Normally, I plan my roadtrips down to the Nth degree with Plans A, B, and C. For this trip, which kept being delayed, I had so much to do leading up to it, and I kept changing up my destinations, that I rolled out of Undisclosed Location with only the day before me partially planned. This is dramatic foreshadowing. RV Trips must always be meticulously planned from start to finish.
My first planned stop was Carrizo Plain National Monument, site of one of California’s last native grasslands. And by “planned stop” I mean, I had a vague idea that I would veer off before Bakersfield and somehow find myself in the Monument, which is actually on the way to nowhere.
My cursory research told me there are two main routes in. I took the road less travelled. And that was my big mistake. I’m not quite sure what road I got routed to, but it took me through a horrifying example of what Carrizo Plain would be without Monument status. I found myself traveling through miles and miles of oil fields somewhere in West Kern county. And by oil fields, I mean a completely carved up and despoiled landscape with oil derricks literally every ten feet and the rest of the landscape littered with pipelines, truck depots and dirt roads scarring the land. There were no turnouts where I could get a picture because I bet the Kern County Oil barons don’t want you to see what I saw.
After finding my way through that hellscape, I finally entered Carrizo Plain and quickly found that the only road in consisted of miles and miles of unpaved washboard dirt road. Crawling at 10 miles per hour, with the sun getting close to setting, I started to panic about A) not finding one of the two first-come first-served campgrounds or B) finding them full once I got there. I decided I would just park my rig and refuse to move should I find one of them. Which was in doubt as nothing is marked or signposted in Carrizo.
When I say back of beyond about Carrizo Plain, I really mean it. There is no cell coverage, no reliable GPS, and even satellite radio doesn’t seem to work.
It’s also the site of a conservation tragedy. Apparently, in the earlier days of the Monument, there was a ranger who lived in this isolated place somewhere behind the seldom visited Visitor’s Center. Her boss was installed in the Bakersfield office where he was pretty chummy with local ranchers. The two of them had a pitched disagreement about whether cattle should be allowed to free range the Monument. Well, of course they shouldn’t. Cattle are one of the most destructive forces on fragile semi-arid landscapes. Unlike Buffalo and native grazers, cows don’t roam and migrate, but stand in place and stomp down native vegetation, pulling them up by the roots so invasive species can take over. Anyway, the battle continued, until the isolated ranger felt she was losing the fight. She shot her dogs, then herself. I wish she’s stayed and fought. Because judging from the amount of barbed wire fences and cattle guards, Carrizo has become just a free grazing land for the local Bundy types.
Anyway, I scooted myself into the campground just as the sun was setting. But with no cell or gps, I couldn’t plot my way out of there. I figured I’d just use my compass to get myself in the general direction, start driving and hope I ended up on a paved road. Well, it was some kind of plan.