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Soda Lake Road and Carrizo Plain National Monument

This past weekend I took a trip out to Carrizo Plain National Monument by way of Soda Lake Road.  I had planed on revisiting Carrizo Plain and Soda Lake Road this past March to see the notable spring bloom but the state wide Coronavirus Order intervened in said endeavor.   Nonetheless, there was a surprise drop in the June temperatures which made it an opportune time to visit Carrizo Plain during the off season.    



Part 1; a profile of Soda Lake Road and Carrizo Plain

Soda Lake Road serves as the primary access highway through Carrizo Plain National Monument and is 45 miles in length.  Soda Lake Road derives it's name from the dry lake located in the center of Carrizo Plain.  Soda Lake Road begins at California State Route 166/33 in Kern County near the boundary of the San Emigdio Mountains and Temblor Range.  From CA 166/33 Soda Lake Road quickly enters San Luis Obispo County and descends through a gap atop the San Andreas Fault in Temblor Range into Carrizo Plain.  Within Carrizo Plain the route of Soda Lake Road swings northwest towards the foot of the Caliente Range and terminates at CA 58/Carrisa Highway near the ghost town of Simmler.  Soda Lake Road is noted for having 18 miles of roadway which remain unpaved.  Out of the 45 miles of presently maintained Soda Lake Road approximately 37 miles are within Carrizo Plain National Monument.


Soda Lake is one of the largest undisturbed alkali wetlands on the west coast at approximately 3,000 acres.  Soda Lake is located at the bottom of a basin in the center of Carrizo Plain which has no outlet.  Carrizo Plain (and by proxy Soda Lake) is bounded by the Caliente Range to the west and the Temblor Range to the east.  Soda Lake is often full of water during the winter and spring from mountain runoff  which quickly dries as summer approaches.  Although Carrizo Plain is technically a grass land it only receives 9 inches of rain annually and closely resembles a desert climate during summer months.  The result of Soda Lake drying is a significant layer of salt deposits is left at the bottom of Carrizo Plain.

The Temblor Range is notably where the San Andreas Fault bisects the North American Plate and Pacific Plate in Carrizo Plain.  Carrizo Plain is thought to have been the epicenter of the 1857 Fort Tejon Earthquake.  The Fort Tejon Earthquake was a 7.9 magnitude temblor which has been noted to have displaced parts of the Carrizo Plain by as much as 23 feet at the base of the Temblor Range (noticing a theme with the name of the range?).  A larger earthquake on the San Andreas Fault between 1540 and 1630 has been noted to have caused a 40.6 foot offset in Carrizo Plain.  Carrizo Plain has previously been known as "Carisa Plain" and "Carrisa Plain" during the 19th Century onward towards the early 20th Century.  Soda Lake often is referred to as "Carrisa Lake" in historical records.

Soda Lake Road is very old and likely has origins possibly as early as the 1880s.  Beginning during the 1880s ranchers began to mine saline deposits from Soda Lake for use in their operations.  The 1880s also saw a small swath of large unsuccessful mining operations around Carrizo Plain.  Circa 1908 the Carrisa Chemical Company constructed a large plant which could process 600 tons of salt deposits a month.  The Carrisa Chemical Company constructed a narrow gauge railroad during 1916-1917 which began at the northern tip of Soda Lake.  The railroad crossed Soda Lake southward and ended near the base of the Temblor Range.  Soda Lake Road was used by the Carrisa Chemical Company to haul it's loads from the end of the railroad out of the Temblor Range. 

Soda Lake Road can be seen on the 1917 California State Automobile Association Map.  Soda Lake Road is shown beginning near Simmler and ending near Maricopa just over the Kern County Line.


Soda Lake Road and Carrizo Plain began to attract ranchers through much of the early 20th Century.  By 1912 mechanized farming began in Carrizo Plain but was not largely successful due to the long dry season.  At one point Soda Lake Road appears to have been fully continuous with Bitterwater Road northwest from Simmler towards Cholame.  This can be seen on the 1924 Rand McNally Map of California.


 
Soda Lake Road appears a major local road on the 1935 California Division of Highways maps of Kern County and San Luis Obispo County.  Notably; Soda Lake Road is shown on the San Luis Obispo County Map extending north of the Carrisa Highway (CA 178/Legislative Route 58) to what is now Bitterwater Road.





The Carrisa Chemical Company shuttered it's mineral operations at Soda Lake during the 1950s and removed it's railroad line.  During the 1960s much of the land in Carrizo Plain north of Soda Lake was sold due to real estate developers in the belief that the California State Water Project would build a reservoir there.  In the 1970s a final segment of Soda Lake Road near Traver Ranch was paved to reduce the amount of dust being kicked up by travelers.  In 1988 the Bureau of Land Management, California Department of Fish & Game, and the Nature Conservancy partnered to purchase 82,000 acres of land within Carrizo Plain.  The stake holders in the purchase within Carrizo Plain organized their holdings into the Carrizo Plain Natural Area during 1996.  On January 12th 2001 President Bill Clinton signed a proclamation which established Carrizo Plain National Monument.  Carrizo Plain was one of the first in an increasing trend of new National Monuments which aren't managed by the National Park Service.


