santa Barbara and Gaviota and beyond. It began to green up after the midwinter rains of December and January. Even after the record heat wave of last week (April 10 to 13) the land remains green and undulant, except where the hills are covered with acres of wild mustard, a none-native plant that nonetheless is extremely decorative this time of year.

Veering away from the coast around Gaviota route 101 passes through some vast and incredible red rock formations and on to Solvang and Los Olivos where the waysides and hills of this beautiful wine country (featured in SIDEWAYS!) are now literally a lavenderblue riot of massed lupines that have sprung forth this year.

A trip off 101 and into the mountains (such as Figueroa) and canyons will also reveal all manner of wildflowers aside from the ubiquitous lupine and mustard: shooting stars, crimson paint brush, canyon sunflowers, and, if you’re lucky, the elusive Mariposa lily. Just looking along the side of the road or having a closer look at some rough rocky bank will also reveal species that will send you back to your favorite wildflower guide.

This week I explored new territory by going back Refugio Road, which cuts off from 101 just beyond El Capitan state park. The road is a key example of California’s unique microclimate environment, passing through rolling coast hills, many now planted with vineyards, riparian deciduous woodland with a beautiful roadside stream, and finally past the Circle R and Reagan ranches on to the dry high country from which can be seen awesome vistas of the road just traveled and on down to the Pacific and channel islands.

Further up 101 I was amazed that the riotous lupines had remain fresh and vibrant even after the sweltering heat wave of last week, but near Solvang the green of the hills is already tempered with the Mediterranean gold of the inevitable (and relentless) California summer.

They are not long, the days of wine and lupine, but while they last California is truly the paradise it’s so obsessively (and not always accurately) hyped to be (even with regular gas hitting $4.00 per gallon this week!)

For more California spring and wildfire photos see:

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