Page 61 - SLO Visitors Guide - Spring 2022
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  Santa Margarita
Carrizo gold—a day in California’s Serengeti
One man’s experience in the Carrizo Plain National Monument
 Arriving early to watch the sunrise from a vantage point near Soda Lake, observed the white mineral deposits bordering the water reflect the swelling glow from the east. Orange tints injected a promise of color into the gray fading night. Ragged peaks sharply etched against the horizon slowly spill the first rays of sunlight into morning. The blunt-nosed leopard lizards, pronghorn, tule elk, owls and high-flying ferruginous hawks begin their scurrying and soaring.
The melodious refrain from western meadowlarks accompanied my walk downhill to Soda Lake. Rainfall that once drained into the Salinas River is now trapped in the shallow basin. Covering 3,000 acres when full, Soda Lake is the largest remaining natural alkali wetland in southern California. Evaporation leaves a vast shimmering expanse of mineral salts.
With a typical annual rainfall under 10 inches Carrizo, which has been called California’s Serengeti,
is an arid grassland with wildlife and vegetation typical of a prairie. Carved out by mountain-building
earthquakes along the San Andreas Fault, the nearly 250,000-acre flat plain is sacred to the Chumash
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