Part 2; a drive on Soda Lake Road through Carrizo Plain National Monument

My approach to Soda Lake Road was on CA 166 west/CA 33 south in the San Emigdio Mountains of Kern County.  Near a long abandoned Union 76 Station CA 166/CA 33 intersects the southern terminus of Soda Lake Road.  On some topographical maps the abandoned gas station appears as "Camp Dix" whereas some early State Highway Maps show a community called "Pattiway."  From CA 166/CA 33 Soda Lake is signed as 32 miles to the north.







Soda Lake Road north from CA 166/CA 33 is maintained as Kern County Road 323 to the San Luis Obispo County Line .  Soda Lake Road north rides the San Andreas Fault into the Temblor Range and enters San Luis Obispo County approximately 2 miles from CA 166/CA 33.  Soda Lake Road passes by a couple sag ponds and enters Carrizo Plain National Monument proper.













Just over the National Monument Boundary a small information kiosk can be found on Soda Lake Road next to a sag pond.





Near the sag pond kiosk a sign showing the distance to CA 166/CA 33 and CA 58 can be found.  Said sign conveys the remoteness of the area given it has been blasted numerous times by gun fire.




Soda Lake Road passes by Pipeline Road and climbs uphill towards the ruins of Hanline Ranch to approximate 2,800 feet above sea level.






North of Hanline Ranch the pavement of Soda Lake Road gives way to a dirt surface.





As the dirt segment begins Soda Lake Road passes by Quail Springs Road and begins to drop from the Temblor Range into Carrizo Plain.








Soda Lake Road continues to descend and passes by a derelict corral.



Soda Lake Road reaches Carrizo Plain and begins to jog away from the Temblor Range west towards the Caliente Range.











Soda Lake Road passes over an oddly deep trench in the center of Carrizo Plain.  I thought the cut was a dredge at first but satellite views clear show it be a natural feature.  The fold of the San Andreas Fault can be seen to the north. 


The pavement on Soda Lake Road briefly returns approaching the ruins of Traver Ranch.




Traver Ranch was settled during the 1940s when the Traver family purchased 800 acres in Carrizo Plain.  In addition to ranching the Traver lands also farmed wheat and barley.  The Traver Ranch homestead is presently blocked off with a fence line but has a number of farming tools on display.






An Atlas Rotary Scraper.


A Fresno Scraper, these were used extensively during the construction of the Old Ridge Route.


An International TD-35 Tractor.



A Minnesota Moline Off-Set Disk.


A Dyer Off-Set Disk.


A Wheatland Disk.


A Stockton Plow.


A Sulky Rake.


A couple hay bale loaders.


A grain auger.


A water wagon.


A Cletrac Tractor.






Soda Lake Road becomes unpaved north of Traver Ranch and begins to jog northwest along the foot of the Caliente Range.







Soda Lake Road follows the foot of the Caliente Range towards the KLC Campground.
























The acronym "KLC" stands for "Kern Land Company."  The KLC Campground sits atop another derelict ranch.


Soda Lake Road meets Panorama Road 24 miles north of CA 166/CA 33.











North of Panorama Road the second dirt of Soda Lake Road ends and opens back up to an asphalt surface.   I should note that both dirt segments of Soda Lake Road were well graded and easy to maintain speeds higher than 40 MPH on.






Soda Lake Road passes by the turn off for the Shelby Campground.



Soda Lake Road next passes by the turn off for the Carrizo Plain National Monument Visitor Center.



The Carrizo Plain National Monument Visitor Center houses the Guy L. Goodwin Education Center.  Both facilities are located at what was Painted Rock Ranch and have numerous historical information plaques on display.  The nearby sandstone Painted Rock formation is due south of the Carrizo Plain National Monument Visitor Center.  Painted Rocks contains images painted by Native American Tribes dating from 3,000 to 4,000 years ago.










Soda Lake Road begins to approach the namesake Soda Lake and intersects Simmler Road.








Soda Lake Road follows the west shore of Soda Lake to the Soda Lake Overlook and Boardwalk.












I started with a climb up to the Soda Lake Overlook.










From the Overlook I descended down to the Soda Lake Trail and took it all the way to the end of the boardwalk.  The Soda Lake Trail is plotted over what was Goodwin Ranch.  Soda Lake was damp on the shoreline but otherwise dry further into the lake bed.















Soda Lake Road leaves the boundary of Carrizo Plain National Monument at Seven Mile Road.  Traffic headed to CA 58 east is directed to take Seven Mile Road whereas CA 58 west traffic is directed to stay on Soda Lake Road.







Soda Lake Road passes through the community of California Valley.  As noted above California Valley was never much more than a land grab based off the assumption a reservoir would be built.  The evidence of the failed real estate ventures of the 1960s can be seen in the form of street blades over empty fields and the mish-mash of broken down cars on land parcels.  It isn't clear if the Lodge north of the CalFire Station actually operates or is abandoned, but the gas station building across the street had a "for sale" sign.







Maintained Soda Lake Road ends at CA 58/Carrisa Highway at the site of what was Simmler.  The unmaintained part of Soda Lake Road can be seen north of CA 58 jogging back towards the Temblor Range and Bitterwater Road.




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