Monday, March 18, 2013

California's Great Valley Turns Technicolor

Springtime is arriving in the Sierra Nevada foothills and the Great Valley (most people know it as the Central Valley, but we have our pride). This is the time when the rare rains have awakened the long dormant seeds of wildflowers, and for a few short weeks, the flowers will grow, bloom, and go to seed before the summer heat kills them off. Because agricultural development has preempted most of the valley floor, the wildflowers are best seen by traveling into the Sierra foothills to the east or the Coast Ranges to the west.
These pictures were taken near the Caliente turnoff of Highway 58 about 20 miles east of Bakersfield, and on Highway 223 above the small town of Arvin. The earliest bloomers seem to be the fiddlenecks. They are considered weeds by some, but they make for a colorful start to the spring bloom.
Some of the trees were emerging from their winter slumber. I'm not sure what kind of trees these were, but the red leaves provided an interesting contrast to the yellow fields of fiddlenecks.
 As we were hunched over taking photos of the fiddlenecks, some folks stopped their car and suggested we should head down Highway 223 to catch the poppies. It was good advice!
 Some of the hillsides were covered by carpets of purple and orange which to my eyes is one of the most beautiful of color combinations. In some places they were segregated, but in others they were totally mixed in an explosion of color. I caught a hawk soaring over the hillside.
Then we turned a corner, and I had a brief vision how the Great Valley looked before the land was co-opted by orchards and vineyards. We have to eat, and the Great Valley is one of the most productive agricultural regions on our planet, but I do sometimes wistfully wonder just what it was like to wander this landscape for those few weeks in spring when the whole valley was awash in bright colors. It must have been astounding, just as these few acres of grasslands were astounding last Sunday.

If you have any excuses to visit the Great Valley, this is the time to do it!
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